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For this week’s discussion board I would like you to continue to apply what we have been learning in this module on fallacies. Find one example of a fallacy of presumption or a fallacy of language and share it with the class. You can use any form of media (TV, internet, films, social media, etc.). Summarize the fallacy (word for word quotations can also be helpful) and try to correctly identify the fallacy of presumption or language that is being committed.

Fallacy Review with Answer Key
This is a review of all of the fallacies we have covered in the course. You will find an answer key at
the end.
If no fallacy is committed, put “no fallacy.”
1. King to Alice: “Just look down the road and tell me if you can see either of them.”
“I see nobody on the road.” said Alice.
“I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And
at such a distance too!”― Lewis Carroll
2. Your doctor told you to lose some weight? Who is he to talk? He must weigh close to 300 lbs.
3. You keep dating the same kinds of men even though they don’t treat you right. When are you
going to get a clue?
4. A chicken at the county fair had two heads. All chickens must have two heads.
5. You don’t like the rice I made for dinner? So, I’m a terrible cook, is that what you’re saying? Well,
I didn’t hear you complaining about the steak. I’ll have you know that I went to cooking school in
San Diego and I have won awards. One of them was a trophy with an eagle on it carrying a
spoon in its talons.
6. You should make the effort to complete your college degree because it will benefit you in the long
run. People with college degrees earn 35% throughout their working lives.
7. I don’t think you’re too sick to come in to work today. Don’t forget, the new guy, Bobby, has been
asking for more hours.
8. Mary ate Limburger cheese before taking her final exams last semester and she aced every one.
Now she eats Limburger cheese before every test.
9. You should get rid of cable television. When you have cable you can’t watch what you want.
When you can’t watch what you want, you feel stressed out. When you feel stressed out, you go
to the gym to blow off stream. When you go to the gym to blow off steam, you hurt your eye.
When you hurt your eye, you get an eye patch. When you wear an eye patch, people think
you’re tough. When people think you’re tough, they want to see how tough. And when they want
to see how tough, you wake up in a roadside ditch. Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch. Get rid of
cable.—Time Warner Cable Commercial.
10. My gym trainer Tony told me that gold is a good investment. He’s so knowledgeable about human
physiology that I trust his investment advice. So I’m going to buy some gold, too.
11. I think that we are driving north because the setting sun is on our left.
12. Eminem is a famous rapper and he’s a white guy. Vanilla Ice is a famous rapper and he’s a white
guy. Ali G is a famous rapper and he’s a white guy. So all famous rappers must be white guys.
13. Of course you loved the movie Forrest Gump. After all, everybody did.
14. You should buy this car. It has a great stereo and cool rims, so you know it’s mechanically sound.
15. Sometimes when your faith in human nature is at an all-time low a good deed is done when you
least expect it. I recently received a complement on my driving. A note was tucked in windshield
wipers of my car. The note said “Parking Fine” and what is funny is that I thought maybe I had
not put enough money in the meter. Well it just goes to show how nice people can be sometimes.
16. You really should floss your teeth every day. If you don’t floss your teeth, you’ll end up with
gingivitis. If you get gingivitis, your gums will recede. When your gums recede your teeth fall
out. When your teeth fall out you have to get dentures. When you get dentures, you can’t eat as
well. When you can’t eat as well, your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. When your body
doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, you don’t live as long. So floss your teeth so you don’t die
young.
17. Harvard University has reported that a lack of brains has hindered research dramatically. It just
goes to show that we need more teachers of science, math and technology.
18. My girlfriend said that Rob Pattinson looked really cool at the awards show on tv. Someone
should have offered to let him wear their jacket.
19. If we go to war, as I think we must, be advised that we must not back down. For this is how our
country was won and this is how all great countries are won. Now, let us go forth together, to
conquer all of Greece!
20. The Beatles? How could you possibly like the Beatles? You’re just a burned out old hippie.
21. Headline News in Mexico City: It has been reported that an enraged bull has killed a matador with
a sword. Good grief! Finally a poor bull has gotten revenge. Who would have guessed that a
bull could handle swords so well?
22. Commercial on the radio: I’m Joe McMortgage, the father of two small boys and a wife of 13
years.
23. If you follow the map you shouldn’t get lost, but you got lost. So I guess you weren’t following the
map.
24. You should go see Adam Sandler’s new movie right away. One critic said it was “. . . great . . .”
and another said, “definitely. . . worth the money.”
