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The Fallacy-a-Day Podcast


An easy way to learn the logical fallacies. Published each day, Monday-Friday.
The fallacy of division is committed when one infers that something true of a thing must also
be true of all or some of its parts.
Example 1:
A Boeing 747 can fly unaided across the ocean.A Boeing 747 has jet engines
.Therefore, one of its jet engines can fly unaided across the ocean.
The argument is fallacious because the flight of a 747 depends not only on the thrust of its
engines but also for example on the lift from its wings, the steering of its control surfaces,
and the supply of fuel to its engines.
Example 2:
Functioning brains think.Functioning brains are nothing but the cells that they are
composed of.If functioning brains think, then the individual cells in them think.
This argument is fallacious because thinking involves more steps than the firing of any
particular cell.
33. Fallacy of

Note 1:
The converse of this fallacy is the fallacy of composition, which arises when one fallaciously
attributes a property of some part of a thing to the thing as a whole.
Note 2:
As in the case of the fallacy of composition, a property of the whole may also validly be taken
to indicate that the parts have the property but only if the property is independent of the
arrangement of the parts. So, for example, a wooden chair must have at least some parts
that are wooden.
Note 3:
The ecological fallacy, described in episode 30, is a type of fallacy of division where the
parts are members of a population and the fallacious argument involves a statistical
The fallacy of composition is committed in an argument that infers that something is
necessarily true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.
Example 1:

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All the parts of this chair are cheap therefore the chair is cheap.
This argument is fallacious because the quality of construction of the chair (that is, its
structure) may be an important determinant of its price.
Example 2:
This fragment of metal cannot be broken with a hammer, therefore the machine
of which it is a part cannot be broken with a hammer.
This argument is fallacious because many machines can be broken into their constituent
parts without any of those parts being breakable.
Example 3:
Human cells are invisible to the naked eye.Humans are made up of human
cells.Therefore, humans are invisible to the naked eye.
The argument is fallacious because a human cell is invisible only in the sense that one cell
is too small to see with the naked eye but an aggregate of cells, such as a human body, may
be large enough to see with the naked eye.
Note 1:
32. Fallacy

A property of the parts may in fact result in a property of the whole but the property must be
one that is independent of the structure of the whole, or the relationship of the parts. For
example, if all the parts are wooden then the whole object is wooden.
Note 2:
The fallacy of composition is the converse of the fallacy of division, to be dealt with in the next
Note 3:
This fallacy is often confused with the fallacy of hasty generalization, in which an inference is
made about a population on the basis of an insufficient sample.
Note 4:
Wikipedias entry for the fallacy of composition mentions the modo hoc (or just this) fallacy
and defines it as follows:
The modo hoc (or just this) fallacy is the informal error of assessing meaning to an existent
based on the constituent properties of its material makeup while omitting the matters
That appears to be just a rewording of the fallacy of composition (if we make explicit the
implication in note 1); that is, they are synonyms. Reading further afield hasnt enlightened

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me on whether there is any significant distinction between fallacy of composition and modo
hoc, but if any reader can state it clearly then please feel free to do so in the comments
The etymological fallacy is a type of genetic fallacy that holds that the historical meaning of a
word or phrase is necessarily similar to its present-day meaning. The name is derived from
identifying a words current meaning with its etymology.
An etymological fallacy becomes possible when a word has changed its meaning over time.
Such changes can include a shift in scope (narrowing or widening of meanings) or of
connotation (amelioration or pejoration). Meanings can also change completely, so that the
etymology has no connection to the current meaning.
Examples of words that have changed their meanings over time:
The word hound originally simply meant dog in general. This usage is now
archaic or poetic only, and hound now almost exclusively refers to dogs bred for
the chase.
The meaning of a word may change to connote higher status, as when knight,
originally servant, came to mean military knight and subsequently someone of
high rank.
Conversely, the word knave originally meant boy and only gradually acquired its
meaning of person of low, despicable character.

Example 1 (of the fallacy):

Some people object to the use of the word kids as a term for children, arguing
that it is demeaning to refer to human beings as farm animals. This is an
etymological fallacy because it is unlikely that someone using the word kids to
refer to children, particularly their own, would intend it to mean immature goats.
Rather, the common connotation is that it is a diminutive (something little), and
therefore, a term of endearment.
From the fact that logos is Greek for word, Stuart Chase concluded in his book
The Tyranny of Words that logic is the mere manipulation of words. The claim is
an etymological fallacy because, whatever its origins, logic is now an English
word that does not mean word. If we were substitute another name for logic then
doing so would not change the practice and therefore the nature of logic. For
example, consider the well-known sculpture The Thinker, depicting a man sitting
and thinking, as an icon of a person deep in logical thought. So we can imagine
an alternate world where the ancient greeks instead called logic pygology from
their root word for buttocks (perhaps inspired by the similar word, callipygian).
So, two thousand years later it might be claimed (with as much plausibility as

