4.2 The anachronistic fallacy, appeals to inappropriate authority, the populace, nature, force, tradition and vanity and the tu quoque fallacy
The anachronistic fallacy
Everyone will readily agree that we live in a rapidly changing world, especially in terms of technological advances. The devices we use to view and access the web today almost certainly will not be the same devices we will use 10 years from now. Moreover, the changes are taking place so rapidly that at this writing facebook (will it exist in 10 years?) has many popular postings initiated by an older generation asking, "Who remembers this?", and indeed, who among those reading this now remembers a time when watching television was impossible if someone in the family wanted to use the vacuum cleaner or blow dry their hair (since both vacuums and blow driers produced strong radio waves that interfered with television reception)? These changes in time (Greek chronos) can cause errors in reasoning, and when that occurs the resulting fallacy is called an anachronistic fallacy. Consider the following erroneous inferences:
The anachronism in the first example results from the fact that penicillin was not discovered for almost a decade after Roosevelt's death, and not put into mass production until the late 1940's. Similarly for the second argument, word processors which use spell checkers were not commonly used until after 1983. Dissertations were typed up using typewriters before that time. The last example might be considered an equivocation fallacy, and indeed it is not uncommon that the same error in reasoning can be classified as being more than one type of fallacy. We include it here since the conceptual error deals with a change in the meanings of the word 'mouse' over time.
Appeal to inappropriate authority
As noted above the world is rapidly changing. Such changes require further specializations of research areas which were once quite general. The general subject of biology has evolved to include several specializations, including molecular, micro, environmental and human, to name just a few. Even if we ignore such changes, the total number of skills and trades acquired by humans over their long history is so vast it is impossible for a single person to know all humankind's amassed knowledge. Who, for example, knows how to make paper, produce and manufacture antibiotics, send a spaceship into orbit or even weave a carpet? It is simply a matter of fact that we must appeal to authorities in various fields when we wish to learn more about certain subjects. Such appeals are appropriate and necessary - however when one bases an inference on an appeal to someone who does not have an expertise in a given field one commits the fallacy known as an inappropriate appeal to authority. Here are two examples:
People who study the effects of climate and climatic changes over time are known a climatologists - weather is not the same as climate (and arguments that equate them commit the fallacy of equivocation), hence the first example is an appeal to an inappropriate authority.
While it is true that Usain Bolt is a world recording holding sprinter, he is not someone who studies the nutritional needs of the human body or which liquids are best for different human activities, so this too is an appeal to inappropriate authority.
Here we should note that in new areas of study, sometimes the evidence does not clearly point one way or another - in such cases appropriate authorities will often disagree and appeal to appropriate authorities will often result in inconsistent claims. In these cases we just have to wait until the evidence points clearly in one direction or another and allow those who are authorities in the field to come to agreement. However, when appeals to people outside their area of expertise should always be treated with caution.
In some cases, even after the data is in and points to one direction, sometimes appeals to appropriate authority are combined with other fallacies to produce seemingly good inferences. For example, Profesor of Molecular and Cell Biology, Peter Deusberg of U C Berkeley claims that the HIV virus is not the cause of AIDS. His views are in sharp disagreement with a much larger percentage of experts in the field who dispute Dr. Duesberg's views. Since we are not experts in the field, which authorities do we believe? This is a hard question, but induction gives a good rule of thumb. Once sufficient evidence on a scientific phenomena has been collected and numerous papers and experiments conducted, a scientific consensus about the meaning of the evidence usually begins to emerge, at which point we should ask whether it is more probable than not that the majority census is incorrect and the minority is correct, especially when the minority is a very small percentage of those qualified in the field (here we assume all parties have access to the same set of experimental data and arguments about the data). Induction shows that usually the consensus view stands the test of time. This is not to say that new experimental evidence could not prove the majority wrong - it is not hard to find cases in the history of science where this has occurred. But that is not the context of this examination, where we assumed that all parties have access to all available experiments and all arguments on both sides. Also this is not to say that the consensus view, even under these stated conditions could not be wrong - it is however a statement about the strength of the conclusions drawn. At any rate, clearly examining arguments from both sides is never a bad idea before coming to a conclusion when considering appropriate appeals to authorities which disagree.