25. Who uses Prex shampoo? Only the most beautiful women in the world. That’s who.
26. The Governor has really been pushing this plan to lower college tuition. But she really doesn’t
care about education at all—she just wants to get re-elected.
27. Why are you being so defensive?
28. Can you tell me what the date is today?
29. John just got picked up on drug charges. He’s your best friend, isn’t he? So, you must have been
in on the deal as well.
30. If you like whipped cream in your coffee, then you’ll really love lard. Lard is white, creamy and full
of fat, just like whipped cream.
31. You can’t prove that Fidel Castro had nothing to do with the assassination of President Kennedy.
So, we can safely assume that he was in on it.
32. Consumer reports tested the Ford Explorer and rated it a “Best Buy” in its category. I still wouldn’t
buy one, though, because my neighbor has one and its always in the shop getting fixed.
33. The Mayan calendar says the world will end in 2012. I’m saying my goodbyes now.
34. 90% of the members of Congress are lawyers. A new group of lawmakers is now being sworn in.
I bet most of them are lawyers too.
35. I realize that the Padres are losing this game, but they’re going to win because I’m going to put
my hat on upside down.
36. This country is unique. You can travel all over and you’ll never find one like it. So it’s one of a
kind.
37. I think you want to give me a raise. I’m sure you wouldn’t want your wife to see the photo I found
when I hacked your smartphone.
38. Either you take me to a nice restaurant for dinner or you can just stop calling me. I know you want
to keep going out with me. So, which restaurant will it be?
39. John: I turn left here, right? Mary: Right!
40. How could you possibly root for the Oakland Raiders? Everyone at this party is a Chargers fan.
41. There was a shark attack on a surfer in Australia that someone posted on You Tube. Y’know,
sharks kill surfers all the time, man.
42. John never orders a salad when he eats out. He never buys any vegetables at the supermarket.
When he eats dinner at his friend’s house, he always pushes the vegetables to the side of his
plate. It seems clear to me that John doesn’t like vegetables.
43. A Patek Phillipe watch. Expensive? If you care how expensive, then maybe it’s not for you.
44. Same sex marriage is an abomination that violates the very meaning and sanctity of marriage! It
is against the very order of nature itself! I say we must rise up against this threat to our traditional
way of life! Rise up! Rise up I tell you, against this evil scourge that is attacking our nation
before it is too late!
45. I can’t possibly pass this quiz because I’m not prepared. I should just quit school and join the
Army.
46. I’ve been playing my Lotto numbers every week for ten years. So I’m going to start doubling my
bets because my numbers are bound to come up soon.
47. I’m buying Facebook stock because I have an itch on the palm of my hand. The last time I had an
itch on the palm of my hand Facebook stock went through the roof.
48. I trust her. After all, you can’t prove she’s a liar.
49. Courage, vision, character. These are the necessary components of leadership. Because how
could a person lead if they didn’t possess courage, vision, and character?
50. Socrates claimed that the voice he heard in his head came from the god Apollo. Therefore, the
voice must have been telling him the truth because the gods cannot lie.
51. She told you that I’m lazy? She ought to know—she sleeps until noon every day.
52. Officer, I don’t see why I can’t drive my little red Radio Flyer wagon on the freeway. Can’t you see
it’s got four wheels and a horn, just like a car?
53. I told a lie when I was a kid and that very night lightening hit the barn during a storm and started it
on fire. After that I never told a lie again.
54. All wild animals are potentially dangerous. Anna has a chimpanzee named Buster. As a result,
she needs to be careful because Buster is potentially dangerous.
55. The clock outside the boarding gate read “11:45 a.m.” so we hurried because we didn’t want to
miss our noon flight.
56. I’m not happy with the direction our country is going. There’s only one thing to do. Get rid of all of
the politicians.
57. The old man was very concerned that his last wishes be carried out to the letter in his will. That is
why he wrote: “I want my entire estate to be divided by my two sons, Josephus and Albert, 10%
to the one and 90% to the other.”
58. Philosophy? There’s no way I’m going to major in philosophy. Philosophy is only for pretentious,
ivory-tower intellectuals like you, Dad.
59. I know you’re interested in getting a pet, but don’t get a cat. Cats use litter boxes and there is a
parasite that can spread to humans. This parasite is linked to schizophrenia and higher rates of
suicide. You don’t want to end up killing yourself, do you? So, please, don’t get a cat.
