Scenario: Student and teacher discussing a quiz question

Student: "I believe the question is inherently flawed because x, y, and z"

Teacher: "A majority of students got the question correct, therefore the question is not flawed"

The teacher does not address x, y, or z, and instead focuses on the fact that the outcome was fine. Is this a logical fallacy and if so, which one is it?

  • 2
    Combines appeal to irrelevant authority with ignoratio elenchi, a.k.a. irrelevant conclusion, "presenting an argument that may or may not be logically valid, but fails nonetheless to address the issue in question". See also related What fallacy dismisses criticism of a bad law with “just don't break it”? – Conifold Jun 7 '17 at 17:20
  • @Conifold thank you! I think ignoratio elenchi is almost exactly what I was looking for! – William Anderson Jun 7 '17 at 17:23
  • This sounds like an Argumentum ad Populum en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum A fallacious argument that concludes that a proposition is true because many or most people believe it – Bridgeburners Jun 7 '17 at 17:30
  • @Bridgeburners I think ignoratio elenchi might be more accurate. The teacher's argument in this example is the the students didn't get the question wrong, not necessarily that they believed the answer was correct. It's a bit of a technicality, but the core issue here is more that the teacher failed to address the argument rather than countering it with a unified belief. EDIT: It's not that you're wrong per se, I just think ignoratio elenchi is more applicable to a very specific situation – William Anderson Jun 7 '17 at 17:41
  • @Conifold did aristotle appeal to conventional 'knowledge' in a number of places. i believe he did "Another version of the ad populum fallacy is known as “playing to the gallery” in which a speaker seeks acceptance for his view by arousing relevant prejudices and emotions in his audience in lieu of presenting it with good evidence." – user25714 Jun 8 '17 at 21:57

I think the logical fallacy you are looking for is Argument ad populum, also known as "appeal to the populous," "appeal to the majority," "appeal to the masses," and "the bandwagon fallacy."

This argument follows the convention, "because X number of people believe Y, Y must be true."

The teacher in the scenario you mentioned has concluded that Y is true based on the majority of the students' answers.

  • For an example of why "people think it's true so it must be" is invalid, consider that quite a lot of people think the earth is flat. – Nic Hartley Dec 11 '18 at 20:12

Ignoratio elenchi plus a curious pattern of argument :

Because the majority of students understood the question in a certain way, and this is the way I intended, therefore the question is not inherently flawed.

This plainly overlooks the possibility that neither the teacher nor the majority of students failed to recognise an inherent flaw.

Imagine this scenario. I ask a group of people, 'How long did it take the train to arrive ?' Most of the group reply, 'Five minutes', and I agree with them. You then claim that my question was inherently flawed. 'It can't be,' I reply, 'most of the group got the right answer.' Here my response and the majority view miss the logical truth that it cannot take any time to arrive. The journey may have taken five minutes but the arrival was instantaneous, durationless.

The same would have applied if I had asked how deep was the surface of water in a bowl. The majority of the group might have offered a micro-measurement which was just what I wanted. The question is inherently flawed even if I dismiss your objection in the same way. A surface has no depth; it isn't logically the kind of thing that can have depth.

Not only am I guilty of ignoratio elenchi in replying as I did in both cases, since I did not answer your question with a logically relevant reply (instead 'proved the wrong point'), but I and the majority of the group did not recognise logical errors when they were inherent in the questions - and blatant.

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