This article is about errors in reasoning. For the formal concept in philosophy and logic, see Formal fallacy. For other uses, see Fallacy (disambiguation).

A fallacy is the use of invalid or otherwise faulty reasoning, or "wrong moves"[1] in the construction of an argument.[2][3] A fallacious argument may be deceptive by appearing to be better than it really is. Some fallacies are committed intentionally to manipulate or persuade by deception, while others are committed unintentionally due to carelessness or ignorance. Lawyers acknowledge that the extent to which an argument is sound or unsound depends on the context in which the argument is made.[4]

Fallacies are commonly divided into "formal" and "informal". A formal fallacy can be expressed neatly in a standard system of logic, such as propositional logic,[2] while an informal fallacy originates in an error in reasoning other than an improper logical form.[5] Arguments containing informal fallacies may be formally valid, but still fallacious.[6]


Main article: Formal fallacy

A formal fallacy is a common error of thinking that can neatly be expressed in standard system of logic.[2] An argument that is formally fallacious is rendered invalid due to a flaw in its logical structure. Such an argument is always considered to be wrong.

The presence of a formal fallacy in a deductive argument does not imply anything about the argument's premises or its conclusion. Both may actually be true, or may even be more probable as a result of the argument; but the deductive argument is still invalid because the conclusion does not follow from the premises in the manner described. By extension, an argument can contain a formal fallacy even if the argument is not a deductive one: for instance, an inductive argument that incorrectly applies principles of probability or causality can be said to commit a formal fallacy.

Common examples


Aristotle was the first to systematize logical errors into a list, as being able to refute an opponent's thesis is one way of winning an argument.[7] Aristotle's "Sophistical Refutations" (De Sophisticis Elenchis) identifies thirteen fallacies. He divided them up into two major types Linguistic fallacies and Non-linguistic fallacies, some depending on language and others that do not depend on language.[8][9] These fallacies are called verbal fallacies and material fallacies, respectively. A material fallacy is an error in what the arguer is talking about, while a verbal fallacy is an error in how the arguer is talking. Verbal fallacies are those in which a conclusion is obtained by improper or ambiguous use of words.[10] An example of a language dependent fallacy is given as a debate as to who amongst humanity are learners: the wise or the ignorant.[11] Language-independent fallacies may be more complex, e.g.:

  1. "Coriscus is different from Socrates."
  2. "Socrates is a man."
  3. "Therefore, Coriscus is different from a man."[12]

Whately's grouping

Richard Whately defines a fallacy broadly as, "any argument, or apparent argument, which professes to be decisive of the matter at hand, while in reality it is not".[13]

Whately divided fallacies into two groups: logical and material. According to Whately, logical fallacies are arguments where the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Material fallacies are not logical errors because the conclusion does follow from the premises. He then divided the logical group into two groups: purely logical and semi-logical. The semi-logical group included all of Aristotle's sophisms except:ignoratio elenchi, petitio principii, and non causa pro causa, which are in the material group.[14]


Sometimes a speaker or writer uses a fallacy intentionally. In any context, including academic debate, a conversation among friends, political discourse, advertising, or for comedic purposes, the arguer may use fallacious reasoning to try to persuade the listener or reader, by means other than offering relevant evidence, that the conclusion is true.

Examples of this include the speaker or writer:[15]

  1. Diverting the argument to unrelated issues with a red herring (Ignoratio elenchi)
  2. Insulting someone's character (argumentum ad hominem)
  3. Assume the conclusion of an argument, a kind of circular reasoning, also called "begging the question" (petitio principi)
  4. Making jumps in logic (non-sequitur)
  5. Identifying a false cause and effect (post hoc ergo propter hoc)
  6. Asserting that everyone agrees (bandwagoning)
  7. Creating a "false dilemma" ("either-or fallacy") in which the situation is oversimplified
  8. Selectively using facts (card-stacking)
  9. Making false or misleading comparisons (false equivalence and false analogy)
  10. Generalizing quickly and sloppily (hasty generalization)

In humor, errors of reasoning are used for comical purposes. Groucho Marx used fallacies of amphiboly, for instance, to make ironic statements; Gary Larson employs fallacious reasoning in many of his cartoons. Wes Boyer and Samuel Stoddard have written a humorous essay teaching students how to be persuasive by means of a whole host of informal and formal fallacies.[16]


In philosophy, the term formal fallacy is used for logical fallacies and defined formally as: a flaw in the structure of a deductive argument which renders the argument invalid. The term is preferred as logic is the use of valid reasoning and a fallacy is an argument that uses poor reasoning therefore the term logical fallacy is an oxymoron. However, the same terms are used in informal discourse to mean an argument which is problematic for any reason. A logical form such as "A and B" is independent of any particular conjunction of meaningful propositions. Logical form alone can guarantee that given true premises, a true conclusion must follow. However, formal logic makes no such guarantee if any premise is false; the conclusion can be either true or false. Any formal error or logical fallacy similarly invalidates the deductive guarantee. Both the argument and all its premises must be true for a statement to be true.