60. Linday Lohan just did a public service message about the dangers of drunk driving. That’s
hilarious! She’s a habitual drunk driver.
61. The neighborhood that Mary lives in has a very high crime rate so she’s probably a criminal too.
62. His Honor, the Mayor, has just told us that the city will have to raise fees to keep the parks open.
But we all know that what he is really saying is that this is a communist dictatorship and that the
citizens must obey or be shipped off to the Gulag. I think we can all see through his little plan.
63. If you choose not to see things my way, then I guess we’ll just have to step outside and have a
little talk.
64. I’ve won ten hands of blackjack in a row! I’m gonna bet the farm—I can’t lose!
65. That expensive French restaurant has an A rating with the health department but my wife won’t
eat there because her friend got sick after eating there one time.
66. There’s a full moon out tonight. You know that the full moon makes people crazy. So bring in
extra staff for the emergency room.
67. There’s absolutely no way that Councilman McKibben could have embezzled the funds from the
city. The poor guy’s wife just died, which has left him to care for his special needs child all by
himself while trying to hold down two jobs.
68. Capitalism can’t possibly be the best economic theory. It originated in England, didn’t it? What do
the English know about running an economy?
69. No one knows anything one way or another about what made the bear attack that lady. So I’m
betting that the bear was protecting her cubs.
70. John is a rotten, horrible person who has no respect for anyone and do you want to know why?
Because he’s a jerk, that’s why!
71. Give me a promotion or I’m quitting. I know you don’t want me to quit. So, how does corporate
vice-president sound for my new title?
72. I made the cookie recipe with salt instead of sugar. We’re all out of sugar, but no one will notice
because salt is granular and dissolves in water just like sugar does.
73. Of course he’s against higher taxes—he’s rich!
74. Don’t have a glass of wine with dinner. First it’s a glass, then it’s a whole bottle. Then you’ll be
drinking whiskey and scotch. Soon you’ll be chugging down cases of gin. You’ll be so drunk all
the time that you’ll lose your job. If you lose your job, you’ll lose your home and end up sleeping
under a bridge down by the river. You don’t want to end up sleeping under a bridge down by the
river, do you? So, put down that glass of wine.
75. John is a nervous flyer. The last time he flew, he gripped the armrests really hard for the entire
flight. Fortunately, that was sufficient to keep the plane safely in the air.
76. My parents told me that I need to study more to be a success. It seems like what they are saying
is that I’ve got to be a robot, and study, study, study all the time like a machine. But I’m not a
machine! How could they dehumanize me like that? Obviously they don’t respect the person I
am.
77. My financial advisor says that the key to weight loss is more protein and fewer carbs in your diet.
He’s recently lost a bunch of weight, so I’m going to follow his plan and skip the French fries for a
while.
78. I believe that the young man on trial for murdering his father is innocent. He comes from a poor
family and was regularly beaten by his father, who is an alcoholic.
79. Look at that crazy guy on that motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic. He must be going 100
mph! Motorcycle riders are nuts.
80. The President of the Parent/Teacher Association thinks that we need to raise children’s test
scores. But did you notice that all during his speech his fly was open? That was so
embarrassing! Almost as embarrassing as that ridiculous tie he was wearing. I mean, c’mon,
Mickey Mouse? Are we all in second grade again?
81. Why do you always have to act like a jackass when we’re at the club?
82. I grew some tomatoes in the backyard and the next thing you know the Spanish economy
collapses. I’m never growing tomatoes again!
83. I know that that salesman has been telling you all about the accessories and security features of
this car, but don’t forget that he’s a salesman and he’s only interested in making his commission.
84. These amazing beachside properties offer endless views of the ocean. One unique feature that
makes them all the more attractive is that these houses are built on stilts—which gives you an
even more spectacular view from the patio off of the bedroom. This property is a great buy so act
fast!
85. Bob won’t have any problems moving his furniture into his new apartment because he’s got a lot
of friends on Facebook.
86. The Democrats say that the Republicans are war mongers, but every time we have the
Democrats in power we end up going to war.
87. The Republicans say that the Democrats spend too much money, but when the Republicans are
in power all they do is run up the deficit.
88. That company defrauded a lot of clients out of their money. Jane worked there for years. So I
wouldn’t trust her with one cent of my money.
