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Begging the Question
Petitio Principii

AKA Circular Reasoning, Reasoning in a Circle

Category: Fallacies of Presumption

Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. This sort of "reasoning" typically has the following form.

  1. Premises in which the truth of the conclusion is claimed or the truth of the conclusion is assumed (either directly or indirectly).
  2. Claim C (the conclusion) is true.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion. Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim. This is especially clear in particularly blatant cases: "X is true. The evidence for this claim is that X is true."

Some cases of question begging are fairly blatant, while others can be extremely subtle.

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536
Ignoring a Common Cause
AKA Questionable Cause

Category: Fallacies of Presumption → Casual Fallacies

This fallacy has the following general structure:

  1. A and B are regularly connected (but no third, common cause is looked for).
  2. Therefore A is the cause of B.
This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that one thing causes another simply because they are regularly associated. More formally, this fallacy is committed when it is concluded that A is the cause of B simply because A and B are regularly connected. Further, the causal conclusion is drawn without considering the possibility that a third factor might be the cause of both A and B.

In many cases, the fallacy is quite evident. For example, if a person claimed that a person's sneezing was caused by her watery eyes and he simply ignored the fact that the woman was standing in a hay field, he would have fallen prey to the fallacy of ignoring a common cause. In this case, it would be reasonable to conclude that the woman's sneezing and watering eyes was caused by an allergic reaction of some kind. In other cases, it is not as evident that the fallacy is being committed. For example, a doctor might find a large amount of bacteria in one of her patients and conclude that the bacteria are the cause of the patient's illness. However, it might turn out that the bacteria are actually harmless and that a virus is weakening the person, Thus, the viruses would be the actual cause of the illness and growth of the bacteria (the viruses would weaken the ability of the person's body to resist the growth of the bacteria).

As noted in the discussion of other causal fallacies, causality is a rather difficult matter. However, it is possible to avoid this fallacy by taking due care. In the case of Ignoring a Common Cause, the key to avoiding this fallacy is to be careful to check for other factors that might be the actual cause of both the suspected cause and the suspected effect. If a person fails to check for the possibility of a common cause, then they will commit this fallacy. Thus, it is always a good idea to always ask "could there be a third factor that is actually causing both A and B?"

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11
Red Herring
AKA Smoke Screen, Wild Goose Chase

Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings)

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. Topic A is under discussion.
  2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).
  3. Topic A is abandoned.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

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9
Confusing Cause and Effect
AKA Questionable Cause, Reversing Causation

Category: Fallacies of Presumption → Casual Fallacies

Confusing Cause and Effect is a fallacy that has the following general form:

  1. A and B regularly occur together.
  2. Therefore A is the cause of B. This fallacy requires that there not be, in fact, a common cause that actually causes both A and B.
This fallacy is committed when a person assumes that one event must cause another just because the events occur together. More formally, this fallacy involves drawing the conclusion that A is the cause of B simply because A and B are in regular conjunction (and there is not a common cause that is actually the cause of A and B). The mistake being made is that the causal conclusion is being drawn without adequate justification.

In some cases it will be evident that the fallacy is being committed. For example, a person might claim that an illness was caused by a person getting a fever. In this case, it would be quite clear that the fever was caused by illness and not the other way around. In other cases, the fallacy is not always evident. One factor that makes causal reasoning quite difficult is that it is not always evident what is the cause and what is the effect. For example, a problem child might be the cause of the parents being short tempered or the short temper of the parents might be the cause of the child being problematic. The difficulty is increased by the fact that some situations might involve feedback. For example, the parents' temper might cause the child to become problematic and the child's behavior could worsen the parents' temper. In such cases it could be rather difficult to sort out what caused what in the first place.

In order to determine that the fallacy has been committed, it must be shown that the causal conclusion has not been adequately supported and that the person committing the fallacy has confused the actual cause with the effect. Showing that the fallacy has been committed will typically involve determining the actual cause and the actual effect. In some cases, as noted above, this can be quite easy. In other cases it will be difficult. In some cases, it might be almost impossible. Another thing that makes causal reasoning difficult is that people often have very different conceptions of cause and, in some cases, the issues are clouded by emotions and ideologies. For example, people often claim violence on TV and in movies must be censored because it causes people to like violence. Other people claim that there is violence on TV and in movies because people like violence. In this case, it is not obvious what the cause really is and the issue is clouded by the fact that emotions often run high on this issue.

