Reasoning: Methods and Fallacies

I just read a 1951 essay, “Love Is a Fallacy”, by Max Shulman, an American humorist. It is a part of the book The Well-Crafted Argument written by Fred White and Simone Billings (2011, pp. 197-205). In it Shulman attempts to demonstrate logical fallacies in action. Excerpts:

Bandwagon: “Fads…are the very negation of reason. To be swept up in every new craze that comes along, to surrender yourself to idiocy just because everybody else is doing it…is the acme of mindlessness.”

Logic: “(T)he science of thinking.”

Dicto Simpliciter: “…(A)n argument based on an unqualified generalization.” (“You must qualify your generalization”).

Hasty Generalization: “The generalization is reached too hastily. There are too few instances to support such a conclusion.”

Post Hoc, example: “Let’s not take Bill on our picnic. Every time we take him out with us, it rains.”

Contradictory Premises, example: “If God can do anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He won’t be able to lift it?”.

“…(W)hen the premises of an argument contradict each other, there can be no argument. If there is an irresistible force, there can be no immovable object. If there is an immovable object, there can no irresistible force.”

Ad Misericordiam: Avoiding the question and appealing to the reader’s sympathy.

False Analogy, example: “Students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during examinations. After all, surgeons have X-rays to guide them during an operation, lawyers have briefs to guide them during a trial, carpenters have blueprints to guide them when they are building a house. Why, then, shouldn’t students be allowed to look at their textbooks during an examination?”

Hypothesis Contrary to Fact: “You can’t start with a hypothesis that is not true and then draw any supportable conclusions from it.”

Poisoning the Well, example: “Two men are halving a debate. The first one gets up and says, ‘My opponent is a notorious liar. You can’t believe a word that he is going to say.’ “ (“The first man has poisoned the well before anybody could drink from it.”).

Focus: “All you have to do is concentrate. Think – examine - evaluate.”

Reasoning, argumentation and pleading require persistence, determination and hard work: “Over and over and over again, I cited instances, pointed out flaws, kept hammering away without let up. It was like digging a tunnel. At first everything was work, sweat, and darkness. I had no idea when I would reach the light, or even if I w3ould. But I persisted. I pounded and clawed and scraped, and finally I was rewarded. I saw a chink of light. And then the chink got bigger and the sun came pouring in and all was bright.”

“After all, you don’t have to eat a whole cake to know that it’s good.”

“(A)nd stop shouting. I think shouting must be a fallacy too.”


The authors White and Billings in their summary of the chapter entitled “Reasoning: Methods and Fallacies” stated (p. 206):

1. “Argumentative writing requires careful reasoning, the ability to think critically and logically about the issues you are investigating, and to recognize errors in logic.”

2. “Such errors – known as fallacies… - often arise when writers are not sufficiently knowledgeable about their subject or have not thought sufficiently about possible counterarguments to their thesis.”

3. “The principal strategies that constitute good reasoning in argument are deduction, induction, categorization, analogy, authorization, and plea.”

The authors gave a checklist (id.):

“x x x.

1. Is the line of reasoning used in my argument logical and coherent?
2. Do I cover all facets of my argument?
3. Do I anticipate counterarguments?
4. Do I commit any errors in reasoning?

a. Fallacies of deduction such as fourth term, non sequitur, and ad hominem?
b. Fallacies of induction such as unsupported generalization, red herring, poisoning the well, and begging the question?
c. Fallacies of categorization such as false dichotomy and mixing apples with oranges?
d. Fallacies of analogy such as false analogy and faulty analogy?
e. Fallacies of authorization such as vague authority and suspect authority?
f. Fallacies of pleading such as appeal to fear, appeal to the bandwagon, and appeal to ignorance?

X x x.”


Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr.
Las Pinas City, Philippines
August 12, 2011

law and justice foundation,law and justice symbol,law justice and morality,law or justice 1988,relationship between law and justice,difference between law and justice,law and justice careers,law and justice essay law and justice foundation,law and justice symbol,law justice and morality,law or justice 1988,relationship between law and justice,difference between law and justice,law and justice careers,law and justice essay