Thursday, January 29, 2009

Loaded Language

The Fallacy Files does a great job of explaining this fallacy, so I will paraphrase their entry with my own example.

Loaded words carry an evaluative meaning along with a descriptive meaning.

A word that only has a descriptive meaning is fairly value neutral; it expresses no judgment in favor or against the object or entity it describes.

A loaded word, however, carries a value judgment along with its descriptive element.

So the word "car" would be a descriptive word, while "jalopy" would be a loaded word.

Loaded words are not always fallacies (sometimes people do drive jalopies), but they become fallacies when used imprecisely to sway a listener a certain way.

This is an easy fallacy to miss, because value judgments are not entirely objective. One man's jalopy may be another's dream car, so determining whether or not a fallacy is in play can be difficult.

Nonetheless, the context in which the loaded word is used can help determine whether or not the writer uses a fallacy. If a young man is begging his parents for a new car and refers to his well-running sub 100,000 mile '99 Accord as a jalopy, he is using loaded language in a manipulative way.

For a further examination of loaded words, see The Fallacy Files entry.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Slippery Slope

Often used in conjunction with the appeal to fear, but not necessarily, the slippery slope confuses (willfully or otherwise) one step towards an undesired possibility with many.

Conservatives are often guilty of this, warning that if a liberal is elected we will become a Communist nation overnight, but liberals are also guilty when they equate surveillance with fascism.

Appeal to Fear

A very common rhetorical device, the appeal to fear attempts to tie a potential danger to something the presenter believes his audience will find undesirable.

An atheist may warn that if religion is taught, we will go back to the dark ages, or a theist may argue that if atheism is taught, all our kids will engage in school shootings.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for "after this therefore because of this")-
If one event happened before a second event, the first must be the cause of the second.

This fallacy is related to:

Ignoring a Common Cause

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

Correlation Does not Imply Causation

Also known as Cum hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for "with this, therefore because of this") -
Assuming that because two events tend to happen in conjunction, one must have caused the other.

This fallacy is related to:

Ignoring a Common Cause

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Ignoring a Common Cause

A person ignores a common cause when he or she blames a result on what may appear to be the true cause, but fails to realize that both results were caused by something else entirely.

So a person may think they feel nauseous because they have a headache, when the headache is just another symptom of a common cause: the flu.

This fallacy is closely related to a number of others that wrongly identify a cause.

These include:

Correlation does not imply causation

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Bandwagon Fallacy

The Bandwagon fallacy is best summed up by the phrase, "Everyone else is doing it. Shouldn't you?"

Primarily used in advertisements, this maneuver is common in the political arena and social debates. The Bandwagon fallacy utilizes peer pressure to convince people that they need to change their mind. It is a form of ideological bullying.