How To Avoid Making Fundamental Errors When Reasoning


Saturday, 9.13pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It is just as easy to indoctrinate with fallacies as with facts. – Aldo Leopold

I am still working through Wanda Teays’ textbook Second thoughts: Critical thinking for a diverse society, trying to extract bits that might be useful on a day-to-day basis.

Chapter four is on fallacies – what happens when there is a fault in the way you have reasoned your way to a conclusion.

Teays writes that there are four big categories of fallacies.

Rather than repeating the academic version here I’m going to paraphrase and see if I can find examples so I can better understand each category – which, fyi, has a number of subcategories – but we’re not going to go into all of them.

Each category leads to a conclusion – the thing you choose to believe.

The first category has to do with the premise of the argument.

A premise is a previous statement that you use to get to your next statement.

The classic example of this is attacking a person instead of the argument they are making.

This is the equivalent of a hammer in the tool chest of the modern politician – absolutely essential to deal with opponents.

You don’t need to look far for examples of this – just search for Brexit on Twitter.

The second category has to do with the assumptions you are relying on to be correct.

The bad use of statistics, generalising from one case or applying a general rule to a specific situation where it doesn’t fit, and creating false either/or options are all examples of this kind of approach.

One particular one is arguing that because something has happened something else must now happen – even if there is nothing to show why there is a cause and effect relationship existing there.

Okay, I can’t resist going back to twitter and Brexit.

Here’s an example.

“PM @BorisJohnson has negotiated a new deal – Now it’s time for MPs to come together to back it today.”

Is it really?

The next category has to do with the wording that is put in front of people.

We have to ask whether the chain of words actually work together, or whether there is something that breaks it.

For example,

“Property prices have always gone up – you’ll never lose money investing in the property market.”

It’s true that property prices have gone up on average over time, but it’s been a roller coaster ride along the way – and you definitely can lose money depending on when you enter and exit the market.

The final category of error has to do with structural and logical flaws.

These are boring – and you’re not that likely have to use them.

Spot the flaw in the last sentence?

Anyway, the first couple of fallacies are the ones that we come across all the time.

At some other time I think it might be interesting to look more closely at specific examples of these fallacies.

But there are more important things to look at first.

If you come to a conclusion and people disagree with you, what should you do?

And, if you disagree with someone else’s conclusion, what should you do?

Should you try and change their minds – by pointing out the flaws in their arguments and educating them about the fallacies they hold?

Not if you don’t want to waste your time.

The only thing to do is talk to people who already think the same way you do.

And to those who haven’t made up their mind yet.

Thinking critically is hard and complicated.

I’m not sure we have the ability to do it in real time.

So we must take action based on conclusions we have already come to, hopefully based on sound reasoning.

Most of the time, however, we should probably switch off the telly and Internet and pick up a book.


Karthik Suresh

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