Common Fallacies (and How to Fix Them)

Common Fallacies (and How to Fix Them)

  • Oct 01, 2022
  • 4 min read

Logical fallacies are deceptive or false arguments that use faulty reasoning to shift the direction of a discussion away from the main point. Whether you’re writing a critical essay or having a heated discussion with your neighbor, being aware of logical fallacies can help you build stronger arguments and establish credibility.

As an academic editor, understanding logical fallacies will enable you to spot them in your client’s work. This post will describe three of the most common logical fallacies and how to fix them.

Hasty Generalization

A hasty generalization is a fallacy based on insufficient or biased evidence. Perhaps relevant facts are missing or the sample size wasn’t large enough to prove that a claim is valid.

Example: Kristen lost weight during Lent because she gave up sweets. Therefore, giving up sweets during Lent will cause you to lose weight.

This argument is faulty because the sample size is only one person. Just because Kristen lost weight during Lent doesn’t mean everyone will.

To fix a hasty generalization, be sure to provide sufficient and relevant evidence to back up your conclusion. As a rule, avoid making generalizations based on small samples, especially in research and academic writing.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Post hoc ergo propter hoc translates directly from Latin as “after this, therefore because of this.” In other words, if one event occurs directly after another, the first event caused the second one. This fallacy can perpetuate false beliefs – such as the idea that vaccines cause autism in children – and it can lead to superstitious beliefs, in which people believe that certain unrelated events are connected.

Example: I walked under a ladder, and then I got hit by a car. Therefore, walking under ladders causes accidents.

Just because the accident occurred after walking under the ladder does not necessarily mean that the two events are related. There must be evidence that supports the connection between the two events beyond just the order in which they took place.

To fix a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, analyze the two situations that appear to be related, and identify the evidence supporting the second event being caused by the first. Make sure you’re not arguing that the outcome was solely due to the sequence of events.

Ad Hominem

The ad hominem fallacy replaces logic with personal attacks. It occurs when someone criticizes another’s argument based on personal traits, such as their ethnicity, physical appearance, or background. Ad hominem arguments can be particularly dangerous, as they sometimes involve ideas of prejudice and intolerance. As a fallacy that appeals to emotions and biases, it can also be a powerful political tool to intentionally manipulate voters’ opinions against a candidate.

Example: The candidate can’t blame the fossil fuel industry for climate issues because his father owns an oil and gas corporation.

This position is flawed because it’s based on the candidate’s background rather than their credentials. Although ad hominem arguments have their place, they should generally be avoided, especially in formal writing. To fix an ad hominem fallacy, focus on backing up your claims with evidence rather than personal characteristics.

Proofreading and Editing

Logic can be a powerful tool in writing, but only when it’s used correctly. One of your duties as an academic editor may be to ensure your clients’ arguments are valid, so when you come across a fallacy, be sure to leave a comment with an explanation and a suggestion on how to fix it. If you’d like to learn more about how to spot and address common errors in writing, check out our Proofreader & Editor course bundle and try it out for free.

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