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Stuart Chases claim) that pygology is merely sitting on ones buttocks. However,
there is no reason to conclude that logicians (or pygologists) would be doing
anything differently, whichever name they were to apply to their science.
The ecological fallacy (or ecological inference fallacy) is a logical fallacy in the interpretation of
statistical data in a population study, whereby inferences about the nature of specific
individuals are based solely upon aggregate statistics collected for the group to which those
individuals belong. This fallacy assumes that individual members of a group have the average
characteristics of the group at large. However, statistics that accurately describe group
characteristics do not necessarily apply to individuals within that group.
Example 1:
We are told that a population of one thousand animals has an average weight of 4.0
kg (to an accuracy of 2 figures). If we concluded on that basis alone that half of the
animals must be heavier than 4.0 kg and half must be lighter (that is, that the
median weight is 4.0 kg) then we would be committing the ecological fallacy. The
conclusion is fallacious because we dont know the distribution of weights among
the population of animals.
For example, a population consisting of 999 mice (at 20 grams) and one elephant
(at 4000kg) would account for such an average weight but nearly all the animals in
that population would weigh much less than the average.
Calculation of average weight: ((20gm x 999) + 4,000kg) /1,000 = 4.0kg
Notice that such a result does not require such an obvious diversity of species, but simply a
lop-sided distribution, such as amongst elephant seals which have males that weigh far more
than the females. It can also occur within human populations with respect to factors such as
income, productivity, academic scores and election results.
Example 2:

A study is done that shows people from City A score higher on college entry exams,
on average, than people from City B. This does not mean that a randomly selected
individual from A will usually score higher than a randomly selected individual from
B. This is because the distribution of scores might be very different between the
City A: 80% of people got 40 points and 20% of them got 95 points. The average
score is 51 points.
City B: 50% of people got 45 points and 50% got 55 points. The average score is 50
If we pick two people at random from A and B, there are 4 possible outcomes:
A 40, B 45 (B wins, 40% probability)

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A 40, B 55 (B wins, 40%

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A 95, B 45 (A wins, 10% probability)
10% probability)

A 95, B 55 (A wins,

Although City A has a higher average score, 80% of the time a random inhabitant of
A will score lower than a random inhabitant of B.
The ecological fallacy is similar to the fallacy of division, to be discussed in a later episode. The
difference is that the name ecological fallacy is used in the context of population statistics,
while fallacy of division is the more general, fallacious argument that something true of a thing
must also be true of all or some of its parts.
Equivocation is the misleading use of a term with more than
one meaning by glossing over which meaning is intended at
any particular time. As a logical fallacy it is the use of a term
more than once in a syllogism but giving the term a different
meaning each time and as such it is a type of the fallacy of
four terms.
Note 1:

29. Equivocation

Equivocation is often confused with amphiboly. However,

equivocation is ambiguity arising from the misleading use of
a word and amphiboly is ambiguity arising from the
misleading use of punctuation or syntax.
Note 2:
Puns are a form of word-play and a type of equivocation that
relies upon two different words that sound alike. Puns are
not a fallacy because the ambiguity is only intended to be
momentarily misleading and is in fact the point of the
Example 1, of equivocation:
A feather is light.What is light cannot be
dark.Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.
The argument is fallacious because the word light is first
used as the opposite of heavy but then used as a synonym
of bright and so it is actually an example of the fallacy of
four terms.
Example 2:
JFKs famous line:

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Note on the picture:The picture is an

illustration of the example of the ham
sandwich given in episode 16, which was
given in that episode to mark the distinction
between the fallacy of four terms and
equivocation. So review that example if you
find the picture unclear. It was just too good
to pass up as an illustration for the current

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your

country can do for you ask what you can do for
your country.
This is an example of equivocation and therefore misleads
the audience because the word country is used in two
different senses. In its first occurrenceit means government
and in its second occurrence it means nation or
Example 3:
Margarine is better than nothing.Nothing is better
than butter.Therefore, margarine is better than
Wikipedia claims that this is an example of amphiboly but it
is at least as equally an example of equivocation because it
conforms to the above definition of equivocation: the first
occurrence of nothing is equivalent to the absence of
anything and the second is equivalent to no other thing. It
becomes clear that these two meanings are distinct from one
another, and therefore an equivocation, by swapping them
and confirming that the premises do not remain the same.
A clearer example of amphiboly, that is not equivocation, is
the following sentence. Notice that it needs extra punctuation
and it takes on different meanings according to the number
and positions of the commas and quotation marks that one
John said Alice should I wear a dress today?

