Logic is one of the seven liberal arts and sciences – which as Masons we are reminded to study. Logic is part of the Trivium of the seven liberal arts and sciences – partnered with Grammar and Rhetoric – we cannot have a reasoned debate without employing the Trivium:
Grammar teaches the mechanics of language to the student. This is the step where the student ‘comes to terms’, defining the objects and information perceived by the five senses. Hence, the Law of Identity: a tree is a tree, and not a cat.
Logic (also dialectic) is the ‘mechanics’ of thought and of analysis, the process of composing sound arguments and identifying fallacious arguments and statements and so systematically removing contradictions, thereby producing factual knowledge that can be trusted.
Rhetoric is the application of language in order to instruct and to persuade the listener and the reader. It is the knowledge (grammar) now understood (logic) and being transmitted outwards as wisdom (rhetoric).
This sentence, from ‘15 Logical Fallacies You Should Know Before Getting Into a Debate‘ [The Best Schools] sums up the importance of logical reasoning:
One of the most important components of learning…is academic discourse, which requires argumentation and debate. Argumentation and debate inevitably lend themselves to flawed reasoning and rhetorical errors. Many of these errors are considered logical fallacies.
There are two types of fallacies:
Formal Fallacy – has true premises, but may still have a false conclusion.
Informal Fallacy – has a valid logical form and yet is unsound because one or more premises are false.
So, what is a logical – or informal – fallacy in everyday use?
It is important to understand what a logical fallacy is, not only so you avoid making one yourself but also being able to spot them when others fall into the trap of employing one.
They are often used to deflect discussions away from establishment of the truth.
Logical fallacies are often deployed consciously within the mainstream and social media as a way of perpetuating an ideology or mistruth.
People use logical fallacies every day, whether they understand they are doing it or not.
(Once you start to learn to spot them, it becomes a sport in identifying them, especailly during TV political debates, and of course social media posts).
Listed below are some of the most oft-used logical fallacies, many of which we will explore in further articles:
The Circular Argument – Petitio principii, meaning ‘Assuming the initial’; also known as ‘begging the question’.
The reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with – a claim using the conclusion as the premise.
For example, ‘The Bible is true, it says so in the Bible’. They are just repeating what they assume to be true, because the source it says it is true.
Hasty Generalizations – for example ‘this is the best song in the world!’
If we haven’t literally listened to all the songs in the world, we can’t logically make that statement.
So, hasty generalisations are one of the most difficult fallacies to ‘disprove’, as we do not have limits on what is sufficient evidence.
We make hasty generalisations ‘all of the time’ – that is a perfect example right there because we do so many other things with our time, so logically we are not doing anything ‘all of the time’…except perhaps breathing!
The Ad Hominem Fallacy – ad hominem translates from the Latin as ‘against the man’; in the vernacular it is known as ‘mudslinging’.
This fallacy is a favourite on social media and in the political arena – the rejection of someone else’s opinion or point of view by attacking the person directly – calling someone an idiot, or including an insult pertaining to their physical appearance, background, race, political leanings etc., which are irrelevant to the argument.
But an ad hominem is more than a simple insult, it is used as if it were an argument or evidence to support a conclusion and proves nothing about whether the person’s argument was true or false.
Straw Man Argument – A ‘straw man’ argument is an informal fallacy whereby someone gives the impression of refuting an argument, whilst not addressing the main premise of the argument under discussion.
One who engages in this type of debate is said to be ‘attacking a straw man’ – they distort or mis-represent an opinion or argument, making it easier to defeat.
Straw Man and Slippery Slope work well together – an example of this might be:
A: We must wear masks to slow down the spread of the virus
B: Oh great, muzzle us to keep us subservient – don’t you realise wearing a mask can cause oxygen deprivation? It’s just a way of controlling us, there IS no virus!
Slippery Slope – this fallacy is pretty much summed up by its name; it is an debate or discussion that starts with a relatively insignificant first event leads to a more significant event, which in turn leads to a more significant event, and so on, with each step becoming more and more improbable and rapidly descends to a (usually) catastrophic conclusion.
A bit like the ‘mask’ example above, Slippery Slope goes from A to B to Z…very quickly!
Bandwagon Fallacy – ever heard the term ‘to jump on the bandwagon’?
This fallacy assumes something is good, right or true because other people think it is.
The Bandwagon fallacy is an umbrella term for several fallacies that are almost identical – the ad populum fallacy (‘to the populus’ – meaning something is accepted due to being popular) and concensus gentium (‘consensus of the people’ – meaning acceptance of something by relevant authorities or people).
Bandwagon fallacy is something used in advertising, the media and in politics – making something attractive due to association with something or someone who is popular – it’s the classic premise that ‘9 out of 10 cats prefer it’!
The Bandwagon fallacy has a darker side – we see it in the ‘echo chambers’ on social media – the blind acceptance of a claim or action because a vast number of people appear to agree with it, does not make it right or justified.
‘Mob mentality’ can then rule and we are witnessing how destructive this can be with the new phenomena of people with different views being ‘cancelled’, bullied or ‘doxed’ (doxing is where private information about an individual is published online with malicious intent).
Appeal to Ignorance – argumentum ad ignorantiam – this is when ignorance is used as the major premise in a supporting argument.
Appealing to ignorance isn’t proof of anything, except proof that you don’t know something! It even ‘works’ for contradictory claims, for example:
‘No one has ever been able to prove definitively that God exists, therefore he exists.’
‘No one has ever been able to prove definitively that god exists, therefore he doesn’t exist.’
Using an argument strategy to support mutually exclusive claims just shows that you don’t have a decent argument.
Top 10 Logical Fallacies
Logic as a Liberal Art:
An Introduction to Rhetoric and Reasoning
by Rollen Edward Houser
In the twenty-first century there are two ways to study logic.
The more recent approach is symbolic logic. The history of teaching logic since World War II, however, casts doubt on the idea that symbolic logic is best for a first logic course.
Logic as a Liberal Art is designed as part of a minority approach, teaching logic in the “verbal” way, in the student’s “natural” language, the approach invented by Aristotle.
On utilitarian grounds alone, this “verbal” approach is superior for a first course in logic, for the whole range of students.
For millennia, this “verbal” approach to logic was taught in conjunction with grammar and rhetoric, christened the trivium.
The decline in teaching grammar and rhetoric in American secondary schools has led Dr. Rollen Edward Houser to develop this book.
The first part treats grammar, rhetoric, and the essential nature of logic.
Those teachers who look down upon rhetoric are free, of course, to skip those lessons. The treatment of logic itself follows Aristotle’s division of the three acts of the mind (Prior Analytics 1.1).
Formal logic is then taken up in Aristotle’s order, with Parts on the logic of Terms, Propositions, and Arguments.
The emphasis in Logic as a Liberal Art is on learning logic through doing problems.
Consequently, there are more problems in each lesson than would be found, for example, in many textbooks.
In addition, a special effort has been made to have easy, medium, and difficult problems in each Problem Set.
In this way the problem sets are designed to offer a challenge to all students, from those most in need of a logic course to the very best students.