The best logical fallacy of all: The Fallacy Fallacy


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So this post is an advert for a podcast. That should be made clearer.


Fallacious, fallacy, fellatio… I win!
What do I get… you guessed it!



Some of these YANNS podcasts sound interesting but I have yet to listen to one since I can’t do 40 minutes of sustained listening to audio. Sad they don’t do transcripts often.


The podcast proposed that more and more people continue to write after college, and they have adopted some of the tropes of academic writing-- including the belief that arguments need to be valid arguments, before an audience need consider the truth of the matter at hand. But, at least it is a written culture.

If you’ve ever tried to follow the right wing insurrection in Oregon, from the perspective of the rebels, you’ll quickly get a sense of how little is written down. Instead, it’s oral-- talk radio, hours long youtube rants. It’s very hard to get up to speed, because listening demands a commitment that reading does not.


Yeah. “Big Podcast” is ruining Boing Boing.


i chuckled, and yea some of the overt product promotion is annoying, but for good quality talks such as YANSS I dont mind them trying to sell it so much. Without that strategy I never would have found Nightvale!


We tried to sneak it past you, but you are too smart and you noticed it was podcast.


So maybe he is so smart?


That’s always my disappointment when following the link.


I read this in a weird stereotypical movie Russian accent, in my head…


The thing that’s really going to cook your noodle later is that there’s a Fallacy fallacy fallacy: the notion that, having identified that your attacker is using a fallacy fallacy, you automatically assume that they are wrong.

(Are we approaching the point where someone just says “buffalo” a whole bunch of times and claims it’s a sentence?)


Yeah, instead, let’s talk about the “naming fallacy”: the idea that somehow naming a logical fallacy of any kind matters. If you can’t explain why you disagree with someone, or if you can’t explain what it is about their argument that is actually fatal to their conclusion, then you really shouldn’t be up on a high horse. “Strawman” is a good answer to a multiple choice question in a highschool or first year critical thinking class.

In a discussion with other human beings, naming fallacies shows that either: 1) you are too afraid of being shown wrong to explain your position; 2) you are too arrogant to consider that someone who disagrees with you might say something interesting; 3) you are parroting behaviour you’ve seen on the “winning” side of arguments before without knowing why. Might be all three.


The basic tenet of logic is that the structure of an argument can be analyzed without bothering to consider the content of that argument. This is generally faster than trying to verify the premises contained in these arguments. Not only does this save you the time that you would otherwise invest in refuting bad arguments, it also provides a useful fitness function for improving your own arguments.

One useful aspect of knowing the fallacies is that you can quite easily construct a counterexample. It’s not rhetorically effective to mumble something in latin (ad hominem, tu quoque) without further explanation.

It's much more satisfying to shout "ad hominem, you cock!" at the top of your lungs, and then flounce off

I completely agree. The point of learning about logical fallacies ought to be to become a clearer thinker yourself. They aren’t just clubs you get to swing at people.

The worst, for me, is when people call something a strawman. If someone is arguing against a poor understanding of your position, then you ought to be trying to improve their understanding!


Eh…I think the advantages of naming fallacies outweighs the disadvantages, and that teaching school children about them would be a huge benefit. There are far too many adults who fall prey to lazy thinking like, “We can’t allow gay marriage because we’ve never allowed it before,” or, “I’ve never heard anything about police brutality in this town, so you’re a liar,” or one of the worst, “My kids shouldn’t have to eat healthy food at school, because Michelle Obama has a big butt.”

Where it becomes meaningless is just what jerwin said; someone muttering some Latin and taking a “it’s not my job to educate you” stance is where it’s pointles. OTOH, naming it and explaining it can have great effect in shaming the other person for being a moron (more realistically, they’ll probably think you’re a snooty asshole, but hey…)


Yeah, to me the answers to those are: “By that reasoning we never would have allowed interracial marriage either,” “Just because you’ve never heard of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, and even if it isn’t a problem in your town, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem elsewhere” and “I don’t understand the link between Michelle Obama and the diet at your school.” Anyone who is making those arguments doesn’t know logical fallacies anyway, so I feel like they’d need to be explained from first principles.

But if someone links school lunches to the first lady’s ass, then the problem isn’t a logical fallacy, the problem is that they haven’t told you (and maybe don’t know) what their position is at all. If you really cared to argue with such a person, the first order of business wouldn’t be pointing out the logical fallacy (is this even a fallacy? can you commit a fallacy if you have completely eschewed logic?), but rather to ask them something like, “It sounds like you have a problem with some rules about food at your kid’s school, are there particular rules that bother you?” Not much point arguing with a secondhand Glenn Beck talking point when you could be talking about the actual reason they have for holding their no-healthy-food position in the first place.

This is why I hate naming logical fallacies. Most of the time they don’t have anything to do with anything. Is that person employing a strawman, or are they actually presenting what they think your view is? Is that person really making an ad hominem attack or are they just insulting someone without even meaning it as an argument*? Is that person really screwing up a token-class distinction or is their argument more nuanced than you suspect? Better to put the conversation on a track that increases the possibility of understanding than one that puts of defenses.

I mean, unless your goal is just to try to get them to shut up and go away, which is sometimes worthwhile.

* Ad hominem is one that is very complicated. While it’s a fallacy in logic most people are actually much better at judging character than they will ever be at logic (they are woeful at both), so it’s a useful heuristic for them to evaluate arguments in their lives. Ad hominem helps us protect ourselves from people who are better at arguing than we are but who are nonetheless evil/wrong/conmen.


Oh, I know what their position is, sadly:

The school lunch cafeteria is serving lunches my kids don’t like, because it’s “healthy.”
The First Lady’s stated goal is to get kids to eat healthy.
The First Lady has a big butt, which might mean she doesn’t eat healthy.
(Alternatively, “I found a picture online of Michelle and/or Barack Obama eating a cheeseburger.”)
The First Lady doesn’t follow her own stated goals.
Therefore, healthy school lunches are stupid because not even the person I’m blaming for them eats like that.

It’s stupid, but it’s their “logic”.


I took a couple formal logic classes as an undergrad (they actually were surprisingly fun). At the end of the first course the prof. discussed a paper where researchers gave a group of grad. students who’d taken advanced formal logic courses, and grad. students who had not a selection of writings some of which contained fallacies, some of which didn’t, and asked them to identify which contained logical errors. The students who’d studied formal logic were no more effective at identifying fallacies in normal language.

Can’t find the paper now, alas. Also a great way to end the course - “great news guys - you’ve gained nothing!” Naturally, I signed up for the next formal logic course.

But to the point, I think there are better ways to become a clearer thinker than being able to enumerate fallacies.