Suppressed correlative is a fallacy committed in an argument that attempts to redefine a

correlative (one of two mutually exclusive options) so that one alternative encompasses the
other, i.e. making one alternative impossible. This has also been known as the fallacy of lost
contrast and the fallacy of the suppressed relative.
It appears that, in contrast to the preceding two fallacies, the word correlative is used here to
refer to one or another of the alternatives, rather than referring to the correlative conjunction.
That is, this fallacy is the suppression of one of the alternatives in a correlative conjunction.
A conceptual example:
Person 1: All things are either X or not X. (The correlatives: X, not X.)
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Person 2: I define X such that all things that you claim are not X are included in
X. (The suppressed correlative: not X.)
Alternatively Person 2 can redefine X in a way that instead concludes that all
things are not X.
The following two examples discuss well-known slogans from the novel 1984.
Example 1:
War is Peace.

War is Peace suppresses the alternative of war in the correlative conjunction of

war and peace by defining war to be included within peace. So if we are at war
then we are already at peace and one doesnt need to look forward to peace
(since people normally wish to move away from war and towards peace). It
acknowledges the desirability of peace but that we have already attained it if we
are at war. The slogan acts as a thought-stopping technique, short-circuiting
thoughts of peace, and even making such thoughts impossible because the terms
have become unintelligible.
Freedom is Slavery
Freedom is Slavery suppresses the alternative of freedom in the correlative
conjunction of freedom and slavery by defining freedom to be included within
slavery. So a persons natual tendency to move towards freedom is stymied by
defining such a tendency as movement towards slavery. This example also is a
thought-stopping technique, short-circuiting thoughts of freedom and even making
such thoughts impossible because the terms have become unintelligible.
The redefinition is not always so obvious. At first glance it might appear reasonable to define
brakes as a method to quickly stop a vehicle, however this permits all vehicles to be
described as having brakes. Any car could be driven into a wall to stop it but that does not
mean that every car has brakes.
False dichotomy (also known as false correlative, false dilemma, the either-or fallacy, fallacy of
false choice, black-and-white thinking or the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses) is a logical
fallacy committed when only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are other valid
Note on terminology: As in the preceding fallacy, of denying the correlative, the word
correlative in the name is short-hand for correlative conjunction. So, false correlative is an
abbreviation for false correlative conjunction, that is, the argument falsely claims that the
alternatives presented cover the gamut of possible alternatives.

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Example 1:
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (as a justification for war)
The argument is a false dichotomy because it ignores the following valid alternatives that
easily come to mind:
You may be for alternative responses other than war, for example: diplomatic negotiation, a
letter of marque and reprisal, and so on.

27. False

The us in the argument may actually be the terrorists if the event being discussed is a false
flag operation.
Example 2:
It wasnt medicine that cured Mrs. X, so it must have been a miracle.
This is a false dichotomy because it ignores these alternatives: That Mrs. X may have got
better without any treatment, or that the treatment had a placebo effect (that is, that belief in
the efficacy of the treatment was itself sufficient to alleviate the condition).
Example 3:
Mortons Fork (The name originates from an argument for taxing English nobles):
Either the nobles of this country appear wealthy, in which case they can be taxed
for good; or they appear poor, in which case they are living frugally and must have
immense savings, which can be taxed for good.
This is a false dichotomy because it fails to allow for the possibility that some members of the
nobility may in fact lack liquid assets, and the possibility that those who appear poor also lack
liquid assets.
Denying the correlative is a fallacy that is committed when an argument introduces supposed
alternatives that are irrelevant. This is in contrast to the false dichotomy, which denies or
ignores valid alternatives.
Note on terminology 1:
The name of the fallacy is short-hand for denying the correlative conjunction.
A correlative conjunction is the relationship between a pair of statements that are mutually
exclusive alternatives, with one of them being true and the other false. So, for example, the
statements Ginger is a cat and Ginger is not a cat are said to have the relationship of
correlative conjunction. If one argues that Ginger is something else than a cat or not a cat
then one is fallaciously denying the correlative conjunction.
Note on terminology 2:

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The correlative conjunction is relevant to three fallacies (the current fallacy and the next two
fallacies), namely:
Denying the Correlative
False Correlative (aka, False
Suppressed Correlative

