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Be on the Outlook for Ugly Arguments

Being reliable can be tough, especially if dealing with other than first-hand sources. In his book Speed Reading (Buzan 1988), Tony Buzan goes into seven major logical fallacies that easily distort conversation and even discussions. By understanding the fallacies, you may sharpen your conversation and analytical faculties, and gain good competence in debates and other presentations, such as term papers. Keeping aware of these argumentation fallacies and still others could help you classifying a fair amount of thoughts throughout your life, even.

Seven Fallacies

  1. Appeal to Authority
  2. Denigration
  3. Emotive Language
  4. Undefined Source
  5. Extrapolation
  6. Argument by Analogy
  7. Misuse of Statistics

1. Appeal to Authority

Appealing persons and situations are often used in advertising. Status guys may sell well and seem stronger and more successful than they really are. Further, the arguments in themselves and not the persons that advocate them, should be the basis for reaching conclusions. (Buzan 1988:88-89)

A wider look on authority-uses is on another page. In the book that underlies parts of that page, Fred Kerlinger and Howard Lee (2000) also teach that research problems may be solved by adequate research designs [Heuristics]. Some of the chapters and topics in the book are:

  • Science and the Scientific Approach.
  • Problems and Hypotheses.
  • Principles of Analysis and Interpretation.
  • Research Designs.
Einstein Blind obedience to authority is the greatest enemy of the truth. - Albert Einstein, in Calaprice 2011, 161.

2. Denigration

Einstein What you have said about German professors is not at all exaggerated . . . Blind obedience to authority is the greatest enemy of the truth. - Albert Einstein, treating all German professors alike in 1901. (In Calaprice 2011, 161)

Hmmm. Denigration suggests 'blackening', and hence 'belittling' or 'defaming'. This is quite the opposite of appeal to authority. It is called 'character assasination' by some, and is seen in the proverb "Give a dog a bad name and hang him". In denigration too the focus of the person may be totally irrelevant, as it is the argument itself that is to be considered. [Tor 89]

In other words, denigration is smearing or scapegoating people to escape the unwelcome tidings they stands up to. Denigration may be a neurotic defence and lead into well camouflaged insanity. Its milder variants can be like "attacking the player instead of aiming at the ball" in soccer (football). Those who do so, have to be penalised (in football).

It is generally much more shameful to lose a good reputation than never to have acquired it. - Pliny the Elder

3. Emotive Language

The use of emotionally loaded words - strong words - may subtly influence our judgements through our emotions. The question is whether (or how far) strong words are warranted in any case. It they can be substantiated, their use may be fair and also fit. However, some emotive language may play on strong words and attachments and even identifications with one's group, or peers, or leaders, and so on. Emotive language can mislead our perceptions too. Demagogues are among those who speculate in using emotive language. It is also found in propaganda. [Tor 89]

The secret of the demagogue is to appear as dumb as his audience so that these people can believe themselves as smart as he is. - Harry Zohn

4. Undefined Source

Undefined sources include so-called 'otherwise reliable sources', 'people', 'it has been confirmed that', 'we all know', and further. One question to alert us is, "Do all know?" Another is, "Does everybody really agree?" Often they do not. (Buzan 1988:89-90)

5. Extrapolation

Buzan maintains that extrapolating never leads to certainty, only to a probability. Moreover, there are degrees of certainty (degrees of statistical significance) in probability calculations. Extrapolation - and predictive utterances on top of that again - can often be useful, although the ground to tread on because of them, is somewhat slippery. One normally does well to sort solid facts from various propositions aligned to them; the latter include extrapolations. And also, it is much wanted to be able to discern between a fact (also: a text) on the one hand, and its interpretations and comments on the other, so as to make it very clear what is what. (Buzan 1988:90)

6. Argument by Analogy

"The analogy halts" is a useful point to bear in mind. It is so because an analogous presentation tells of something else that what is presented. In other words, analogies deal with resemblances among things that also are unlike. Analogies are insiduous forms of arguments to be well aware of. For example, it is easy to infer that if what is tentatively referred to by analogy and the analogy itself agree with one another in some respects they could agree in others too - that's often where one or more traps lie. [Tor 90-91]