89. It’s not just anybody who can truly appreciate the quality of Luis Vuitton. But you’re not just
anybody, are you?
90. No one even knows what a ghost is, let alone whether or not they actually exist. So, I’m a skeptic
about ghosts.
91. Charlie Sheen has a new television show coming out, but it’s going to be terrible. How could
anyone stand to watch that drug-addled imbecile stagger around for half an hour?
92. I used to be overweight and out of shape, but then I started Intensanity90 Extreme Fitness. It
changed my life and it can change yours too.
93. The defense has learned of an eye witness who will testify that our client is innocent, Your Honor.
He saw the whole thing on the night it occurred while on the way home from having Lasik
surgery. Though he was wearing sun glasses at the time, we’re confident that he can exonerate
our client completely.
94. I know that John thinks that the Raiders have historically been a better team than the Chargers.
But have you seen the kind of people who call themselves Raiders fans? Do they give them
season tickets as a condition of parole? You take your life in your hands just driving into their
stadium parking lot. The crowd looks like a cross between a horror movie and a train wreck!
95. More people have purchased Chevrolet cars in the last year than all other American car makers
combined.
96. My friend Gonzalo is probably an atheist. He’s from Costa Rica, and 90% of Costa Ricans are
atheists.
97. Hurry! These new ceramic steak knives are flying off the shelves. They’re so popular that you’d
better act fast and buy them before they’re all sold out.
98. Canned foods are usually very good, but I’ve been staying away from them since I read about
this lady in Florida who found a mouse head in a can of chili.
99. There’s no way the Padres can lose the World Series this year—after a 50 year drought their time
has come.
100. My professor flew to Europe on vacation after he finished writing this textbook. His arms must
really be tired.
Answer Key
1. equivocation.
2. tu quoque
3. complex question
4. hasty gen.
5. straw man
6. no fallacy
7. force
8. false cause
9. slippery slope
10. unqualified authority
11. no fallacy
12. hasty gen.
13. bandwagon
14. suppressed evidence
15. equivocation
16. no fallacy
17. amphiboly
18. equivocation
19. appeal to the people direct
20. ad hominem
21. amphiboly
22. amphiboly
23. no fallacy
24. suppressed evidence (quote out of context)
25. vanity
26. ad hominem circumstantial
27. complex question
28. no fallacy
29. guilt by association
30. weak analogy
31. ignorance
32. vivid example
33. unqualified authority
34. no fallacy
35. false cause
36. begging the question
37 force
38. false dichotomy
39. equivocation
40. bandwagon
41. hasty gen.
42.no fallacy
43. snobbery
44. direct appeal to the people
45. missing the point
46. gambler’s fallacy
47. false cause
48. ignorance
49. begging the question
50. genetic fallacy
51. tu quoque
52. weak analogy
53. false cause
54. no fallacy
55. no fallacy
56. missing the point
57. amphiboly
58. ad hominen abusive
59. slippery slope
60. tu quoque
61. guilt by assoc.
62. straw nan
63. force
64. gambler’s
65. vivid example
66. false cause
67. pity
68 genetic
69 ignorance
70 begging the Q
71 false dichotomy
72 weak analogy
73. circumstantial
74 slippery slope
75 false cause
76 straw man
77. unqualified authority
78 pity
79 hasty generalization
80 red herring
81 complex question
82 false cause
83 circumstantial
84 suppressed evidence
85 equivocation
86 tu quoque
87 tu quoque
88 guilt by association
89 snobbery
90 ignorance
91 ad hominem abusive
92 suppressed evidence
93 unalified authority
94 red herring
95 appeal to the people
96 no fallacy
97 bandwagon
98 vivid example
99 gambler’s fallacy
100 equivocation.
Practice Exercises on Fallacies of
Presumption and Language with Answer
Key
Directions: Identify the fallacies of presumption and language committed by each of the following
arguments.
1. Random drug testing in schools is very effective in reducing drug use because the regular use of
the testing makes drug use less likely.
2. Either we require the forced sterilization of Third World peoples or the world population will
explode and all of us will die. We certainly don’t want to die, so we must require forced sterilization.
3. People who lack humility have no sense of beauty, because everyone who has a sense of beauty
also has humility.
4. If Thomas gives Marie a ring, then Thomas and Marie will be engaged. Thomas did give Marie a
ring. In fact, he phoned her just the other night. Therefore, Thomas and Marie are engaged.
