Logical Fallacies that affect our Society Today

Writen in 2016 this article explores logical fallacies and the 2016 Presidential Election.

Our modern world is filled with all different kinds of people.  As such it’s no surprise that there are disagreements in our society today.  When examining today’s social problems it’s important to know what types of logical fallacies there are and what they look like.  We can ask ourselves if information is logical or reasonable but above all once we understand logical fallacies it will be easier to identify poor logic and reason.  (Lauer, 2011)    

Logical fallacies often exacerbate social problems.  Fallacies can be defined as, “a false or mistaken idea, false reasoning.” (Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary)  Although there are many different logical fallacies that may creep their way into our logic we are going to examine some examples from modern politics that exemplify several fallacies that affect our society today, namely the Fallacy of Appeal to Prejudice, Fallacy of Personal Attack, Fallacy of Circular Reasoning, Fallacy of Composition, Fallacy of Authority and Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

The first example we will examine is a quote from the republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.  During his announcing his bid for the office of president The Washington Post quotes Donald Trump as saying, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (Trump 2015, as cited in Washington Post, 2015) Here we see Donald Trump using the Fallacy of Appeal to prejudice, Fallacy of composition, and Fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

In this example the presidential candidate is using preexisting prejudices that some of the American public have against Mexican immigrants in order to bolster his own position and appeal as a candidate for president.  This is the Fallacy of Appeal to prejudice or “argument ad populum”. The fallacy of appeal to prejudice is when an individual uses “popular prejudices or passions to convince others of the correctness of their position.” (Lauer, 2011)  

We also see the Fallacy of composition in Donald Trump’s Statement.  The fallacy of composition is “the assertion that what is true of the part is necessarily true of the whole” (Lauer, 2011)  Essentially Donald Trump is asserting that the majority of Mexican immigrants are people with problems, drug smugglers, criminals and rapists.  It may be true that some Mexican immigrants are problematic. But to say that all or most Mexican’s are problematic based on the actions of a few is a fallacy. 

We also have the Fallacy of misplaced concreteness in the aforementioned quote from Donald Trump.  The Fallacy of misplaced concreteness is described as “Making something abstract into something concrete” (Lauer, 2011)  The book Social Problems and the Quality of life uses the example of ‘Society’ to explain the concept.  Society is an abstract entity. It is composed of many individuals who interact in complex ways.  Therefore it is a fallacy to state that Society “does” “makes” or “causes” anything. (Lauer, 2011)  It’s an over simplification of a complex idea. When Donald Trump says, “When Mexico sends its people…” it is an example of the Fallacy of misplaced concreteness.  Mexico is a nation made up of many individuals and it is a fallacy to state that Mexico “sends” individuals.

The next example we will consider is from the March 3rd, 2016 Republican debate.  During the debate there were many personal attacks against the physical attributes of the presidential candidates.  Senator Marco Rubio called attention to Donald Trump’s use of fallacy when he said, “And the second point, you see what happens, again, when you challenge him on a policy issue. You asked him about the economy, and the first thing he does is launch an attack about some little guy thing. Because he doesn’t have answers.”(Rubio, as cited in Washington Post, 2016) 

What Senator Marco Rubio is referencing here is Donald Trump’s use of the fallacy of personal attack.  The Fallacy of personal attack is a tactic used to “attack the opponent personally when they can’t support their position by reason, logic, or facts.”  (Lauer, 2011) Although he did not use the term specifically, Senator Marco Rubio was accurately highlighting Trump’s use of this Fallacy of personal attack.  Marco Rubio was pointing out that Donald Trump chose to attack him personally by criticizing his height rather than addressing the topic at hand.   

The Last example we will consider is another quote from Donald Trump during is an exchange with NBC’s American television journalist Chuck Todd.  When speaking with Chuck Todd, Donald Trump was stated that there were many individuals that had tail gate parties and celebrations after the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001.  As evidence for his statement, Donald Trump said, “You look at @realdonaldtrump, where I have millions and millions of people on there, between Facebook and Twitter.  I have 10 million people between the two of them.  You look at that.  And I’m getting unbelievable response of people that said they saw it.”  (Trump 2015, as cited in Washington Post, 2015)  

This is an example of Fallacy of circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is defined as using a conclusion to support the assumptions that were necessary to make the conclusions.  (Lauer, 2011) This quote is an example of circular reasoning because Donald Trump is citing other individuals that support his ideas as evidence for his ideas, instead of citing empirical evidence.  

The quote is also another example of the Fallacy of Appeal to Prejudice.  Donald Trump is appealing to the prejudices that many American’s had after the 9/11 attacks towards Muslims and individuals from the Middle East instead of appealing to logic and facts.

The last example we will consider involves the current Religio-Political divide in the United States.  In modern politics religion is often a source of contention in the United States that involves the Fallacy of Authority.  Fallacy of Authority is when an argument contains and illegitimate appeal to authority. The reason that it may be fallacious is that the authority may be ambiguous, the authority may be irrelevant to the problem, or that the authority may be pursuing a bias.  (Lauer, 2011) 

In the case of the religious divide in the United States we may see individuals making an argument based on the teachings of their particular holy text.  This may be a logical fallacy in the instance where people of the same faith interpret their religious book differently as is the case with the bible and those who support and oppose capital punishment.  In this instance the authority is ambiguous. (Lauer, 2011) This is also fallacious because not all individuals in a society agree on the authority of any given holy text. 

In conclusion we have examined just three different instances in the world of politics today and examined five different fallacies that occurred therein.   It’s important that we know and understand logical fallacies so that when we observe them in real life context we can identify and avoid them. It is important that our leaders and we as individuals use sound logic in our discussions regarding social problems and strive to avoid logical fallacies despite how common they maybe.  

Works Cited

Lauer, R. H. (2011). Social Problems and the Quality of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill .

Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary. (n.d.). Merriam-webster.com. Retrieved August 3, 2016

Washington Post. (2015, July 8). Donald Trump’s false comments connecting Mexican immigrants and crime. Retrieved August 3, 2016, from Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/08/donald-trumps-false-comments-connecting-mexican-immigrants-and-crime/

Washington Post. (2015, November 30). Donald Trump’s Dangerously Circular Logic. Retrieved August 4, 2016, from Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/11/29/the-dangerous-circular-logic-of-donald-trump/

Washington Post. (2016, March 3). The Fox News GOP Debate Transcript, Annotated. Retrieved August 4, 2016, from Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/03/03/the-fox-news-gop-debate-transcript-annotated/


Published by Ryan David Tuttle

PhD Graduate student studying Behavioral Neuroscience, Addiction, Stress, Behavioral Economics, and Individual Differences. Former member Ministerial Servant and Pioneer in a Spanish speaking congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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