Rhetorical sleight of hand
(Previously part of the Kossary)
Here is sampling of common rhetorical techniques used to promote weak or false positions or dismiss an opponent's arguments. Designated by Aristotle as informal logical fallacies because the error does not rest on the structure of the argument but rather involves some form of trickery or sleight of hand. Logicians have identified dozens of informal fallacies since Aristotle's original analysis. Have fun listening for them on your favorite Talk Radio station.
- Sneaking in an emphasis without establishing the right to make that emphasis: "We should not criticize our Saudi friends in the Middle East." (Why shouldn't we?)
- After The Fact, Therefore Because of The Fact
- Making a causal attribution based on coincidence - i.e., that simply because one event or action followed another, it was caused by the first: "GDP goes up after Bush's tax cuts, therefore the tax cuts were good for the GDP" (Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc)
- A well-rounded, rhetorical phrase trying to pass muster as a logical argument: "Better dead than Red!"
- Appeal to Authority
- Authority, whether presumed or substantiated is not a factual or logical basis for an argument. Given: I am an expert on suchandsuch; suchandsuch is bad. Notice that there is no evidence in this argument. I'm a famous football player, and the Gassgobblerator is a great car! It is true because I say it is. It's right there in the Bible. You can look it up. Intelligence that unfortunately I cannot share with you unequivocally proves Saddam is reconstituting his nuclear program. Talent on loan from God. See also Appeal to authority. (Argumentum ad Vericundiam)
- Appeal to Popularity
- Bush's tax cuts are good for the country because people like them. (Argumentum ad Populum)
- Appeal to Force
- Do it or else. Make him an offer he can't refuse. The Medicare drug benefit deserves your support because if you do not vote for it we will do everything in our power to ensure your son is not elected. (Argumentum ad Bacculum)
- Argument from Ignorance
- You can't prove a negative. The inability of the UN inspectors to find WMD in Iraq only goes to show they may be there. (Argumentum ad Ignorantiam)
- Ad Hominem
- There are two main versions. The circumstantial suggests that a person is wrong because of the group he or she belongs to or is connected to: "He's black, of course he thought OJ was innocent." (Membership in a particular group may explain an error if the error is otherwise proven, but it can't be used to argue that there was an error in the first place.) The abusive implies that the person in question is so deficient that anything he or she says can be automatically assumed to be wrong: "Why listen to that jerk?" (Again, arguments have to be addressed on their own merits, independently of whoever is advancing them.)
- Begging the Question
- The conclusion is assumed in the premise. Allowing a murderous dictator like Saddam Hussein to continue to operate is a threat to the American people because he is a dangerous tyrant. Avoid using the words "that begs the question" (you've made a circular argument) when you actually mean "that raises the question" (your statement demands further explanation). See also Begging the question for the controversy. (Petito Principii)
- Complex Question
- A complex question sneaks in an unargued premise before asking the question. How do you think Kerry's flip-flops will hurt his chances with voters? (Unargued premise: Kerry is a flip-flopper.) Do you think Clinton should be impeached for bringing dishonor on the nation? (Unargued premise: What Clinton did brought dishonor on the nation.) The classic example of this technique is the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?" There is no way to answer yes or no without accepting the unargued premise that you have beaten your wife in the past.
- Making a conclusion about the whole from a part that is not necessarily representative: "Osama bin Ladin is a Muslim, and a murdering terrorist. This proves that all Muslims are murdering and terroristic."
- Painting a situation as having no middle ground, when in fact there may be other options. "You are either with us or against us." "Either we invade Iraq or else the terrorists win." Also known as the fallacy of the false dilemma, the fallacy of the excluded middle, or a false dichotomy.
- Changing the meaning of a term in mid-argument: "Summers are cool in the north." "Alaska is in the north." "Alaska is really cool!"
- Red Herring
- Drawing attention away from the central issue. From the practice of throwing a pack of hounds off the scent of an animal by dragging a smoked red herring across the trail.
- Straw Man
- Attacking positions that are weak, misrepresented, irrelevant, or tangential and then, having defeated them, ascribing them to one's opponents. This logical fallacy is a form of obfuscation, often leading to ad hominem, e.g., "Since my opponents create such weak arguments they must be wrong"; or to Appeal to Authority, e.g., "Since I am so good at defeating my opponents' arguments I must always be correct." A specific example of the straw-man in actions: "Liberals, after 9/11, wanted to understand the terrorists. Offering therapy and understanding to those who wish us harm is wrong, they deserve justice! Therefore, every Liberal position is wrong." I.e., It's easy to defeat the argument that suicide-hijacking conspirators deserve understanding instead of justice; Now that the position is defeated, ascribe it to all Liberals. Additionally, mentioning 9/11 is an Appeal to Emotion (another fallacy). See also Straw man.
- The "No true Scotsman" argument
- Using an artificially narrow definition for a group to exclude any member whose character or behavior might cast the group in an unwanted light: "That Republican is corrupt, and he makes me suspect everyone in the party." "You must be wrong. No true Republican is corrupt." (The term was invented by Antony Flew in his 1975 book Thinking about Thinking and comes from the imagined exchange: "No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge." "My friend Angus likes sugar on his porridge!" "Then he must not be a true Scotsman.")