5. Alex, I heard your testimony in court earlier today. Tell me, why did you lie on the witness stand?
6. George said that he was interviewing for a job drilling oil wells in the supervisor’s office. We can
only conclude that the supervisor must have an awfully dirty office.
7. Either you marry me right now or I’ll be forced to leave you and never speak to you again. I’m sure
you wouldn’t want me to do that. Therefore, you’ll marry me right now.
8. Picasso is the greatest artist of the twentieth century. We know that this is so because art critics
have described him in these terms. These art critics are correct in their assessment because they
have a more keenly developed sense of appreciation than the average person. This is true
because it takes a more keenly developed sense of appreciation to realize the Picasso is the
greatest artist of the twentieth century.
9. Sylvia, I saw you shopping for wine the other day. Incidentally, are you still drinking excessively?
10. Emeralds are seldom found in this country, so you should be careful not to misplace your emerald
ring.
11. Wilson said that on July 4 he went out on the veranda and watched the fireworks go up in his
pajamas. We conclude that Mr. Wilson must have had an exciting evening….
12. A crust of bread is better than nothing. Nothing is better than true love. Therefore, a crust of bread
is better than true love.
13. California condors are rapidly disappearing. This bird is a California condor. Therefore, this bird
should disappear any minute now.
14. Either we have prayer in our public schools or the moral fabric of society will disintegrate. The
choice should be obvious.
15. All of us cannot be loved because all of us cannot be object of deep affection.
16. What did you use to wipe your fingerprints from the safe you robbed?
17. Pauline said that after she had removed her new expensive bracelet from the box she threw it in
the trash. I guess Pauline doesn’t like expensive bracelets.
18. Some triangles are obtuse. Whatever is obtuse is ignorant. Therefore, some triangles are
ignorant.
19. When are you going to stop talking nonsense?
20. What goes up must come down. The price of food has been going up for years. Therefore, it will
surely come down soon.
21. Criminals are basically stupid, because anyone who isn’t basically stupid wouldn’t be a criminal.
22. Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists. The choice should be easy.
23. I gave you my reason for what I did, but as usual you fail to listen to reason so you continue to
fight me.
24. The reason everyone wants the new “Tickle Me Elmo” doll is because it is the hottest selling toy of
the holiday season!
25. There are laws of nature that science discovers. A law implies a lawgiver. Therefore, there must
be a cosmic lawgiver.
26. Either you dedicate yourself to our cause or you’ll end up becoming a moral monster. You don’t
want to be a moral monster, so join us.
27. Every year we witness the new miracles of modern science such as the driverless car, smart
phones, and voyages to Mars. So no one who has the slightest acquaintance with science can
reasonably doubt that the miracles told of in the Bible actually took place.
28. New Housing Development sign: Beautiful homes available immediately. Get there soon! They
won’t last long.
29. School isn’t worthwhile because book learning doesn’t pay off.
30. Everything that runs has feet. A river runs through the valley. So, the river has feet.
31. Our mobile X-ray unit will give you an examination for tuberculosis and other diseases which you
will receive free of charge. (Public service announcement).
32. Is George still telling lies?
33. When you play poker with pros, you need to either bet everything you have or quit and go home a
loser. Since you don’t want people to think you’re a loser, you need to raise your bet.
34. The Oracle of Delphi told Croesus “that if he led an army against the Persians, he would destroy a
great empire.” (Hint, Croesus’ kingdom was destroyed).
