As a critical reader, you need to be able to
recognise and analyse instances of illogical reasoning and weak argumentation.
A critical reader needs to be able to detect writers trying to disguise
weak content by the clever use of argumentative form, purely to persuade the reader of the
validity of their argument.
Here are some common uses of illogical reasoning and weak argumentation.
This is the most common type of weak argument.
Straw lacks substance, it blows away in the wind. A straw argument is therefore a fragile one, that is easy to demolish.
Here are some ways in which straw arguments are made:
If you carefully question whether someone opposing a position/argument/theory is presenting an fair and accurate account, then you will not be deceived by straw arguments.
If, in your own argumentation, you fail to cite strong or representative versions of the arguments you are opposing, you will be suspected of presenting a straw argument.
If you are told you have made a circular argument, you have given the impression that you are saying something meaningful and logical, when in fact you are not.
This involves drawing a conclusion from a premise (baseline principle or assumption) which is itself dependent on what is asserted in the conclusion. In other words, you are not actually proving anything.
For example, it may be argued that money is the root of all evil because money is the cause of all human misery and wickedness. Or one may say:
The circularity of the argument in these examples is obvious. But it is often hard to detect when the circle of the argument is a big one.
An argument of this type may extend over a long article or even a book.
Like a circular argument, a false analogy proves nothing.
In a false analogy, there is only a superficial or chance similarity between the things that are compared; a small degree of similarity may be used to give the impression that the things are almost identical.
An advertisement may, for example, read as follows:
If you read the advertisement carefully, you can see that even if the John referred to in the advertisement does really exist, readers also "aiming high" might lack other crucial characteristics which contributed to John Lees success: e.g. his keen interest and aptitude, financial backing or business luck.
These might all have been more important reasons for his success than following up that advertisement.
When you come across an analogy in an argument, make sure that the things compared share the characteristics that are relevant to the conclusion.
This type of reasoning is also weak, based on the assumption that there is no middle ground between two extremes: things are either black or white, right or wrong!
For example, a candidate standing in a political election might say:
The problem here is the assumption that there are only two options - black or white.
But reality extends across a spectrum. Between the extreme states of normality and abnormality are varying degrees of normality.
When something is not black, it need not necessarily be white. It could be of many different shades of grey.
This is similar to the straw argument, where an extreme, barely tenable position is attributed to someone, in order to persuade others to take your side.
If so many people do it, it must be right/good.
A fashion designer could try to promote a particular style of dress like this:
Although the argument appears to be persuasive, it is important to remember that people are often more easily persuaded by majority attitudes or behaviour , by the consensus, than by reason.
The fact that many people smoke cigarettes does not mean that smoking is good.
to Unjustified Conclusions
To be able to recognize this form of weak argumentation, look at this example of invalid reasoning:
All Hong Kong people are brave.
All brave people are highly-educated.
Therefore, all highly-educated people live in Hong Kong!
It is easy to see that the problem with the argument is in the fact that not all highly-educated people are referred to in the second premise.
"All brave people are highly-educated" is not the same as "All highly-educated people are brave".
The conclusion is an over-generalization: it is incorrect to refer to all highly-educated people.
When confronted with this type of illogical reasoning, always ask if the conclusion necessarily follows from the premise.
of Statistics [ There are lies, damned lies - and statistics ! Anon.]
Statistics are often used as evidence to support a claim.
But, statistics can lie. You need to be aware of the potential misuse or abuse of statistics in argumentation.
TASK: What is logically wrong with these statements? (or what information is conveniently missing?)
Here are some comments on these 5 statements:
Detecting illogical reasoning and weak argumentation
Read the following texts carefully. Note the viewpoint of each author and all the features you think should have been avoided:
1. (Fictitious text)
The idea that the people of Hong Kong should have the vote is a silly idea. They have no experience of democracy and the level of education is not high enough. It is well known that a high level of education is essential for the population to choose suitable candidates for office sensibly. The government knows what it is doing and is made up of experts in the field of decision making. To allow illiterate people the vote means that they will ruin the economy by making demands on public expenditure and forcing an increase in tax which is a bad thing. The economy of Hong Kong is a success story and to allow direct elections to the central legislature will destroy the base of stability and prosperity in the territory. Democracy may be alright for developed states but cannot be applied to Hong Kong because it is still a developing state. The model that we have for the future is much better for the territory.
2. (Student text)
I am strongly against decriminalising homosexual acts. Everyone realises that God has given us a distinctive sex identity. As we all know, it is natural that the normal majority are attracted to the opposite sex. This norm is widely accepted. Therefore homosexual behaviour should not be allowed under any circumstances.
Comments on Summary Task