The following is an incomplete compilation of ways people can and have reasoned incorrectly.
Fallacies of Distraction
- Ignoratio elenchi: Latin, meaning "ignorance of refutation". From the Greek ἔλεγχος elenchos, meaning an argument of disproof or refutation. Also known as irrelevant conclusion or irrelevant thesis the informal fallacy of presenting an argument that may in itself be valid, but does not address the issue in question.
- False dichotomy: Two choices are given when in fact there are
more than two.
- False presumption: Because something is not known to be true,
presume it to be false.
- Slippery slope: Claim that a small concession is total
- Complex question: Unrelated points conjoined as a single
Appeals to Emotions instead of Fact or Logic
- Appeal to fear: Target is persuaded to agree by threats or
force. Argumentum ad baculum, or argument based on threat. Argumentum ad metum, appeal to fear.
- Appeal to pity: Target is persuaded to agree by sympathy. Argumentum ad misericordiam.
- Appeal to envy: Target is persuaded to agree by envy. Argumentum ad invidiam.
- Appeal to hatred: Target is persuaded to agree by hatred. Argumentum ad odium.
- Appeal to pride: Target is persuaded to agree by pride. Argumentum ad superbium.
- Appeal to greed: Target is persuaded to focus on the gains and
ignore the risks or costs. Argumentum ad edacitam, rapacitam, avaritiam, greed, rapacity, avarice.
- Appeal to ignorance: Target is persuaded to agree if can't prove the contrary. Argumentum ad ignoratiam.
- Appeal to hope: Such as "What ought to be, is". Quod debet esse, est.
- Consequences: Target is warned of unacceptable
- Prejudicial language: Value or moral goodness is attached to
the author or his position.
- Bandwagon: A proposition is argued to be true because it is
widely held to be true. Appeal to the safety of the herd. Argumentum ad populum, or appeal to the mass opinion of the people.
- Authority: Argumentum ad verecundiam. A proposition is argued to be true because it is
supported by experts or authorities. This is widely accepted as a method of argument, but strictly speaking, it is a logical fallacy.
Fallacy of Authority
- Recognition: Everyone recognizes the person as an authority,
therefore what he says must be true.
- Production: The person has done a great deal of authoritative
work, therefore he must be an authority.
- Power: The person is powerful and successful, therefore he
speaks with authority, if only by virtue of his position.
- Need implies Have: I have the need to do it, therefore I have the (legal) authority to do it (Necesse ergo praesto). Basis for legal doctrine of "inherent" powers.
Changing the Subject
- Attack the Person (ad hominem):
- (1) Attack the person's character.
- (2) Attack the person's circumstances.
- (3) Argue the person does not practise what he preaches.
- Attack the Authority:
- (1) Claim the authority is not an expert in the field.
- (2) Claim experts in the field disagree.
- (3) Claim the authority was joking, drunk, or in some other way
not being serious.
- Anonymous authority: Cite an authority not named
- Style over substance: The manner in which an argument or
arguer is presented used as argument to the truth of the conclusion.
- Hasty generalization: The sample is too small to support an
inductive generalization about a population.
- Unrepresentative sample: The sample is unrepresentative of the
sample as a whole.
- False analogy: The two objects or events being compared are
- Fervent denial: The conclusion of a strong inductive argument
is denied despite the evidence to the contrary.
- Exclusion: Evidence which would change the outcome of an
inductive argument is excluded from consideration.
Fallacies Involving Statistical Arguments
- Accident: Apply generalization when circumstances suggest that
there should be an exception.
- Converse accident: Apply exception in circumstances where a
generalization should apply.
- Post hoc ergo propter hoc: Because one thing preceded another
in time, it is held to cause the other.
- Joint effect: One thing is held to cause another when in fact
they are both the joint effects of an underlying cause.
- Insignificant: One thing is held to cause another, and it
does, but it is insignificant compared to other causes of the effect.
- Wrong direction: The direction between cause and effect is reversed.
- Complex cause: The cause identified is only a part of the entire cause of the effect.
- Overlooked cause: A cause that will greatly change the effect is ignored.
- Overlooked latency: The cause may be correctly identified but is separated from the effect by too long a period of time to support the surrounding argument.