35. Why do you always wait until the last minute to prepare for class?
Answer Key
1. Begging the Question/Circular Argument
2. False Dichotomy
3. Begging the Question/Circular Argument
4. Equivocation (on the word “ring”)
5. Complex Question
6. Amphiboly (are they drilling wells in the supervisor’s office?)
7. False Dichotomy
8. Begging the Question/Circular Argument
9. Complex Question
10. Equivocation (on the phrase “seldom found”)
11. Amphiboly (did the fireworks go up the leg of his pajamas?)
12. Equivocation (on the word “nothing”)
13. pl
14. False Dichotomy
15. Begging the Question/Circular Argument
16. Complex Question
17. Amphiboly (did she throw the bracelet in the trash?)
18. Equivocation (on the word “obtuse”)
19. Complex Question
20. Equivocation (on the word “up”)
21. Begging the Question/Circular Argument
22. False Dichotomy
23. Equivocation (on the word “reason”)
24. Begging the Question/Circular Argument
25. Equivocation (on the word “law”)
26. False Dichotomy
27. Equivocation (on the word “miracle”)
28. Amphiboly (they won’t last long—i.e., will they sell quickly or collapse?)
29. Begging the Question/Circular Argument
30. Equivocation (on the word “feet”)
31. Amphiboly (you will receive tuberculosis free of charge?)
32. Complex Question
33. False Dichotomy
34. Amphiboly (whose kingdom gets destroyed?)
35. Complex Question
Reading–Fallacies of Presumption and
Language
The fallacies grouped together under the heading of Fallacies of Presumption all share the feature of
implicitly or explicitly assuming the truth of the conclusion that they are arguing for. In other words,
these fallacies are not in fact genuine arguments because they do not present independent evidence
for the truth of the conclusion that they are arguing for. In the most egregious cases, these pseudoarguments are merely assertions disguised as genuine arguments. In this section we will look at the
three most common Fallacies of Presumption:
1. Circular or Question Begging Arguments
2. False Dichotomy
3. Complex Question
1. Circular or Question Begging Arguments
P: A
C: Therefore, A
A circular, or “question begging,” argument assumes what it is trying to prove. As a result, a circular
argument is weak because it has not offered sufficient reason, independent of the conclusion itself, for
the conclusion it is trying to draw. Therefore, a circular argument cannot be said to be a genuine
argument.
Consider the following circular argument: Eating meat is wrong because it just is. Putting the
argument in standard form clearly reveals the circularity:
P: It is wrong to eat meat.
C: It is wrong to eat meat.
Such arguments are also called “question begging” because no genuine answer to the question “Why
should we accept this conclusion?” has been given. The argument is begging the question for its own
answer. In other words, it has not provided any answer to the question, aside from rephrasing the
original conclusion. In this case, the argument begs the question, “Why is it wrong to eat meat?”
Ultimately, no answer to this question is given, though one is presumed.
One problem with circular arguments is that they are frequently harder to detect than the
example given above. Often, the wording of the premise(s) is not absolutely identical to that of the
conclusion, so the circularity is disguised. For example:
To raise taxes on the poor would place an excessive burden upon them. The poor are already unfairly
taxed.
In this case, the conclusion is simply a paraphrase of the premise. To detect this fallacy, therefore,
you would have to be paying attention to the actual meaning of what is being said. Since relatively
few people are capable of doing this, Circular or Question Begging arguments are a favorite of
politicians who want to give the illusion that a conclusion that they agree with is actually supported
with sound reasoning, when in fact no reasons at all have been given for the conclusion. Consider the
following examples:
We have no alternative but to go to war because in such a crisis war is the only course of action open
to us.
Or,
I urge you to vote for me because my opponent has not given anyone any reason to believe that he is
the better man for the job.
2. False Dichotomy
P1: Either P or Q
P2: Not P
C: Q
The False Dichotomy has some interesting features that make it unique. One would normally think
that a fallacy would be either an invalid argument or a weak argument. This is not true for the false
dichotomy. The false dichotomy has the form of a disjunctive syllogism, which is a valid form of
deductive reasoning. To see how this valid form of argument can still lead one to reason erroneously,
consider the following scenario in which a student is having a discussion with her parents after finding
out that her car has “died,” leaving her in need of transportation to get to school:
Student: I really need a new car. Either you buy me a new car or I will fail all my classes in school.
And you don’t want me to flunk out of school.
Here is the standard form of the student’s argument:
P1: Either you buy me a new car or I will flunk out of school.
P2: You do not want me to flunk out of school.
C: So, you need to buy me a new car.
The student’s argument has a valid form (Disjunctive Syllogism) and yet we know that fallacies are
bad arguments. So, if the argument is a bad one, it must be the case that one of the premises is
false, making the argument unsound. In a False Dichotomy, as opposed to just an ordinary unsound
argument, there is usually the additional element of trickery or deceit on the part of the person making
the argument. In the first premise of the False Dichotomy we are given the choice between two
alternatives, one of which is acceptable and one of which is negative and unacceptable. We are so
busy trying to avoid the negative choice that we fail to look closely at the first premise, which is the
one that is always false. So, we have a case of distraction by misdirection. What is needed to
demonstrate that the argument is a false dichotomy is to show that the first premise is false. In the
above case it is not difficult to find other alternatives to the two given choices. The student could
possibly take the Sprinter, get a used car, bicycle to school, or even catch a ride to school with a
friend.
