How to Win an Argument – by Understanding Logical Fallacies

It’s been said over and over not to argue with idiots. But what about the arguments you can’t avoid? The people who just want to see the world burn? Your significant other during a certain hormonal time of the month.  That asshole coworker who has to prove his “brilliance”. Here are some of my favorite logical fallacies that people use to “win” an argument. I’ll give you some advice on how to avoid falling into the traps and see the bullshit for what it really is.

First things first, what the hell is a logical fallacy? In broad terms, a logical fallacy is an error in an argument. Best case scenario the author or speaker is inexperienced with reasoning, worst case they are being manipulative and deceptive. Either way, we must learn to spot these fallacies as we come into contact with them or we will lead a miserable life. Which leads me to the first fallacy…

The Either-Or Fallacy

With this statement, a person puts forward two choices and presents them as the ONLY options with no alternatives. This type of sentence is used to push the other person to acquiesce to the request. Another option is that it will reframe the conversation towards two choices, both of which are favorable to the person posing the statement. This is often used in parenting where the parent gives a child two “choices”, which have both been approved and preselected prior to asking.

Example: “Either way we must learn to spot these fallacies as we come into contact with them or we will lead a miserable life.”

Takeaway: There are rarely only two options. This tactic will often come with pressure to pick one of the two options quickly. Learn to view your other options and not get sucked into this trap.

Straw Man

This fallacy is used quite often in the political arena, and can sometimes be difficult to spot. The anatomy is basically this – person one asserts a premise, person two attacks a similar premise to the one person one brought up and seemingly defeats it – thus defeating person one’s argument. This is usually done by overstating or oversimplifying the others positions.

Example:

Awesome guy: I think we should build a wall between Mexico and the USA.

Strawman guy: No, The USA was built on immigration and not letting them come in would be unamerican.

Takeaway: These arguments are done with an audience and are done to “beat” you. You must be clear and specific when you speak if need be, point out your opponent’s overstatement and restate your position specifically.

Slippery Slope

This is a very common fallacy used when trying to convince you not to do something. The person asserts that doing X will inevitably lead to Y, therefore you shouldn’t do X in the first place.

Example: “If we allow the gays to marry, next thing we know you’ll be allowed to marry your horse”

Takeaway: By entertaining the “potential”, usually absurd argument you are distracted from forming your own conclusions.

Red Herring

Plain and simple, the red herring fallacy is holding up something to distract from the argument. Having four young children I hear these “excuses” all the time. The point is to distract the other person by introducing a completely irrelevant item, trying to change the subject rather than argue the point.

Example: “I know I didn’t do my chore yet, but my sister has an easier chore than I do.”

Takeaway: Don’t let someone distract you from your questioning, instead completely ignore this distraction and ask the question again.

Sunk Costs

Unfortunately, this fallacy often is an internal argument. Basically, it is argued that since you’ve spent time and energy towards a certain pursuit, that should figure into the future continuation of the project. There are many examples of this fallacy but the premise is the same, your future behavior is predicted by past decisions.

Example: You purchased tickets for an event months ago, the day of you fall violently ill. You decided to go anyway because if you didn’t you’d be wasting your money.

2nd Example: You have been with your partner for 3 years, you decide not to break up even though you should because you’ve spent so much time together and to leave would just waste it all.

Takeaway: What you do in the future is entirely up to you, what is in the past is done, learn from it and move on.

Bonus

Middle Ground Fallacy

I see this fallacy in the workplace almost every day, and this is something you should always be on the lookout for. One person asserts a position on one side, and another person asserts something on the opposite end. The “rational conclusion” is that the middle ground would be correct. The basis of this fallacy is that both sides have equal validity, so the answer is in the middle.

Example: One person says Slavery is always wrong, while another states slavery is always correct. The middle ground would be a “sometimes” slavery situation.

Takeaway: Stand your ground and do/act for what is right not some bullshit compromise.

Always be aware of logical fallacies in your conversations with people, and whenever someone is trying to sell you something or convince you of something. My knowledge of logical fallacies makes watching news quite difficult. You can easily see through arguments and come to your own conclusions with much more clarity. Always pay attention to the world around you.

If you enjoyed these, here is a list of almost 150 fallacies for your reading enjoyment.

Yourlogicalfallacyis.com is another great resource.

Stay Superior!!


Photo by sebastiaan stam on Unsplash


 

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Matt
Matt is a husband, a father, an avid motorcycle rider, and an all around awesome guy.