- Overlooked change: The effect occurs too slowly to be deemed important. Sometimes called (incorrectly) "boiling the frog slowly".
- Overlooked nonlinearity: The cause-effect link is nonlinear and is affected by complicated feedback loops.
- Treating chaotic system as mechanical: Attributing the effect to causes as though it is predictable, when in fact the system, while it may exhibit seemingly designed patterns, cannot be predicted in principle from initial conditions.
A common variety of these fallacies is the Rooster Syndrome — giving
credit to the rooster crowing for the rising of the sun — but applied to
giving credit or blame to leaders for events that occur on their watch to which
they made little if any contribution. It may also be called Canute Syndrome or Deification Syndrome, attributing godlike powers to the most powerful figure on the scene.
Missing the Point
- Begging the question (petitio principii): The truth of the
conclusion is assumed in the premises, or in hidden assumptions.
- Irrelevant conclusion: An argument in defense of one
conclusion instead proves a different conclusion.
- Straw man: Attack an argument different from (and weaker than)
the opposition's best argument.
Fallacies of Ambiguity
- Equivocation: Use same term with two or more different
- Reification: Treat an abstraction as though it were something concrete.
- Amphiboly: Use sentence the structure of which allows two
- Accent: Emphasis on a word or phrase to suggest a meaning
contrary to what the sentence actually says.
- Composition: Argue that because the attributes of the parts of
a whole have a certain property, therefore the whole has that property.
- Division: Argue that because the whole has a certain property,
therefore the parts have that property
- Affirming the consequent: Argument of the form: If A then B,
B, therefore A.
- Denying the antecedent: Argument of the form: If A then B, Not
A, thus Not B.
- Inconsistency: Assertion that contrary or contradictory
statements are both true.
Syllogistic (Deductive) Errors
- Fallacy of four terms: Use a syllogism with four terms.
- Undistributed middle: Argue that two separate categories are
connected because they share a common property.
- Illicit major: Reach conclusion with predicate about all of
something when premises only mention some cases of the term in the predicate.
- Illicit minor: Reach conclusion with subject of the conclusion
about all of something when premises only mention some cases of the term in the
- Fallacy of exclusive premises: Use a syllogism with two
- Affirmative conclusion from negative premise: Reverse the
- Enthymeme: Omission of an element of as syllogism as presumed or obvious, which may be logically correct but may also be deceptive, used in persuasive or informal reasoning.
- Existential fallacy: Reach particular conclusion from
universal premises that don't include an existence premise.
- Analogic "syllogism": Reasoning that A is similar to B, and B is similar to C, therefore A is similar to C. Of course, the relation of "similar" is not transitive, but if the target can be induced to presume it is, this ruse may succeed in persuading. This is a favorite method in the "informal reasoning" used by lawyers.
Fallacies of Explanation
- Subverted support: The phenomenon being explained doesn't
- Non-support: Evidence for the phenomenon being explained is
- Untestability: The theory which explains cannot be
- Limited scope: The theory which explains can only explain one
- Limited depth: The theory which explains does not appeal to
Fallacies of Definition or interpretation
- Too broad: The definition includes items which should not be
- Too narrow: The definition does not include all the items
which should be included.
- Failure to elucidate: The definition is more difficult to
understand than the word or concept being defined.
- Circular definition: The definition includes the term being
defined as a part of the definition.
- Conflicting conditions: The definition is self-contradictory,
- Ignoring context: Use of language taken in isolation when the meaning is changed by context.
- Mismatch: Use of language with either greater or lesser rigor and precision than was used by the original author.
Fallacies of Misdirection
- Red herring: Claiming an argument is irrelevant when it is, or presenting another argument as relevant that is not.
- Misidentification of cause: For example: The law is being violated, therefore it is defective (violata ergo vitiosa), rather than attributing the failure to the lack of public virtue.
- Donkey inference: The proposition is provoking vigorous attacks from the bad guys so it must have merit. From the children's game, "Pin the tail on the donkey."
Acknowledgment: Many of the above were suggested by Stephen Downes, now found on
this web page.
See also this list.
See the page on Propaganda
Techniques that discusses how these logical fallacies can be used.