Paul Meehl

In Why I Do Not Attend Case Conferences[17] (1973), psychologist Paul Meehl discusses several fallacies that can arise in medical case conferences that are primarily held to diagnose patients. These fallacies can also be considered more general errors of thinking that all individuals (not just psychologists) are prone to making.


Increasing availability and circulation of big data are driving proliferation of new metrics for scholarly authority,[18][19] and there is lively discussion regarding the relative usefulness of such metrics for measuring the value of knowledge production in the context of an "information tsunami."[20] Where mathematical fallacies are subtle mistakes in reasoning leading to invalid mathematical proofs, measurement fallacies are unwarranted inferential leaps involved in the extrapolation of raw data to a measurement-based value claim. The ancient Greek Sophist Protagoras was one of the first thinkers to propose that humans can generate reliable measurements through his "human-measure" principle and the practice of dissoi logoi (arguing multiple sides of an issue).[21][22] This history helps explain why measurement fallacies are informed by informal logic and argumentation theory.

Other systems of classification

Of other classifications of fallacies in general the most famous are those of Francis Bacon and J. S. Mill. Bacon (Novum Organum, Aph. 33, 38 sqq.) divided fallacies into four Idola (Idols, i.e. False Appearances), which summarize the various kinds of mistakes to which the human intellect is prone. With these should be compared the Offendicula of Roger Bacon, contained in the Opus maius, pt. i. J. S. Mill discussed the subject in book v. of his Logic, and Jeremy Bentham's Book of Fallacies (1824) contains valuable remarks. See Rd. Whateley's Logic, bk. v.; A. de Morgan, Formal Logic (1847) ; A. Sidgwick, Fallacies (1883) and other textbooks.

Assessment — pragmatic theory

According to the pragmatic theory,[30] a fallacy can in some instances be an error a fallacy, use of a heuristic (short version of an argumentation scheme) to jump to a conclusion. However, even more worryingly, in other instances it is a tactic or ploy used inappropriately in argumentation to try to get the best of a speech part unfairly. There are always two parties to an argument containing a fallacy — the perpetrator and the intended victim. The dialogue framework required to support the pragmatic theory of fallacy is built on the presumption that argumentative dialogue has both an adversarial component and a collaborative component. A dialogue has individual goals for each participant, but also collective (shared) goals that apply to all participants. A fallacy of the second kind is seen as more than simply violation of a rule of reasonable dialogue. It is also a deceptive tactic of argumentation, based on sleight-of-hand. Aristotle explicitly compared contentious reasoning to unfair fighting in athletic contest. But the roots of the pragmatic theory go back even further in history to the Sophists. The pragmatic theory finds its roots in the Aristotelian conception of a fallacy as a sophistical refutation, but also supports the view that many of the types of arguments traditionally labelled as fallacies are in fact reasonable techniques of argumentation that can be used, in many cases, to support legitimate goals of dialogue. Hence on the pragmatic approach, each case needs to analyzed individually, to determine by the textual evidence whether the argument is fallacious or reasonable.

Logical Fallacies

Fallacies are defects that weaken arguments; Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that invalidate the argument. McMullin (2000), a clinical psychologist, explains that: "Logical fallacies are unsubstantiated assertions that are often delivered with a conviction that makes them sound as though they are proven facts".[31] It is important to understand what fallacies are so that you can recognize them in either your own or others’ writing. Avoiding fallacies will strengthen your ability to produce strong arguments. It is important to note that;

Fallacious arguments are very, very common and can be quite persuasive, at least to the casual reader or listener. You can find dozens of examples of fallacious reasoning in newspapers, advertisements, and other sources. It is sometimes hard to evaluate whether an argument is fallacious. An argument might be very weak, somewhat weak, somewhat strong, or very strong. An argument that has several stages or parts might have some strong sections and some weak ones.

Examples of Types of Logical Fallacies

Hasty Generalization

Definition: Making assumptions about a whole group or range of cases based on a sample that is inadequate (usually because it is atypical or just too small). Stereotypes about people ("frat boys are drunkards," "grad students are nerdy," “women don’t enjoy sport” etc.) are a common example of the principle underlying hasty generalization.

Missing the Point

Definition: The premises of an argument do support a particular conclusion--but not the conclusion that the arguer actually draws.

Post hoc (false cause)

This fallacy gets its name from the Latin phrase "post hoc, ergo propter hoc," which translates as "after this, therefore because of this." Definition: Assuming that because B comes after A, A caused B. Of course, sometimes one event really does cause another one that comes later—for example, if I register for a class, and my name later appears on the roll, it's true that the first event caused the one that came later. But sometimes two events that seem related in time aren't really related as cause and event. That is, correlation isn't the same thing as causation.

