Navigating Political Discussions: A Short Guide of Common Fallacies

September 22, 2012

It’s election season, and I feel accosted by bad political arguments from all sides through television and the internet.  I offer this as a public service announcement, a guide for spotting typical bad arguments (largely copied from Wikipedia’s list of fallacies):

Relevance Fallacies

Red herring – irrelevant argument given in response to another argument to draw attention away from the subject of argument.

Ad hominem – attacking the arguer instead of the argument.

Poisoning the well – a type of ad hominem where adverse information about a target is presented with the intention of discrediting everything that the target person says.

Appeal to emotion – where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning.

Appeal to spite – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made through exploiting people’s bitterness or spite towards an opposing party.

Appeal to fear – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by increasing fear and prejudice towards the opposing side.

Appeal to pity – an argument attempts to induce pity to sway opponents.

Appeal to accomplishment – where an assertion is deemed true or false based on the accomplishments of the proposer.

Appeal to motive – where a premise is dismissed by calling into question the motives of its proposer.

Appeal to wealth/poverty – supporting or refuting a conclusion because the arguer is wealthy or poor.

Appeal to novelty – where a proposal is claimed to be superior or better solely because it is new or modern.

Chronological snobbery – where a thesis is deemed incorrect because it was commonly held when something else, clearly false, was also commonly held.

Straw man – an argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.

Mob appeal – where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so.


Admit it, we’ve all made these arguments and we’ve all been duped by them at various times.  The important thing is to try to avoid it.


One Response to “Navigating Political Discussions: A Short Guide of Common Fallacies”

  1. Mrs. L. Says:

    Duped? Perhaps when I was young. Made these types of arguments? Rarely. I guess it depends on how you define “appeal to fear.” That may be justified, even necessary, if presented rationally nd factually. A current prominent US leader is famous (even supporters admit it) for the “straw man” line of argument.

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