9

I should add that I'm not a formal student of philosophy and haven't studied it in any serious depth. I just like logic, and logical fallacies. I like to spot them, and I like to debate using them, primarily doing so in the (up until now) presumed belief that they improve my arguments and that, wherever a fallacy exists, so too does an invalid argument. That essentially: bad logic = bad argument.

I recently, however, came across The Fallacy Fallacy, which threw my knowledge and presumptions of what logic is upside down. What that Wiki page seems to be saying to me is that even where a claim is argued with fallacious logic, the claim itself is not necessarily wrong. I can certainly understand the reasoning behind this, but then this makes me question what the purpose of logic even is. Why employ it, if you can't use it to definitively prove to your opponent that his argument is false?

If you point out a fallacy in your opponent's argument, and they counter with a "not necessarily" in the form of the Fallacy Fallacy, where's the usefulness in logic at all? I was always under the impression that logic, as one of Russell's a priori knowledge, is a baseline of truth from which the truthiness of all other truths can be judged, and that as a baseline, it can always be used as a yardstick. Is this not the case? Or am I just misunderstanding what the Fallacy Fallacy is?

  • Interestingly, this question appears to be a fallacy fallacy. Personally, I don't think that logic is the baseline of truth. Truth transcends logic. Truth is paradoxical. but that does not make logic useless. – nir Dec 4 '16 at 4:55
  • A → B | ¬A ∴ ¬B. This is the fallacy fallacy. Indeed, it can be true that ¬B sometimes, but this does not mean it always is so if you prove that premise or derivation of conclusion is false (¬A). – rus9384 Aug 6 '18 at 7:36
  • Suppose Alice and Bob are having a disagreement. Alise claims [Claim], Bob claims [Counter-claim]. A Fallacy Fallacy is if Alice says "[Claim] is true because [Argument]" and Bob then replies "No, [Argument] is a fallacy, therefore [Counter-claim] is true". Bob has assumed that just because he struck down Alice's argument, he has also struck down her claim and proved his own claim to be true. That is the Fallacy Fallacy; because Alice could still be right in her claim, she just has not shown the claim to be right yet. – MichaelK Aug 6 '18 at 12:52
  • A fallacy is a fallacy. A logical fallacy does not prove the falsity of its conclusion, merely that it is not proven. Even if it is logically proven the conclusion might in theory, be falsified by empiricism. It's a point made by Aristotle. Logic does it's job, but logic cannot prove that Reality obeys the rules. – PeterJ Apr 2 at 15:10
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Short answer: definitely no, that does not make logic useless.

When someone makes an invalid argument, they're committing some sort of a formal fallacy. That is only to say that the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises. The invalidity of an argument does not say anything about the either the truth of the conclusion or the truth of the premises. So, yes, if you show that an argument is fallacious, it does not mean that its conclusion is false.

(Silly example: All men are mortal; Socrates is mortal; therefore, Socrates is a man. The premises and the conclusion are all true, but the argument is invalid.)

Why does it matter that an argument is fallacious? Here's one simple point to consider. Suppose you believe that X is true and can provide an argument for it. You then find that the argument is fallacious. Now, if that's the only argument you can come up with, then you have no reason to believe that X is true. In other words, your belief is not justified. Saying "it's still possible that X is true" is no good -- yes, it might turn out to be true, but you have no reason to believe it.

A related informal fallacy is Argument from ignorance, which claims that something is true just because it has not been proven false.

2

The fallacy fallacy, which is argumentum ad logicam, is the fallacy of inferring falsity from fallacy. Falsity cannot be validly inferred from falsity.

2

What that argued with fallacious logic, the claim itself is not necessarily wrong. I can certainly understand the reasoning behind this, but then this makes me question what the purpose of logic even is. Why employ it, if you can't use it to definitively prove to your opponent that his argument is false invalid?

The answer to your question is in your post. Fallacies are errors in reasoning and you can point out that someone made an invalid argument. But claims can still be true at the end of the day (through other possibly valid arguments).

If you point out a fallacy in your opponent's argument, and they counter with a "not necessarily" in the form of the Fallacy Fallacy, where's the usefulness in logic at all?

The usefulness is that you can tell them "yes necessarily, your inferences are wrong and that the conclusions don't follow from your premises because of that fallacy" assuming there was an actual fallacy committed.

1

In Socratic dialogue format, we see how logic can be useful even with the existence of the Fallacy Fallacy:

CARL: X is false.

BILL: X is true because most people believe in it.

CARL: That's argument ad populum, a logical fallacy. Thus X is false.

BILL: That's the fallacy fallacy: just because my reasoning is faulty, doesn't make my conclusion faulty.

CARL: So we can reverse/erase the argument to before you made the logical fallacy. We are back at my statement "X is false".

BILL: Here's a mathematical proof that X is true.

CARL: This proof looks valid. Thus, I am convinced X is true.

BILL: Yes. Just because I made a mistake in arguing doesn't make me wrong. In theory, I get an unlimited number of arguments to make, and only one of them has to be valid for X to be true. No number of invalid arguments makes X false as long as there is at least one argument that makes X true.

CARL: Even if there is no argument that makes X true, it doesn't mean X is false, because it's possible that X is undecidable: there exists no proof that X is true and no proof that X is false. In other words, neither X nor NOT X can be proved.

BILL: Correct. Therefore, even if you could debunk every proof that X is true, it would not make X false.

1

I think you may have misunderstood the nature of the Fallacy fallacy. I hope I can help a bit with that.