Here’s another example:
Some friends from school are going to Sea World to have some fun. The first ride they encounter is
the Manta, and there is a long wait to get on the ride. One friend says, “I think I will skip this ride
because I don’t like roller coasters.” The other friends in the group respond, “What a wimp you are!
Either you ride the Manta or you’re a wimp. You don’t want to be a wimp. So, you should ride the
Manta.”
We could put this argument into standard form as follows:
P1: Either you ride the Manta or you are a wimp.
P2: You don’t want to be a wimp.
C: You should ride the Manta.
Following our earlier suggestion we can see that premise two is the negative choice since presumably
the friend does not want to be considered a wimp. But the first premise’s truth can be challenged by
claiming that it is possible to not ride the Manta but at the same time not be a wimp. In this case both
disjuncts in the first premise would be false and the statement as a whole would be false. In other
words, the argument is unsound.
3. Complex Question
A Complex Question isn’t really an argument, but instead a clever way to trap someone into
affirming something by framing a question in a certain way. Apparently, no matter how the question is
answered, the answerer commits him or herself to the conclusion that the person asking the question
desires. An example of a complex question is “When did you stop lying all the time?” In answering
the question as phrased, the respondent must either admit that he or she stopped lying sometime in
the past or has not stopped lying all the time. Either way, the respondent is trapped into admitting that
he or she is a liar, which is the conclusion desired by the person framing the question. This is a fallacy
of presumption because the person asking the question has framed it in such a way as to presume the
answer.
If a professor asks a student, “Are you still cheating on tests?” the question presumes that the
student either has cheated or is still cheating. The student can answer the question in one of two
ways. If the student answers, “No,” it implies that the student has cheated in the past; if the student
answers, “Yes,” it asserts that the student is still cheating. Either way, the question has apparently
trapped the student into admitting something that may not be the case by the very form of the
question.
What is going on with complex questions and how can they be dealt with? The reason that
such questions are called “complex” has nothing to do with being complicated. Rather, the name
derives from the fact that a complex question is in fact two questions disguised as a single question.
This gives us the key to dealing with such questions. Take the previous example, “Are you still
cheating on tests?” Though this looks like a single question, it is actually two questions: (1) Have you
cheated on tests in the past? (2) Are you currently cheating on tests? When you are faced with a
complex question, your strategy should be to “divide and conquer” so to speak, by recognizing the two
separate questions implicit in the original complex question and by answering each of the separate
questions individually. So, the correct response to the complex question, “Are you still cheating on
tests?” would be (provided, of course, you don’t cheat) “I am not, nor have I ever cheated on tests.”
This answer responds to the two implicit questions contained within the complex question without
committing you to the presumptuous conclusion of the original question.
Fallacies of Language
Human communication can go wrong in such a myriad of different ways, that it would literally
be impossible to classify them all. But two particular recurring patterns of error are worth dwelling on
because they are so common and cause so much trouble in everyday life: equivocation and
amphiboly. Both of these fallacies arise from the inherent ambiguity of languages. In every language,
there are words that either vague, ambiguous, or both. A vague term or predicate does not have any
clear boundaries. Some common examples for vagueness would be terms such as “bald” or “rich.”
How many hairs do you have to lose before you are considered bald? How much money do you
need before you are considered rich? There are no clear answers to these questions, which
illustrates the idea that terms such as baldness or being rich are vague. An ambiguous term,
however, is one that has multiple, distinct, meanings. For example, take the word “dream.” I might
have a dream of becoming a famous singer. In this case, my use of the word “dream” is synonymous
with having a goal or aspiration. Alternatively, I might say that I had a dream last night in which I was
flying on a broom like Harry Potter. This meaning of “dream” is completely different from the previous
sense, but the same word is used and it is spelled the same. Normally we can clearly distinguish the
meaning of an ambiguous term by the context in which the word is used. But there are some special
cases where this is not always the case. In these exceptional cases we find the fallacies of
Equivocation and Amphiboly.
1. Equivocation
P1: Premise(s) that includes a word that has two different and distinct meanings.
C: A conclusion is drawn that must use both senses of the word in order to appear to be either strong
or valid.
Equivocation occurs when one word is used in two different meanings in an argument. In order for an
inductive argument to be strong or a deductive argument to be valid the same meaning must be used
in the premises and the conclusion. Some examples of this shift in meaning are fairly obvious.