Example 1:
Policeman: .. either you stole the money or you didnt, which is it?Suspect:
you are assuming that the money really exists.
In the context of the question this is not a valid alternative: regardless of the existence of the
money, the suspect either stole it or didnt.
The suspect is denying the correlative because he implies that there is some other alternative
than either stealing the money or not stealing the money.
Example 2:
Either all apples are green, or some apples are not green.But what about apples
that are both green and red?
The second sentence is denying the correlative because the supposed alternative of apples
that are both green and red is actually subsumed in apples that are green (if green means
that some of an apples skin is green) or is subsumed in apples that are not green (if green
means that all of an apples skin is green).
The continuum fallacy (also known as the heaper fallacy, the sorites fallacy, the fallacy of the
beard, line drawing fallacy, bald man fallacy, and fallacy of the heap) is an informal logical
fallacy closely related to the sorites paradox, or paradox of the heap. The fallacy causes one to
erroneously reject a vague claim simply because it is not as precise as one would like it to be.
Vagueness alone does not necessarily imply invalidity.
The fallacy appears to demonstrate that two states or conditions cannot be considered distinct
(or do not exist at all) because between them there exists a continuum of states. According to
the fallacy, differences in quality cannot result from differences in quantity.
Example 1:
The Bald Man


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Fred isnt bald now, and if he loses one hair, that wont make him go from not bald
to bald either. If he loses one more hair, that also does not make him go from not
bald to bald. Therefore, no matter how much hair he loses, he can never be called
The Heap

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The fallacy can be described in the form of a conversation:

Q: Does one grain of wheat form a heap?A: No.Q: If we add one, do two grains of
wheat form a heap?A: No.Q: And if n grains are not a heap, do n+1 grains form a
heap?A: No.Q: Therefore, no matter how many grains of wheat we add, we
never have a heap. Therefore, heaps dont exist!
The argument in both examples is false because one can find clear cases of heads that are, or
are not, bald and numbers of grains that are, or are not, heaps. The fact that one will find
borderline cases which are difficult to categorize does not preclude one from categorizing the
clear cases.
Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (also known as False Cause or Circular Cause and Consequence) is
a logical fallacy committed when two events that occur together are claimed to have a
cause-and-effect relationship without establishing that such a causal relationship exists. The
name of the fallacy is Latin for with this, therefore because of this.
The fallacy can be expressed as follows:
A occurs in correlation with B.Therefore, A causes B.
In this type of logical fallacy, one makes a premature conclusion about causality after observing
only a correlation between two or more factors. This is a logical fallacy because, without knowing
more, there are at least five possibilities:
A may be the cause of B.
B may be the cause of A.
Some unknown third factor C may actually be the cause of both A and B.
There may be a combination of the above three relationships.
The relationship is a coincidence.
Example 1:
The rooster crows every morning.Therefore the rooster causes the sun to come up.
In this example, we know enough about the nature of roosters and the nature of the sun to be
confident that no such causal relationship exists but that it is possible that the suns coming up
causes the rooster to crow every morning.
Example 2:
The more fireman that are fighting a fire, the bigger the fire will be.Therefore firemen
cause fires.
In this example, the correlation between the number of firemen at a scene and the size of the fire
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does not imply that the firemen cause the fire. Firemen are sent according to the severity of the
fire and if there is a large fire, a greater number of firemen are sent; therefore it is rather that fire
causes firemen to arrive at the scene. So the above conclusion is false.
Note 1 :
By contrast, the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy requires that one event occur before the other
and so may be considered a type of cum hoc fallacy.
Note 2:
Correlation does not imply causation is a phrase used in science and statistics to indicate that
correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other,
although correlation can be a hint for further investigation.
Note 3:
Intuitively, causation seems to require not just a correlation, but a counterfactual dependence. In
other words, in order to establish that A causes B we must show not only that their occurrence is
correlated but that if A had not occurred then B would not have occurred.
A major goal of scientific experiments is to isolate the correlation of A and B by keeping the other
variables the same (that is, controlled for) during different runs of the experiment. The
experiment can then be varied to establish the counterfactual dependence of A and B and thus
their causal relationship.
An example of such experimental setups are twin studies: For example, one could run an
experiment on identical twins who were known to consistently get the same grades on their tests.
One twin is sent to study for six hours while the other is sent to the amusement park. If their test
scores suddenly diverged by a large degree, this would be strong evidence that studying (or
going to the amusement park) had a causal effect on test scores. In this case, correlation
between studying and test scores would almost certainly imply causation.
Well-designed experimental studies replace equality of individuals as in the twin example by
equality of groups. This is achieved by randomization of the subjects to two or more groups.
Although not a perfect system, the likelihood of being equal in all aspects rises with the number of
subjects placed randomly in the treatment/placebo groups. From the statistical significance of the
difference of the effect of the treatment vs. the placebo, one can derive the likelihood (known as
the P value) of the treatment having a causal effect on a disease.
When experimental studies are impossible and only pre-existing data are available, as is usually
the case for example in economics, regression analysis can be used to derive the expected value
of B when A is held fixed.

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