Slippery Slope

Definition: The arguer claims that a sort of chain reaction, usually ending in some dire consequence, will take place, but there's really not enough evidence for that assumption. The arguer asserts that if we take even one step onto the "slippery slope," we will end up sliding all the way to the bottom; he or she assumes we can't stop halfway down the hill.[32]

See also


  1. Frans, van Eemeren; Bart, Garssen; Bert, Meuffels (2009). "1". Fallacies and judgements of reasonableness, Empirical Research Concerning the Pragma-Dialectical Discussion Rules. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media B.V. p. 1. ISBN 978-90-481-2613-2.
  2. 1 2 3 Harry J. Gensler, The A to Z of Logic (2010:p74). Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 9780810875968
  3. John Woods, The Death of Argument (2004). Applied Logic Series Volume 32, pp 3-23. ISBN 9789048167005
  4. Bustamente, Thomas; Dahlman, Christian, eds. (2015). Argument types and fallacies in legal argumentation. Heidelberg: Springer International Publishing. p. x. ISBN 978-3-319-16147-1.
  5. "Informal Fallacies, Northern Kentucky University". Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  6. Dowden, Bradley. "Fallacy". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  7. Frans, van Eemeren; Bart, Garssen; Bert, Meuffels (2009). "1". Fallacies and judgements of reasonableness, Empirical Research Concerning the Pragma-Dialectical Discussion Rules. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media B.V. p. 2. ISBN 978-90-481-2613-2.
  8. "Aristotle's original 13 fallacies". The Non Sequitur. Retrieved 2013-05-28.
  9. http://www.logiclaw.co.uk/fallacies/Straker3.html
  10. "PHIL 495: Philosophical Writing (Spring 2008), Texas A&M University". Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  11. Frans, van Eemeren; Bart, Garssen; Bert, Meuffels (2009). "1". Fallacies and judgements of reasonableness, Empirical Research Concerning the Pragma-Dialectical Discussion Rules. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media B.V. p. 3. ISBN 978-90-481-2613-2.
  12. Frans, van Eemeren; Bart, Garssen; Bert, Meuffels (2009). "1". Fallacies and judgements of reasonableness, Empirical Research Concerning the Pragma-Dialectical Discussion Rules. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media B.V. p. 4. ISBN 978-90-481-2613-2.
  13. Frans H. van Eemeren, Bart Garssen, Bert Meuffels (2009). Fallacies and Judgments of Reasonableness: Empirical Research Concerning the Pragma-Dialectical Discussion Rules, p.8. ISBN 9789048126149.
  14. Coffey, P. (1912). The Science of Logic. Longmans, Green, and Company. p. 302. LCCN 12018756. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  15. Ed Shewan (2003). Applications of Grammar: Principles of Effective Communication (2nd ed.). Christian Liberty Press. pp. 92 ff. ISBN 1-930367-28-7. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  16. Boyer, Web. "How to Be Persuasive". Retrieved 2012-12-05.
  17. 1 2 Meehl, P.E. (1973). Psychodiagnosis: Selected papers. Minneapolis (MN): University of Minnesota Press, p. 225-302.
  18. Meho, Lokman (2007). "The Rise and Rise of Citation Analysis" (PDF). Physics World. January: 32–36. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
  19. Jensen, Michael (June 15, 2007). "The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority". Chronicle Review. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  20. 1 2 Baveye, Phillippe C. (2010). "Sticker Shock and Looming Tsunami: The High Cost of Academic Serials in Perspective". Journal of Scholarly Publishing. 41: 191–215. doi:10.1353/scp.0.0074.
  21. Schiappa, Edward (1991). Protagoras and Logos: A Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0872497585.
  22. Protagoras (1972). The Older Sophists. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co. ISBN 0872205568.
  23. National Communication Journal (2013). Impact Factors, Journal Quality, and Communication Journals: A Report for the Council of Communication Associations (PDF). Washington, D.C.: National Communication Association. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  24. Gafield, Eugene (1993). "What Citations Tell us About Canadian Research,". Canadian Journal of Library and Information Science. 18 (4): 34.
  25. Stein, Zachary (October 2008). "Myth Busting and Metric Making: Refashioning the Discourse about Development". Integral Leadership Review. 8 (5). Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  26. Kornprobst, Markus (2007). "Comparing Apples and Oranges? Leading and Misleading Uses of Historical Analogies". Millennium — Journal of International Studies. 36: 29–49. doi:10.1177/03058298070360010301. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  27. Meho, Lokman (2007). "The Rise and Rise of Citation Analysis" (PDF). Physics World. January: 32. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
  28. Freedman, David A. (2004). Michael S. Lewis-Beck & Alan Bryman & Tim Futing Liao, ed. Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. pp. 293–295. ISBN 0761923632.
  29. Allen, Henry L. (1997). "Faculty Workload and Productivity: Ethnic and Gender Disparities" (PDF). NEA 1997 Almanac of Higher Education: 39. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  30. Walton, Douglas (1995). A Pragmatic Theory of Fallacy. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
  31. McMullin, R, (2000) The New Handbook of Cognitive Therapy Techniques. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd
  32. http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/eng207-td/Logic%20and%20Analysis/most_common_logical_fallacies.htm

Further reading

Historical texts

External links

Look up fallacy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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Wikiversity has learning materials about Recognizing Fallacies
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