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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
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    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
  • A fallacy alone indicates that the thinking method is NOT CONSTANT & not truth preserving. That is, x is true on Monday but false on Tuesday. This makes the method of thought unreliable as it is allows false conclusions to occur. If I can use different terms in your argument to derive a false conclusion the method is unreliable IN REALITY. Now many people here are into Mathematical logic which can Express things in the real world but this is NOT 100%. They say logic is about form & not content. So you CAN have arguments that don't reflect reality. Valid can refer to argument or inference. – Logikal Jun 20 at 17:23

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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.

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... 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?

But it does not follow that you cannot use logic definitively to prove the falsity of an opponent's argument. All that's entailed is that a true claim can (on occasion) be defended by fallacious logic, not that all true claims are and necessarily are defended by such logic.

Take a parallel: in mathematics a true conclusion can be defended by an invalid proof. It does not follow that all true conclusions are so defended or that a true conclusion can be derived from a valid proof.

The considerations you advance do not demonstrate the uselessness of logic but only the fallibility of finite human reasoners.

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When we point out a fallacy or logical error in the argument, we should NOT say "... thus your thesis is false".At the most we can say "... thus I don't see any reason to believe that your thesis is true". Otherwise we will commit Fallacy Fallacy. And it's it, we can't use our knowledge of fallacies and logic to prove that our opponent has false thesis, at the most we can prove that there s/he hasn't presented us with good reasons to believe that their thesis is true. S/he can still be right, but just suck at debating.

Fallacy Fallacy doesn't make logic useless because it's still useful to tell if there are good reasons to believe something or not.

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(Premise: If you owned Fort Knox, you'd be rich.)

Suppose I write a program which generates every possible sentence in English. Some of these will be claims about the world. Some of them will even be right - eventually it shall say "Bill Gates is rich." We may note that it has no way of knowing that - but that doesn't make it wrong, in the sense that the claim is wrong.

On the other hand, I could write a program which takes claims about the world, and returns random reasons for them. I enter "Bill Gates is rich". It returns "Bill Gates is rich because he owns Fort Knox." In isolation, this sentence is surprisingly informative - if someone owned Fort Knox, wouldn't they be rich? But it's wrong, not because the premise is false, but because the reason it gives for that premise is wrong.

If the goal is knowledge, logic helps. It tells us things like "X is rich because they own Fort Knox" is wrong for anyone except those who actually do own Fort Knox. It doesn't tell us that those people aren't rich. But if we exhaustively listed out every way someone might be rich, and logically deduced a set of tests for each reason, and conducted every test, and they all came back negative, then we might conclude that they're not rich. (And with every test result that comes back negative, we might reasonable become slightly more that they aren't rich - but only slightly, because one positive test result would be sufficient to show that they are rich.)

  • Welcome to the SE! Could you perhaps elaborate on how this speaks to the fallacy fallacy? – christo183 Jun 2 at 2:18
  • The fallacy fallacy is an error because it is absolute - refuting an argument that "X is true" doesn't mean X is false - just that it's less likely to be true. (To establish "X is false" requires us to establish "X is false" not just "We haven't established X is true".) What I wrote is more about why and how logic is useful (despite the fallacy fallacy, which it contains examples of) because that is what the author is concerned with. – user558317 Jun 2 at 20:30
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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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

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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.

  • When some one says the thinking method is poor they state the FALLACY. YOU cant counter with that doesn't make my conclusion false. A fallacy indicates the conclusion does not FOLLOW from the reasons. So the conclusion may be true accidentally. That is your reasoning had nothing to do with the truth of the conclusion & why would you bring that up anyway? No one should automatically assume a conclusion is false because the argument is invalid today. Too many people are learning the topic of reasoning different from the old days. People think mayhem is logic & dont KNOW what propositions are. – Logikal Jun 20 at 23:39
  • @Logikal I think that's what I say above. – barrycarter Jun 22 at 0:09

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