The Unseen Danger Fallacy

‘Commonly found in the more fevered corners of political ideology are the various fallacies of danger – those forms of argument that seek to stave off decision by conjuring up all manner of horrors that precipitate change might lead to (or, conversely, the disasters that delay will engender). The 19th-century political thinker and reformer Jeremy Bentham called this “the hobgoblin argument” since it warns of mythical horrors lurking unseen by all but the one kind enough to point them out to us.’

– “Can you spot a rhetorical fallacy?” The Guardian, 13 September 2013

The Limits of Debate Fallacy

‘An increasingly common variant of such a tactic takes the form of a self-designated umpire who joins in with online disputes by asserting their authority to police the limits of debate. They declare that if they (a typical, reasonable and fair-minded person) find something hard to understand then it must be wrong or mere sophistry; that if they find something too extreme it must be completely insane; that if they feel someone has gone too far then they must have.’

– “Can you spot a rhetorical fallacy?” The Guardian, 13 September 2013

The Authority Fallacy

‘A lot of fallacious forms of argument cluster around the use of “authorities”. It is often necessary in argument to make use of some kind of authority – if only because we want to refer to facts and findings. But authorities can also be used as a way to bully opponents by suggesting that in failing to agree with some venerated source they must themselves be weak-minded, ignorant or wildly and dangerously at odds with common standards.’

– “Can you spot a rhetorical fallacy?” The Guardian, 13 September 2013

Death is #2

‘I saw a thing, actually a study that said: speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing. Number two, was death. Death is number two? This means, to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.’

Seinfeld, J. (1998). I’m Telling You For The Last Time. Broadhurst Theatre, New York: Universal Records.

Historical Rhetoric Twitter Style

What if Twitter had existed for over two centuries? Mankind might not have experienced the beautiful prose, witty quips and moving rhetoric produced by some of the world’s foremost speech writers. Here are some examples of the most famous English speeches of the past two hundred years as they would have been written on Twitter.

“Less is more.” – Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto

Abraham Lincoln
“The Gettysburg Address”
19th of November 1863; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, United States

This nation is conceived in liberty. All men are created equal. Government of/by/for the people shall not perish from the earth. #Gettysburg

Winston Churchill
“We Shall Fight on the Beaches”
4th of June 1940; House of Commons, London, Great Britain

We shall defend our Island whatever the cost may be! We shall fight on the beaches, landing grounds, fields, streets, hills. #neversurrender

John F. Kennedy
“Ich Bin Ein Berliner”
26th of June, 1963; Rathaus Schöneberg, Berlin, Germany

Freedom is indivisible. When one man is enslaved, all are not free. Free men, wherever they live, are citizens of Berlin. #IchbineinBerliner

Martin Luther King Jr.
“I Have a Dream”
28th of August 1963; Washington, D.C., United States

I have a dream that black&white boys&girls join hands as sisters and brothers. My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty. #freedom_ring

Barack Obama
“Yes We Can”
4th of November 2008; Grant Park, Illinois, United States

Hope of a better day. Change has come to America. We’ve never been a collection of red&blue states. We are&always will be the USA. #YesWeCan

Niles: What happened to the concept of “less is more”?
Frasier:  Ah, but if “less is more,” just think of how much more “more” will be.
Frasier (1999) Season 7, Ep. 13; “They’re Playing Our Song” [No. 157]

Paraprosdokian Synonym

A paraprosdokian synonym is a rhetorical device used for humorous purposes. The compound is derived from the Ancient Greek words synonymo paraprosdokia i.e. συνώνυμο meaning ‘synonym’; παράπροσδοκία, from παρά meaning ‘against’, and προσδοκία meaning ‘expectation’.

The structure of the joke usually includes two statements, questions, or clauses; the first sentence always communicates a valid message; the second reveals the fact that the first sentence was in fact a euphemism (in a paraprosdokian synonym, a euphemism – from the Ancient Greek euphemia i.e. εὐφημία, meaning ‘the use of words of good omen’ – is usually a double entendre).

Examples include:

“Maybe we can go down together,
and go to Marjorie’s party as well.”

“We could do it together,
and collaborate on the assignment as well.”

“Are you going to give me the grand tour?
And are you going to show me your apartment as well?”

“We’ll probably be on the job together for some time,
and work on the presentation as well.”

Garbled Cause and Effect

Rhetorical fallacies are subtle errors in speech and writing. – The manipulation of rhetoric and logical thinking. The following fallacies can be categorised as ‘Garbled Cause and Effect’.

Affirming the consequent

Assuming there’s only one explanation for the observation you’re making.

“Marriage often results in the birth of children. So that’s the reason why it exists.”

Circular logic

A conclusion is derived from a premise based on the conclusion.

“Stripping privacy rights only matters to those with something to hide. You must have something to hide if you oppose privacy protection.”

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc

Claiming two events that occur together must have a cause-and-effect relationship. (Correlation = cause)

“Teenagers in gangs listen to rap music with violent themes. Rap music inspires violence in teenagers.”

Denying the antecedent

There isn’t only one explanation for an outcome. So it’s false to assume the cause based on the effect.

“If you get a degree, you’ll get a good job. If you don’t get a degree, you won’t get a good job.”

Ignoring a common cause

Claiming one event must have caused the other when a third (unlooked for)  event is probably the clause.

“We had the 60s sexual revolution, and now people are dying of AIDS.”

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Claiming that because one event followed another, it was also caused by it.

“Since the election of the President, more people than ever are unemployed. Therefore the President has damaged the economy.”

Two wrongs make a right

Assuming that if one wrong is committed, another wrong will cancel it out.

“Sure – the conditions in this prison are cruel and dehumanising. But these inmates are criminals.”

See other: Rhetorical Fallacies