appeal to inappropriate authority
For our next fallacy, we revisit the fallacies we introduced in the beginning of this section, namely fallacies which appeal to the people as a means for establishing a conclusion. Below we repeat these examples and and then define these fallacies.
ad populum /appeal to the people fallacy
Consider the the following three arguments:
In each case an inference is made based on whether something is natural or not in such a way as to imply that what is natural is good and what is unnatural is bad. This is bad reasoning. Many medicines used to cure or prevent diseases are not natural in the sense that they are man-made, and moreover neither is driving a car or taking a train for that matter – if one assumes that natural means something which is not man-made and could be found in nature without humans. Clearly the second argument does not depend on that definition but it is implied there that what non-human animals do is natural and we should not depart from any such practice. But non-human animals do many things that humans feel we should not do including abandoning their offspring when attacked , eating their offspring's placenta at birth, drinking from rivers or ponds without boiling or filtration and having sex with siblings, to list but a few differences.
While it is true that there are instances where food companies, for example, have added unnatural = artificial ingredients to foods to make them taste better and such additions have been the cause of cancer and other serious health issues, the reason was not that the additions are unnatural but rather the ingredients added have properties which turned out to cause cancer or other health problems in humans.
In any case, inferences made which claim that what is natural is good and what is unnatural is bad are called naturalistic fallacies.
Appeal to force
For our last fallacy in this group we consider inferences based on threats or force rather than reason. Consider the following examples:
Relevant reasons, rather than force or an appeal to dire consequences should be given to support any claims. To appeal to bad consequences or force the conclusion on someone is to commit the logical fallacy known as appeal to force.
appeal to force
Appeal to tradition
As a species humans have a long history which is replete with traditions and customs. Think about how modern stores prepare for festive holidays like Christmas and Easter or how we have traditionally viewed the value of freedom of speech in the United States. With this is mind it is not surprising that these traditions can be used as justifications for claims even when such facts about tradition are irrelevant to the case. Consider for example the following arguments:
When an argument's claim is supported by an appeal to what has always been the case, or traditions and customs, the resulting error in reasoning is known as an appeal to tradition fallacy.
appeal to tradition
Appeal to pity
It is simply a known fact that humans do not make decisions based on logic alone. Indeed some decisions we make are entirely illogical. One reason for this is that emotions guide our actions sometimes as much or more than reason itself. A powerful human emotion is that of pity, and many arguments are made by appealing to pity rather than to relevant facts related to the claim at hand. Here is an example:
Notice that the claim that you should sent money to a specific organization is supposed to be supported on the sole basis of an emotional appeal. However, that appeal alone is insufficient to support the claim that you should send money. If reasons were given as to how your money helps alleviate the homeless situation and assurances that your money will be used almost exclusively to that end, then the claim that you should send money is made much stronger. When appeals to pity alone are made to support a claim, then the resulting fallacy is known as an appeal to pity.
appeal to pity
The appeal to pity fallacy gives a blueprint for many other similar types of fallacies which include appeals to vanity and snobbery, to name a few.
For our last fallacy in this section, consider the following argument:
Notice that the conclusion that marijuana use is bad is considered to be erroneous because the person coming to the conclusion himself uses marijuana - this type of reasoning is fallacious and is known as the tu quoque fallacy (lat. but you too!). To see this consider the following argument which is very similar in nature:
The nature of such fallacies rests in observing a certain inconsistency between a claim a person holds and a characteristic or public view possessed by the person holding the claim. In this sense the tu quoque fallacy is a type of ad hominem fallacy, but occurs so often we treat it as a distinct fallacy.
tu quoque fallacy
Now it is time to test your ability to recognize the above fallacies by taking the following quiz:
quiz: fallacies 2