By Ben Olson
This is the fourth and final part of the ìHow to Argueî series where we have taken a look at logical fallacies or errors in reasoning that undermine the logic of an argument.
Last week we discussed tu quoque, the big lie and cherry picking fallacies.
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The bandwagon fallacy, also known as ad populum, is when a speaker assumes something is true because others agree with it. According to legend, politicians used to parade through the streets trying to draw a crowd and gain attention for votes. Whoever supported that candidate would literally jump on board the bandwagon.
It’s not much different when applying the bandwagon idea to arguing. Advertisers use bandwagon fallacies often: “Drink Gatorade because that’s what all professional athletes do to stay hydrated,” or “Read the New Yorker: Ten million Americans can’t be wrong, can they?”
By arguing that a product (or idea, or anything) is true or good simply because lots of people believe it (or consumer it, etc.) is false logic. Instead, try to convince someone your idea is good because of the individual tenets of the idea.
A real world example of bandwagen fallacy: During a campaign speech before the 2016 election, Donald Trump spoke these words to a rally: “I only wish these cameras, because there’s nothing as dishonest as the media, that I can tell you, I only wish these cameras would spin around and show the kind of people that we have, the numbers of people that we have here. I just wish that for once they would do it, because you know what, we have a silent majority that’s no longer so silent, it’s now the loud noisy majority, and we’re going to be heard. We’re going to be heard.”
An explanation: While he commits several logical fallacies in this quote, we’ll focus on the bandwagon fallacy. When President Trump talks about drawing large crowds at his rally, he is attempting to convince the American people that his campaign was the most popular, therefore the most “true” or “good.”
Fallacy of Sunk Costs
The fallacy of sunk costs is a painful one that we often use against ourselves. When a speaker reasons that further investment is warranted based on the fact that the resources already invested will be lost otherwise, they don’t take into consideration the overall losses that would be involved in future investment. You can sum it up with the phrase, “Throwing good money after bad.”
Let’s think of this in gambling terminology. If you sit down at the blackjack table and lose $1,000 of the $1,800 that you brought to gamble with, there are a couple of options for moving forward. You could cut your losses and retain the $800, or you could reinvest the additional $800, because you’ve already spent $1,000. If you didn’t at least attempt to win back that lost grand, the money will have been lost in vain.
This fallacy isn’t just about money, though. Think of when you get caught in a lie. Some will immediately come clean and expose the lie, but others will continue to dig themselves in a hole, thinking that they’ve already lied and tried to cover it up. Or if you’ve invested a year in a relationship before realizing you’re not compatible with your partner, if you decide to stick around simply because you’ve already invested a year, you’re committing the fallacy of sunk costs.
A real world example of the fallacy of sunk costs: The Concorde was a supersonic passenger jet which was a joint project between the French and British governments. Well before the plane was completed, it was clear that it would not be a financial success. However, because a lot had already been invested in the project, it was decided to continue with the project.
Explanation: Not surprisingly, the Concorde project launched, fizzled and quickly died, along with any hope of recouping the huge amount of money that was invested by both governments.
When equivocation occurs, a word, phrase or sentence is used deliberately to confuse or mislead by sounding like it’s saying one thing but actually saying something else.
When done in poetry or creative endeavors, equivocation can be passed off as a “play on words” for dramatic effect. When used in politics, the media or in any other serious applications, equivocation
Often this fallacy shows up in the form of euphemisms, which replace unpleasant words with “nicer” ones. Imagine being interviewed for a job, and instead of talking about your “criminal background,” you use the term “youthful indiscretions.” The former sounds like a serious matter, while the latter attempts to paint the criminal acts with a light brush.
An example of equivocation: Billy pulls into a parking lot and looks at the sign, which reads, “Fine for parking here.” Billy says to his wife, Susan, “Look, the sign says parking here is fine, so I’m parking here.”
A real world example of equivocation: When President Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway went on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to discuss why Trump’s then-press secretary Sean Spicer mischaracterized the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, she replied with one of 2017’s most notable gaffes: “Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.”
An explanation: When Conway used the term “alternative facts” the internet responded with a mixture of anguish, laughter and head-slappery. It hardly needs to be mentioned that there is no such thing as an “alternative fact,” just truth and falsehood. By claiming that Spicer used “alternative facts,” in judging the size of the inauguration crowd, Conway wants the American people to believe that there are gray areas between truth and fiction. Bonus fallacy: by arguing about crowd size in the first place, Spicer had committed a bandwagon fallacy.
This concludes the four-part series on how to argue. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about logical fallacies.
Where do we go from here? The first step is recognizing when someone is using a logical fallacy in an argument against you. While you might be tempted to interrupt them and shout “RED HERRING!” in their face, avoid the temptation. You are then allowing your emotions dictate your response (which is another fallacy we haven’t covered – an appeal to pity).
Instead, wait for the person you are speaking with to finish their thought and calmly point out the error in their logic.
Don’t be vindictive. Always offer someone the chance to re-word their original point, as we often use logical fallacies without knowing it.
I encourage you to do your own research on logical fallacies, as there are dozens more than I’ve covered in this four-part series.
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