Logical Fallacies

What They Are, and How to Avoid Them

Make sure you don't try to compare apples and oranges!

© iStockphoto/pixeldigets

"I read an article yesterday about a study by a famous academic designed to test the effect of pleasant imagery on employee motivation. Employees were shown images of baby animals and beautiful nature scenes during their first five minutes at work. Amazingly, the company where the study was conducted had a 10% jump in profits that quarter and over the year they posted their highest earnings yet. So showing employees pleasant images is a great way to increase their motivation and improve productivity."

What do you think about the argument you just read? Do you believe the conclusion?

In fact, the argument presented above contains a number of logical fallacies (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a fallacy is "an often plausible argument using false or illogical reasoning".) Don't worry if you believed the conclusion: The passage contains some very common and effective tactics for circumventing reason and logic. You'll learn what these are a little later!

Being able to discern a valid argument from a false one is an important skill. There are lots of people out there hoping to get you to believe what they are saying, despite having no proof for their message. And there are also many people whose motivation is less suspect, but who nevertheless present illogical reasoning, because they fail to understand the implications of the facts at hand.

Either way, if you are aware of what to look for to determine if an argument is sound or not, you can avoid falling victim to invalid arguments.

The Basis of an Argument

To understand how to spot logical fallacies, you should have a basic understanding of the mechanics of an argument. An argument in logic is a set of statements where one statement is inferred from the other or others. There are two types of statements:

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