I used to teach a course in critical thinking at Ghent University. As behooves a good skeptic, I first presented my students with the usual laundry list of fallacies, after which I invited them to put the theory into practice. Take a popular piece from the newspaper or watch a political debate, and try to spot the fallacies. I no longer give that assignment. My students became paranoid! They began to see fallacies everywhere. Rather than dealing with the substance of an argument, they just carelessly threw around labels and cried “fallacy!” at every turn. But none of the alleged “fallacies” they spotted survived a close inspection… Here’s the nub of the problem: arguments that are deemed ‘fallacious’ according to the standard approach are always closely related to arguments that, in many contexts, are perfectly reasonable. Formally, the good and bad ones are indistinguishable. No argumentation scheme can succeed in capturing the difference, separating the wheat from the chaff. That’s Maarten Boudry (Ghent), arguing against the value of emphasizing fallacies (e.g., ad hominem, ad ignorantiam, ad populum, begging the question, post hoc ergo propter hoc, affirming the consequent, argument from authority, and the like). In a post at his blog (which will be published as an article in Skeptical Inquirer), he summarizes an argument from a paper he co-authored with Fabio Paglieri and Massimo Pigliucci, called the “fallacy fork,” which poses a dilemma for fallacy fans. The first horn of the dilemma, or prong of the fork, is that if we’re going to be strict about it, in order for a piece of reasoning to suffer from one of the typical fallacies, the reasoning must be explicitly or implicitly in a tightly deductive form, and, as it turns out “we hardly ever find such clear-cut errors, presented in deductive form, in real life.” The second prong is this: if we’re not going to be strict about it, then we need to formulate our fallacies in a way such that they apply to more than just instances of tightly deductive reasoning; but once we add “some qualifiers and nuances” to capture more instances of reasoning, it is no longer clear that those instances of reasoning are fallacious. Here’s an example of how the fallacy fork works,..
Do Philosophers Care Too Much About Fallacies? – Daily Nous