While causal reasoning can be difficult, many errors can be avoided with due care and careful testing procedures. This is due to the fact that the fallacy arises because the conclusion is drawn without due care. One way to avoid the fallacy is to pay careful attention to the temporal sequence of events. Since (outside of Star Trek), effects do not generally precede their causes, if A occurs after B, then A cannot be the cause of B. However, these methods go beyond the scope of this program.

All causal fallacies involve an error in causal reasoning. However, this fallacy differs from the other causal fallacies in terms of the error in reasoning being made. In the case of a Post Hoc fallacy, the error is that a person is accepting that A is the cause of B simply because A occurs before B. In the case of the Fallacy of Ignoring a Common Cause A is taken to be the cause of B when there is, in fact, a third factor that is the cause of both A and B. For more information, see the relevant entries in this program.

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40
Misleading Vividness
Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings) → Distracting Appeals

Misleading Vividness is a fallacy in which a very small number of particularly dramatic events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. Dramatic or vivid event X occurs (and is not in accord with the majority of the statistical evidence).
  2. Therefore events of type X are likely to occur.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because the mere fact that an event is particularly vivid or dramatic does not make the event more likely to occur, especially in the face of significant statistical evidence.

People often accept this sort of "reasoning" because particularly vivid or dramatic cases tend to make a very strong impression on the human mind. For example, if a person survives a particularly awful plane crash, he might be inclined to believe that air travel is more dangerous than other forms of travel. After all, explosions and people dying around him will have a more significant impact on his mind than will the rather dull statistics that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than killed in a plane crash.

It should be kept in mind that taking into account the possibility of something dramatic or vivid occurring is not always fallacious. For example, a person might decide to never go sky diving because the effects of an accident can be very, very dramatic. If he knows that, statistically, the chances of the accident are happening are very low but he considers even a small risk to be unacceptable, then he would not be making an error in reasoning.

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31
Fallacy of Composition
Category: Fallacies of Ambiguity

The fallacy of Composition is committed when a conclusion is drawn about a whole based on the features of its constituents when, in fact, no justification provided for the inference. There are actually two types of this fallacy, both of which are known by the same name (because of the high degree of similarity).

The first type of fallacy of Composition arises when a person reasons from the characteristics of individual members of a class or group to a conclusion regarding the characteristics of the entire class or group (taken as a whole). More formally, the "reasoning" would look something like this.

  1. Individual F things have characteristics A, B, C, etc.
  2. Therefore, the (whole) class of F things has characteristics A, B, C, etc.
This line of reasoning is fallacious because the mere fact that individuals have certain characteristics does not, in itself, guarantee that the class (taken as a whole) has those characteristics.

It is important to note that drawing an inference about the characteristics of a class based on the characteristics of its individual members is not always fallacious. In some cases, sufficient justification can be provided to warrant the conclusion. For example, it is true that an individual rich person has more wealth than an individual poor person. In some nations (such as the US) it is true that the class of wealthy people has more wealth as a whole than does the class of poor people. In this case, the evidence used would warrant the inference and the fallacy of Composition would not be committed.

The second type of fallacy of Composition is committed when it is concluded that what is true of the parts of a whole must be true of the whole without there being adequate justification for the claim. More formally, the line of "reasoning" would be as follows:

  1. The parts of the whole X have characteristics A, B, C, etc.
  2. Therefore the whole X must have characteristics A, B, C.
This sort of reasoning is fallacious because it cannot be inferred that simply because the parts of a complex whole have (or lack) certain properties that the whole that they are parts of has those properties. This is especially clear in math: The numbers 1 and 3 are both odd. 1 and 3 are parts of 4. Therefore, the number 4 is odd. It must be noted that reasoning from the properties of the parts to the properties of the whole is not always fallacious. If there is justification for the inference from parts to whole, then the reasoning is not fallacious. For example, if every part of the human body is made of matter, then it would not be an error in reasoning to conclude that the whole human body is made of matter. Similarly, if every part of a structure is made of brick, there is no fallacy committed when one concludes that the whole structure is made of brick.

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