4.5 Analyzing arguments with fallacies

Reconsider for a moment the example given of the appeal to pity fallacy:


Homeless people everywhere face the end of each day without a shelter over their heads or a pace to call home. Imagine what that would be like! Hence, if you have any feelings at all of pity or compassion, you should support the Homeless Shelter Organization of America by sending a check or money order to the address you see at the end of this advertisement.

Suppose that the Homeless Shelter Organization of America has a great reputation for helping the homeless, and you think that the conclusion that one should support it is really a good conclusion - but here it is given as an example of a fallacy! How can that be? Review the definition of a logical fallacy for a few seconds, and see if you can resolve the dilemma, then answer the following question to see if you got it right!


Value: 5

True or False: Conclusions to logical fallacies are false, or most likely false.

[mark all correct answers]



The point we wish to make here is that the existence of a logical fallacy in an argument does not mean the conclusion to the argument must be false or is probably false, it only means that the conclusion is not supported by the fallacious premises. This means when analyzing an argument (assuming it contains more reasons to accept the conclusion than just the fallacious ones), one should point out that part of the argument which is a fallacy, name the fallacy (or explain in your analysis why it is a fallacy), and state the conclusion of the argument is neither strengthened or weakened by the part of the argument that is fallacious.

As usual, it is helpful to illustrate this process by an example.

Example 4.5.1

President Smith just signed a treaty with Bolivia which will open the doors to more trade between those two countries by removing tariffs and other economic obstacles which prevented many companies from doing business with Bolivia. However, these tariffs were put in place to prevent corporations from simply packing up and moving to whichever country is the most economically depressed and hence has the cheapest work force. The end result will be loss of jobs in the USA, and no real help to the Bolivian people, since the profits will go to those Bolivians which are already extremely rich. Beside this, President Smith's wife, who accompanied him on his diplomatic mission to Bolivia to sign the treaty, refused to eat "cuy" which is a national dish of Bolivia, offending all Bolivians present at the treaty signing ceremony. Hence not only does President Smith not care about his own fellow Americans, he has a wife who is so insensitive to the Bolivian people that she insulted all of them needlessly. Clearly President Smith's decision to sign the treaty with Bolivia is wrong.

Observe the above argument gives some reasons why the given treaty would be a bad idea, but also commits the ad hominem fallacy by attacking President Smith's wife. The correct way to analyze this argument is to point out the premises whose truth does affect the conclusion such as jobs being lost in the USA, economic benefits not going to the average Bolivian etc., and point out that the comment about President Smith's wife is an ad hominem attack and is irrelevant to the truth of the conclusion.