You are of course allowed to point out a fallacy in your opponent's reasoning. That alone does in no way correspond to a Fallacy fallacy. By doing so, you are criticizing their argument and not the claim they made. For example, I can argue that the sun is big because most people believe it is big. You can correctly point out that this is fallacious without commiting a fallacy fallacy. The moment you commit the fallacy fallacy is when you tell people that the sun is clearly not big, because I used a fallacy to argue for it.

You say:

Why employ it, if you can't use it to definitively prove to your opponent that his argument is false?

But you can prove to your opponent using logic that his argument is false. What you can't do is to infer from their bad logic, that the thing they were arguing for is actually wrong. By taking away the argument from your opponent, you are taking away reasons to believe in their claim but you are not actually disproving their claim in any way. To do that, you'd need to make non-fallacious arguments on your own.

1

I think you're missing the forest for the trees. In other words, you aren't seeing the big picture.

Consider the following:

1) A truthful argument is backed up by logic.

2) A truthful argument is backed up (or not) by fallacious reasoning.

3) An untruthful argument is backed up by what appears to be logic.

4) An untruthful argument is backed up by fallacious reasoning.

All are possible! A propagandist can play with people's minds by using fallacious arguments to make it look like a certain truth isn't true at all. For example, if you want people to NOT believe a certain fact or theory, recruit a NeoNazi to state that fact or theory. Then you can turn around and say, "Why, that can't be true if a NeoNazi supports it!"

Throwing a fallacy at a fact, theory or opinion doesn't shoot down logic. It just confuses the situation. Instead of giving in to despair, accept it as a challenge. Embrace logic in an attempt to unravel the riddle.

1

I understand the 'fallacy fallacy' to occur when (a) an argument is criticised and dismissed as fallacious but when (b) the argument on which the criticism is based is itself fallacious.

This doesn't - and can't - make logic useless. We need to use logic to detect the fallacy in the fallacious criticism. Put the point this way. If I make an argument, and you criticise it as fallacious, how could I show that your criticism is fallacious without using logic to find the error in your argument ?

To take an example from the history of philosophy. Descartes is often represented as arguing for the reliablilty of clear and distinct ideas by using clear and distinct ideas to prove the existence of a perfect and therefore veracious God who guarantees the reliability of his clear and distinct ideas. This argument is widely criticised as fallacious (because circular) but if there is a logically valid defence of Descartes' argument and Descartes can solve the problem of circularity, then the criticism (or this particular criticism) that it is fallacious is itself fallacious.

In Med. III, before Descartes proves ('proves') the existence of God he states that :

Whatever is revealed to me by the natural light - for example that from the fact that I am doubting it follows that I exist, and so on - cannot in any way be open to doubt. (J. Cottingham et al., The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, II, Cambridge : CUP, 2008 : 27.)

Clear and distinct ideas precisely are revealed by the natural light, and so Descartes can without circularity use them to 'prove' the existence of a perfect and therefore veracious God. Such a God does guarantee the reliability of our clear and distinct ideas but Descartes already 'knew' their reliability courtesy of the natural light.

Problems of exegesis of course arise. I am not offering this as a full and nuanced statement of Descartes's account of clear and distinct ideas, the natural light, and God. I am simply trying to illustrate how it might be that Descartes is charged with a fallacy of circularity in his argument but that this charge is itself fallacious because its conclusion that Descartes's argument is circular rests on the false inference that the uncertainty about all his ideas flagged up in Med. I still applies to the premises by which Descartes 'proves' the existence of a perfect and therefore veracious God in Med. III. It does not apply, since 'Whatever is revealed to me by the natural light - for example that from the fact that I am doubting it follows that I exist, and so on - cannot in any way be open to doubt.' Those are the ideas Descartes uses in his Med. III argument for the existence of God; in Med. III he does not use arguments open to Med. I doubt to 'prove' the existence of a God who, qua perfect and veracious, removes the doubt to which his ideas are still subject. He uses ideas 'revealed by the natural light' which are immune from doubt.

Reference

Samuel C. Rickless, 'The Cartesian Fallacy Fallacy', Noûs, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Jun., 2005), pp. 309-336.

1

The authors of forall x: Calgary Remix have this to say about arguments that are wrong (page 8):

For any argument, there are two ways that it might go wrong:

  • One or more of the premises might be false.
  • The conclusion might not follow from the premises.

To determine whether or not the premises of an argument are true is often a very important matter. However, that is normally a task best left to experts in the field: as it might be, historians, scientists, or whomever. In our role as logicians, we are more concerned with arguments in general. So we are (usually) more concerned with the second way in which arguments can go wrong.

Logic is not "usually" about whether something is true or false. That's important, but logic focuses on the methods to go from the premises to the conclusions, not whether the premises are true or false.

Like any logical fallacy, a fallacy fallacy is a faulty method of going from the premises to the conclusion. It claims that a conclusion is false because someone made an error in the method of reaching that conclusion.

To take a similar situation, suppose someone made a spelling or grammar mistake when writing a paper. That is an error. Can one conclude that because they made that typo that what they were trying to say in their paper is false? No. One cannot. That would be a faulty way to reach such a conclusion.


References

P. D. Magnus, Tim Button with additions by J. Robert Loftis remixed and revised by Aaron Thomas-Bolduc, Richard Zach, forallx Calgary Remix: An Introduction to Formal Logic, Winter 2018. http://forallx.openlogicproject.org/

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