The Fallacy of Accident—The fallacy of acci-
dent looks like Inductive Reasoning but is
spurious. It generalizes without enough
The Hasty Generalization: “Every person I’ve met speaks
English, so it must be true that all people speak English.”
A popular way of saying this is “jumping to conclusions.”
A related fallacy of accident is the Sweeping generalization, i.e, a
generalization that disregards exceptions.”
The Sweeping Generalization: Cutting people is a crime.
Surgeons cut people. Therefore, surgeons are criminals.
The fact is that cutting people is sometimes not a crime. A popular
way to say this is “There are exceptions to every rule!”
The Fallacy of Irrelevant—Appealing to Authority for a
Conclusion: “Billy said so, so it must be true!”
Or, “If the President said it, that’s enough for me.”
The first example is childish and the second is the type of thinking,
i.e., fallacy, that led many people to support the war in Iraq.
The irrelevant conclusion diverts attention away from the fact in
dispute by appeal to authority. Although it is a logical fallacy, such
arguments are often persuasive.
The answer is trust.
For example, “I know George Washington doesn’t lie (remember
the cherry tree) so what he says is good enough for me.”
As Aristotle explained,
“We believe good men more fully and more readily than others:
this is especially true … where exact certainty is impossible and
opinions are divided.”
The problem is that con artists make a career out of appearing like
The Fallacies of Unreasoned Arguments include the following:
Argumentum ad misericordiam = appeal to pity
Ad verecundiam = appeal to prestige
Ad hominem = appeal to personal ridicule
Ad populum = appeal to popular opinion
Ad antiquitam = appeal to tradition
Ad terrorem = appeal to fear
Ad superbium = appeal to snobbery or pride
Ad superstitionem = appeal to credulity
Post hoc ergo propter hoc = fallacy of false cause
Ignoratio elenchi = an argument having nothing to do
with the point
A Hypothetical Syllogism = an argument where the premise is
Politicians and pundits love these arguments. Let’s see a few examples.
Let’s take Ann Coulter, if we must! (I am sure she is more than happy for
the extra attention).
Regarding the death penalty, she writes:
“The fact that something has been embraced by many cultures over a
long period of time is generally not an argument against its practice.”
Leaving aside the contorted syntax, this is an appeal ad antiquitam, to tra-
dition. An ad antiquitam appeal may have rhetorical value, and can even
be a good argument if the tradition is logically sound on its own terms.
But, it remains a logical fallacy as an unreasoned argument. And if the tra-
dition lacks force it is even worse. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote,
“It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so
it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if
the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since,
and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”
Coulter provides examples of logical fallacies aplenty. Regarding criminal
procedure, she writes,
“Today a foreigner being tried for the murder of his American wife
and child can demand that U.S. taxpayers pay for his lawyers and
This is ad superbium, an appeal to snobbery, pride or exclusivity. Ah, those
nasty (read “bad” here) “foreigners” killing their “American (read
“good” here) wives and children again!
“Liberal justices didn’t care whether confessions were ‘reliable.’ They
just wanted to release child-murderers.”
This is ad hominem, a personal attack. Again, in some sectors this argu-
ment has rhetorical currency, but no logical value. For goodness sake, does
anyone want to release child molesters?
Again Coulter postulates,
“Hundreds of thousands of violent criminals were unleashed on soci-
ety, where they could commit more rapes and murders. Liberal ideas
on crime led like night into day to skyrocketing crime rates in the
sixties and seventies. It is impossible to calculate the blood on the
hands of Supreme Court justices whose personal view was that it is
unfair to punish the guilty.”
ARIZONA ATTORNEY JANUARY 2014 26
“Think Like A Lawyer”