Expose an irrational belief, keep a person rational for a day. Expose irrational thinking, keep a person rational for a lifetime – Bo Bennett
The first step to being rational is to be skeptical, so now that you’re skeptical, how do you go about being rational? Like the famous Sherlock Holmes is misquoted as saying, “It’s elementary, my dear Watson”. And that means doing something that Sherlock Holmes is rightly credited for being good at, deduction.
So how does one go about using deductive reasoning towards being skeptical and rational ?For that we have to understand what a logical statement or argument really is, how to use deductive tools to dissect the statement and eventually identify the truthfulness or fallacy in the argument.
~ Not to be confused with Inductive reasoning or induction, which deals with probabilities and possibilities that cannot be proved or disproved using deduction (Example: Premise; No evidence of the existence of a God has been found yet – Deductive conclusion that God does not exist might not be entirely correct here – Inductive conclusion that it is highly improbable that God does not exist is more likely)
In its simplest form, a logical statement or argument has one or more premises and a conclusion. It then follows that deductive reasoning is used to prove whether the logical argument is valid or invalid which is if the conclusion is true or false, this is only true if the premises put forward are true. Getting into the technicalities of deductive reasoning would mean talking about things like, affirming the antecedent, law of contrapositive etc. All these techniques are well presented in the Wikipedia page for deductive reasoning along with some really good references.
What I would like to present here, instead of a list and explanation of specific logical fallacies, is how to look for a fallacious argument and further how to identify what type of fallacy is at play.
When presented with a statement or argument, before you dive into logically validating it, it is important to first look at the premise itself and confirm that it is in fact a true premise and not some made up or distorted factual statement. Let’s look at an example of a fake premise and also the difference between an argument with a fake premise and one with a true premise but a logical fallacy.
“The earth is not warming, hence global warming due to climate change is not real”
Now the premise here would be a fake premise, as there is scientific evidence out there to prove otherwise
What would a true premise but logical fallacy look like,
“The ice in Antarctica is expanding, hence global warming is not real”
This is a true premise, as there is evidence that ice in Antarctica is expanding, but the wrong conclusion is being drawn, since the expansion is local and in short periods and does not disprove global warming. So this would be a logical fallacy.
There are a lot of resources out there to fact check, my favorite is Snopes
Now that we’ve established that our premise is factually correct, we can begin the deductive reasoning process to validate the argument
Step 1: Look closely and question the connection between the conclusion and the premise
Most of the time, the conclusion drawn from the premise has no or very little relation to the premise but gives the appearance that it does. This could be because
– The premise is a fact, that makes us believe the conclusion has to be right too
– There is small connection (probably a common word or words) between the premise and conclusion that brings us to believe that the conclusion is right
An example of this would be,
“We have women in government and as CEO’s of big companies, hence there cannot be any inequalities between men and women anymore”
We have a factual premise to begin with, and then a conclusion that has a small connection with the premise, which is that it mentions women. What makes this a logical fallacy is that inequalities between men and women does not have a direct correlation to women being in powerful positions, women could be in these position in spite of the inequalities and not only because of the absence of it.
Questioning the close connection between conclusion and premise is extremely important in validating an argument, there has to always be a direct correlation between premise and conclusion in order for it to be valid.
So now that the argument has passed the Fake premise test and has a direct correlation between conclusion and premise, what further reasoning can we apply to confirm it’s validity
Step 2: Does the argument or conclusion provoke an emotional response from you
If the conclusion being drawn, or sometimes even the premise, induces an emotional response of fear, anger, hate etc. from you then there is a chance that there has been a logical error in the conclusion. This could be for two reasons,
– The person making the argument is emotional and that could shadow logical thinking and generate an illogical argument
– The person is using the illogical argument to intentionally generate an emotional response and hence cloud your rational thinking.
An example of this would be,
“I wish more of you cared about the homeless, as much as you cared about the LGBT”
Now this argument is either intentionally made to provoke an emotional response or that the writer is him/herself emotional about it and in that emotion made an error in logical reasoning. What makes this argument illogical is that the argument is making an assumption that those who care about the LGBT do not care about the homeless.
This step can be difficult to get past sometimes, because emotions can be the biggest enemy to logical thinking and reasoning, so it is very important not to forget to keep this in mind every time we are presented with an argument.
Step 3: Train your mind to think logically and be a skeptic
In my opinion, step 1 and 2, should cover a host of arguments that you’ll face and should give you the necessary tools to validate those arguments. But there will be times when arguments pass those tests and still have a possibility of being illogical.
In order to be able to validate arguments after considering the steps above, the following pointers will be helpful
– Approach every argument with skepticism
– Train your mind to think logically
– Use book and web based resources to learn about specific logical fallacies and compare them to every argument that you might come across
Thinking logically does not imply or require a high intelligence or a lot of knowledge, it only requires that we, not only question everything, but follow a simple set of rules to arrive at a logical conclusion. A sound argument is one that is factual and free of any logical fallacies.
“If 50 million believe in a fallacy, it is still a fallacy” ~ Prof. Samuel Warren Carey