7. Misuse of Statistics

If you are not aware of all the considerations and accommodations that go into statistics, you can be easily mislead by it. The 'average' is a tricky subject in this connection. There are no average individuals, and even the person is unique, it is held in third force psychology, for example. And being average is not the same as being healthy, if most of the population is neurotic and tactless, and so on. Abraham Maslow found that one has to look for model humans among those who deviate from the average: the "plus deviates". Statistics, on the other hand, levels out individual differences and thus makes many interesting phenomena quite difficult to ascertain, tackle and handle. As Buzan too is into, there is no average person.

Aside from the possible misuse of averaging (the average), there is tendentious use of graphics and various logical fallacies involved.

Going through and sifting statistical information could be a real help, though. One has to know the limits and scope of an investigation, and tackle possible over-stretching of the proper standards and limits that could be involved.

In conclusion: There are many ways to be abused apart from the obvious ones.

You can use accident statistics to scare yourself to death. - Darren Huff, 1954, 79.

Handle more information, draw mind-maps

Good maps help surveys. Tony Buzan teaches mind-mapping, which works with key ideas, and shows relationships between aligned thoughts in spatial arrangements. How such idea mapping is carried out and used for overview or study, is also up to you. [Buzan and Buzan 2010]

Go for being well informed. It helps to be well instructed so as to lessen the barriers to critical thinking. It is a part of human nature to evaluate, judge. By applying critical thinking we stand back from instant judgements and keep judgement at bay (in suspensio) at least if we have too meagre information to judge from. It should be wise to be open-minded enough to allow new information to change our perspective now and then also, particularly if we have been much opinionated. Those who refuse to listen to arguments they do not like, be not among them. There comes a time where it may be necessary to challenge your parents' pet ideas, for example. To make snap judgements and stick to them is not always the best to do. In fact, it misses such points of education as "Consider and explore options" added to reacting in some usual way too. Such academic skills does not have to be felt like a bomb exploding in the bathroom where you are sitting. Instead, they are capable of helping students onwards and upwards, at least in liberal enough settings, such as campuses. [Hills 2011:11-13, passim.]

Sift or assess arguments. Roy van den Brink-Budgen calls for assessing arguments too. He says: "Skills in assessing arguments should be used not only in evaluating material in books and journals. They should also be used in evaluating more everyday situations," for example to use information at hand in order to judge who is to blame, and what could well become a solution. [Cf. 2000:91]

Know of tricks and crookeries For more delicacies, try Madsen Pirie, How to Win Every Argument (2007) or his older (version), The Book of the Fallacy (1985). Pirie talks of degrading analogies, showing off "by science", condemning good alternatives; denying set-up premises, appeal to feelings, shrinking, sham accuracy, onesidedness, and wishful thinking among many other fallacies.

Learn to recognise persuasion; Persuaded ones risk being mislead. Bo Bennett's book Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies (2013) offers substantial help in that he describes 300 logical fallacies with examples and explanations. He writes: "We make and hear arguments all day and often do not recognize them. We are constantly being bombarded with persuasion". As for beliefs of many kinds, you have a right to sift and examine all and sundry for fallacious reasoning, for errors, kinds of threats, or other psychological tactics, like "Don't grow a mustache, because Hitler had a mustache; therefore, you will be like Hitler!" [2013:3-10, passim]


Wisdom of Arne Naess

In one of his books, Norwegian Arne Naess has postulated six norms for being factual and impartial (i.e., unprejudiced, objective, unbiased, fair, non-tendentious), and these norms can be substantial help [Naess 2000:57]. Naess finds that 'stiff objectivity' is a good thing to foster if the term is understood as something like 'reasonably balanced', 'technically rewarding' or 'well to the point', along with 'impartiality' (see above).

