Fallacies in Thinking

The Thinker’s Guide to Fallacies: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation It is for this reason that cultivation of intellectual virtues is so crucial to human development. Without a long-term transformation of the mind, little can be done to produce deep ly honest thought. When challenged, the human mind operates from its most primitive intellectual instincts. This can be verified in the history of politics, economics, religion, and war -indeed in any history that deeply plumbs the human mind in action. Consequently, it is important to learn to recognize the most common tricks of persuasion, that we might better understand ourselves and others. Used on others, fallacies are intellectually indefensible tricks of persuasion and manipulation; used on ourselves, they are instruments of self-deception. In this guide we concentrate on the most common and flagrant intellectual tricks and snares. Sometimes these tricks are “counterfeits” of good thinking. For example, a false dilemma is the counterfeit of a true dilemma. We shall see this most obviously in dealing with errors of generalization and comparison. Mistakes Versus Fallacies “What about mistakes?” you might ask. Isn’t it possible that some of the time we commit fallacies inadvertently, unintentionally, and innocently? The answer is, of course, yes. Sometimes people make mistakes without any intention of tricking anyone. The test to determine whether someone is merely making a mistake in thinking is relatively simple. After the mistake is pointed out to the person, and the person is explicitly faced with the problems in the thinking, observe to see whether he or she honestly changes. In other words, once the pressure to change is removed, does the person revert to the original fallacious way of thinking, or does he demonstrate that he has truly been persuaded (and modified his thinking (accordingly)? If the person reverts, or invents a new rationalization for his behavior, we can conclude that the person was using the fallacy to gain an advantage and not making a simple mistake.There is No Exhaustive List of Fallacies It is not possible to create an exclusive and exhaustive list of fallacies. The intellectual tricks, traps, and snares humans so commonly engage in (or fall prey to) can be described from many differing standpoints and in a variety of differing terms. In this guide, we deal only with those most common or most easily recognized. There is nothing sacred about our list or our analysis. Here is a list of common problems in human thinking. See if you can add to this list. It is common for people (in their thinking) to: • be unclear, muddled, or confused • jump to conclusions • fail to think-through implications • lose track of their goal • be unrealistic • focus on the trivial • fail to notice contradictions • use inaccurate information in their thinking • ask vague questions • give vague answers • ask loaded questions • ask irrelevant questions • confuse questions of different types • answer questions they are not competent to answer • come to conclusions based on inaccurate or irrelevant in.formation • use only the information that supports their view • make inferences not justified by their experience • distort data and represent it inaccurately • fail to notice the inferences they make • come to unreasonable conclusions • fail to notice their assumptions • make unjustified assumptions • miss key ideas • use irrelevant ideas • form confused ideas • form superficial concepts • misuse words • ignore relevant viewpoints • fail to see issues from points of view other than their own • confuse issues of different types • lack insight into their prejudices • think narrowly • think imprecisely • think illogically • think one-sidedly • think simplistically • think hypocritically • think superficially • think ethnocentrically • think egocentrically • think irrationally • be incompetent at problem solving • make poor decisions • lack insight into their own ignorance