When A Good Argument Is Still Wrong

Bad Arguments Vol. 15


Today on Bad Arguments I wanted to cover an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed in various debate circles. What will happen is sometimes there will be those that have valid arguments that they are making, yet the way the argument is presented is in error itself or the conclusions that are reached with them are outside of the realms of the argument made. I’ll give a few examples of what I’m referring to here to explain how, even with a valid argument, it can still be a bad one.

Consider the following statement: “There is no point in debating what a football team should do in a bar as the coaches and owners won’t hear it, thus it will change nothing.” The statement here is correct in its premise that arguing football in random bars isn’t going to create change, and correct in the sense that the owners and coaches of the teams aren’t likely to hear your complaints. On those merits, it would be a valid argument. This, however, commits what is known as the ignoratio elenchi fallacy, or the Irrelevant Conclusion Fallacy. This type of fallacy occurs when an argument in and of itself may be valid, yet its conclusion is unrelated. In this case, the arguments that the effectors of change (the owners and coaches) will not listen is correct, as is the conclusion that they won’t hear the complains, but it misses the point. We most likely aren’t debating what football teams need to do with the idea that it will actually change anything. We generally debate things like this merely out of a joy of the discussion, a chance to express our views, or other reasons that make perfect sense for the situation at hand. The argument was valid, but it’s conclusion wasn’t.

Try this particular Syllogism:

  1. The Nazis banned smoking in most areas as one of their policies
  2. You support banning smoking as a policy
  3. You support a policy supported by Nazis

This is technically correct. If you do indeed support the banning of smoking in certain public spaces such as trams or buses then you would be in agreeance with a policy of the Nazi Party. To put it in more common phrasing “Since this policy was also supported by the Nazi party that would mean you’re supporting something the Nazi Party believed in.” The logic of the argument is correct, but the argument itself is in question. First off why the relations to Nazis if not to provoke an emotional response? Is this argument supposed to go towards calling the opposition a Nazi? Is it to claim that the idea of banning smoking in public places is wrong because of it’s association to its proponents? While this particular argument isn’t directly an appeal to emotion, it follows a form of Red Herring Fallacy because it uses judgemental language to illicit guilt by association. The inclusion of this argument in a discussion is also suspect as it has little logical weight to any logical conclusions that could be drawn from it.

Just because a statement is logically correct doesn’t mean that it is a good or valid argument. The full scope of the conversation needs to be accounted for in these cases as a singular logic chain, even if correct, may not fully be applicable or appropriate. Arguments are not the same as statements, and as such cannot stand on their own. An argument, especially in debate, needs to fit contextually, and have a conclusion of merit to the debate at hand. If not, it’s simply just another bad argument.

You can read more from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.



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