Thus, if you want to give an objective account of something, the six handling norms of Dr. Naess are:

  1. Refrain from digressing.
  2. If you render someone in a serious discussion, the other party - your opponent - must find your rendition to be adequate.
  3. Contributions to the debate should be unambiguous, particularly in the sense that listeners or readers (receivers) will not be induced or led astray to interpret the other party's expressions in unbecoming, distorting, and inconsiderate, non-helpful ways somehow.
  4. Don't state your opponent has views that he neither endorses nor accepts. And don't argue (debate) against fictitious and invented opponents.
  5. A presentation ought to avoid that the listener or reader gets a slanted (biased) impression which serves one side's interests at the cost of the other side's interests.
  6. Context (setting) or outer circumstances that don't pertain to the case, should be kept neutral.

If these guidelines are well kept, discussions will not be tactless, and may even be entertaining.


Quoting Somebody and Getting Higher

If you quote somebody in writing, use the exact words, that is, quote verbatim and use quotations marks. If you render, also give the source you render from. If you summarise something, likewise give the source. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) offers standards for it, for example.

If you add something to a text or a debate contribution, carefully show what is quotation or rendering or summary on the one hand, and what is comment on the other hand.

Seek to be fair, informed and to the point if you can, and the climate is OK. It may be fair practice that prepares for getting higher outlooks:

Arne Naess explains that being sachlich in debates, includes the skill of rendering the opponent suitably. You can sum up the other's stands first, to show you have listened and understood things right. If they are not carefully summarised, let the other correct it.

Then say what is on your heart and mind in the matter, so as to present subject matter well. It may be in the form of added comments, as a sort of commentary [Shriver 2013], or your parts of an ongoing debate, without debasing the other.

It may be easier said than done, especially if the other uses vile tactics. If so, there is perhaps no point in going on, and also if the other behaves like a troubled ghost and seeks to make you become one. Instead, make wise use of the opportunity of human birth, attain the highest level and experience the bliss of Paramatman. [Shriver 2013:103-4]


Sachlichkeit, argumentation, being matter-of-fact, logical fallacies, Literature  

Baldick, Chris. The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Bedau. Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford / St. Martin's, 2011.

Bennett, Bo. Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of over 300 Logical Fallacies. Updated Academic ed. Sudbury, MA:, 2013.

Brink-Budgen, Roy van den. Critical Thinking for Students: Learn the Skills of Critical Assessment and Effective Argument. 3rd ed. utg. Oxford: How To Books, 2000.

Buzan, Tony: Speed Reading. Rev. ed. London: David and Charles, 1988.

Buzan, Tony, and Barry Buzan. The Mind Map Book: Unlock Your Creativity, Boost Your Memory, Change Your Life. Harlow: BBC Active / Pearson, 2010.

Calaprice, Alice, coll. 2011. The Ultimate Quotable Einstein. London: Princeton University Press.

Hills, Debra. Student Essentials: Critical Thinking. Richmond, Surrey: Trotman, 2011.

Huff, Darren. 1954. How to Lie with Statistics. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

Kerlinger, Fred Nichols. Foundations of Behavioral Research. 4th rev. ed. Andover, Hampshire: Cengage Learning, 2000.

Mayberry, Katherine J. Everyday Arguments: A Guide to Writing and Reading Effective Arguments. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2009.

Næss, Arne med Per Ingvar Haukeland: Livsfilosofi. Sandvika: De norske Bokklubbene, 2000.

Paul, Richard, and Linda Elder. The Thinker's Guide to Fallacies: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2008.

Pirie, Madsen. How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic. Paperback ed. London: Continuum, 2007.

Ruggiero, Vincent Ryan. Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012.

Shriver, LB Trusty. The Sweet Teachings of the Blessed Sankaracarya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. Tr. and contr. Cynthia Ann Humes. Raleigh, NC:, 2013.

The University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Weston, Anthony. A Rulebook for Arguments. 4th ed. Cambridge: Hacketts, 2008.

Walton, Douglas. Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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