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Saturday, October 8, 2011

To Cut Down a Tree With a Herring

A recurrent theme in my book reviews and posts, especially on education, is my fondness for a crisp logical argument.  This is not to say that I am any kind of master of these arguments, or even that I can always identify the type of reasoning being applied in my reading, but only that when I do spot it, I enjoy it.  A lot.

If you’re going to try to sort out fact and fiction on any topic, you also need to be systematically improving your logic-sleuthing skills.   

Pop Quiz: who knows anything about formal logic?

Well, I know I need a brush-up, so as I study, I’ll add posts to reflect my very first-grade grasp of it all.

To start, let’s just talk about a few common types of fallacies that people make in an argument.  We hear a lot in a day from the media, friends, eavesdropping in coffee shops, and the overgrown hippie holding signs on the street corner.  It’s therefore useful to amass some tools of discernment, if only so you can scoff inwardly and feel really big while you sip your latte.

Logical fallacies fall into two categories.  A formal fallacy is fun because you don’t even need much, if any, knowledge of the subject to spot it.  It’s an error in the way the argument is made that undermines it.  What they’re saying may still be true, but the form doesn’t work.

An informal fallacy involves some issue with the content of the argument.  Like if you quote someone out of context to distort his meaning, the substance of your argument is suspect.

In the next few posts, I’ll give common examples of each type until I get bored or finish a reviewable book.

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