Maria: “The movie we saw last night was really sick.”
Juan: “I am surprised you didn’t like the movie.”
“Sick” could mean “good” as intended by Maria, but there are contexts in which the term can mean
exactly the opposite, i.e., bad, or even perverse. This ambiguity in meaning lead to Juan’s
misunderstanding of Maria’s statement, which can be place in standard form as follows:
P1: Maria said the movie was sick.
C: Maria didn’t like the movie.
In evaluating this Equivocation we can see that there is a word, “sick,” that is being used in two
senses. But, as was indicated earlier, for an argument to be strong or valid the sense of the terms
used must be consistent throughout the argument.
Another example will help illustrate the General form of Equivocation.
Mutt and Jeff are having a conversation.
Jeff: Mutt, Jerry and I have the same car but I can’t find my car in the parking lot.
Mutt: Jerry is driving away now. Oh no! Jerry has stolen your car.
The word “same” is ambiguous. When Jeff said that “Jerry and I have the ‘same’ car” he meant the
word “same” in the sense of being of the the same make and model. When Mutt drew his inference
he used the word “same” as “identical to or one and the same” which led him to draw the faulty
conclusion.
Mutt’s Equivocation can be seen when we put the argument into standard form:
P1: Jerry and Jeff have the same car and Jeff’s car is missing.
P2: Jeff did not give Jerry permission to take his (same) car. (Implicit)
C: Jerry has stolen Jeff’s car.
2. Amphiboly
P: An ambiguous statement that has at least two meanings due to a problem in language.
C: An inference is drawn that is unlikely to be the intended meaning given the premise.
Amphiboly is a fallacy that also involves ambiguity. But unlike equivocation, where a single word is
mistakenly used in two distinct senses, amphiboly is an error involving an entire statement or phrase
that can be understand in more than one way. Frequently this is the result of sloppy grammar. When
we use pronouns in a vague fashion, or are not careful with punctuation, then such error can easily
arise. Oftentimes in newspaper ads or comedy sketches equivocation and amphiboly are used
intentionally to either catch your attention in the case of a headline or used for humor by a comedian.
A website with ambiguous headlines makes this point. One might wonder if these were intentional or
not:
Governor Swears in Legislature
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
Child’s Stool Great for Use in Garden
Sex Education Delayed, Teachers Request Training
In the above headlines we have the first component of an amphiboly fallacy. The premise of the
argument has a premise that is ambiguous between at least to meanings. The next step is that a
person draws a conclusion based on the unlikely meaning of the premise.
Here is a famous example of Amphiboly from the comedian Groucho Marx:
“This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.”
In standard form we have:
P1: I shot an elephant in my pajamas.
C: I don’t know how he got in my pajamas.
In this example we would naturally think that Groucho was in his pajamas when he shot the elephant.
But Groucho says that it was the elephant that was in his pajamas. His inference was obviously
meant as joke but it does fit nicely the fallacy of amphiboly. We have a statement that is ambiguous
with two meanings. The first and most likely meaning–Groucho shot the elephant while wearing his
pajamas. The second meaning which is inferred – Groucho shot the elephant that was wearing
Groucho’s pajamas.
Another feature of Amphiboly that differentiates it from Equivocation is the importance of punctuation.
Imagine that you are approaching some roadwork on the freeway and you see a sign that says “Slow
men at work.” This statement, if punctuated carefully, would avoid being ambiguous. For example, as
stated, it could mean that there are slow men at work. Perhaps the workman is not working fast
enough. But with the punctuation added you have. “Slow: Men at Work.” Now it is clear that you need
to slow down your car because there are men working.
Orientation day comes for college and the following is written on the blackboard as you enter:
“Students who find their professors incomprehensible should speak to the Dean.” A student laughs at
the statement and says well I guess we will not be able to understand the dean either. In this
example, the statement is ambiguous. One meaning could be that the dean wants to be notified when
the college’s professors are not teaching well. On the other hand, it could also mean that the dean is
even more incomprehensible than the professors. In this sense, the statement is interpreted in the
sense of “If you think the professor makes no sense, you should talk to the Dean because he’s
absolutely incomprehensible.” This interpretation is reflected in the student’s conclusion below:
P1: Students who find their professors incomprehensible should speak to the dean.
C: The Dean is even harder to understand.

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