Do It Yourself (DIY): Rational Thinking – 5 most common logical fallacies

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What is a logical fallacy? It is an error in reasoning which leads to an invalid argument. There are a number of logical fallacies out of which I have shortlisted the most common ones. Here we go:

1. Appeal to popularity: Just because the crowd believes in a thing, the thing must be true and correct. The premise here is that the crowd is well-informed about stuff and is intellectually rich so as to judge truth or untruth, correct or incorrect. By this premise anything being done by the crowd or any ‘premise’ held by the crowd must be correct. So even things like racism could get some justification. It is kind of a circular argument as in “it must be true because they say it is true”, no premises are in question.

2. Appeal to authority: Just because an authoritative person says something, it must be true and correct. No premises are asked for by the believers in order to check if the conclusion logically follows the premises or not or even to check if the premises are themselves factual or imaginary. It is kind of a worshipper mentality where one person is completely faithful to another person and believes whatever that persons says.

3. Composition/division: Just because one examined part of a thing is bad or good, all other (unexamined) parts must be the same. The premise here is that all the parts of the particular thing are one and the same and hence examination of just one part is enough to ascertain the nature of the unexamined parts. So in case of gangrene in one foot, the whole body must have been gangrened.

4. Personal attack: A personal attack on someone while arguing instead of attacking the premises and arguments of his. Like “all you’re saying is baseless because you’re a liar.” Now to prove that the other person is a liar, there needs to be given a list of evidences which would deviate the whole debate. The main purpose of doing so is to safeguard your own self by hook or by crook when you’re about to lose in an argument.

5. No belief: When even in the presence of a compelling evidence, the opponent disagrees simply by saying “I don’t believe”, hence “I won’t believe.” This usually happens with people who hold such strong beliefs about certain things that no matter how much opposite evidence you present, they won’t change their minds.

Logical fallacies bring down the level of a debate and often lead to losses. In order to search for truth, you must be true to reasoning and should not commit logical fallacies. Appreciation for those who do not commit them, and for those who do, I hope they’ll unveil their rationality soon.

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Do It Yourself (DIY): Rational Thinking – 6 easy steps

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What is rational? It is that which is based on or in accordance with reason and logic. What are reason and logic? Reason is the explanation of the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of an action or event. Logic is reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity. Validity means the quality of being logically or factually sound. All these words aim at one thing, that is identifying the real nature of things and calling a spade a spade.

If you’re wondering about how to think rationally, following are 6 easy steps you can follow to start being a rational thinker.

1. Be a sceptic: Question everything no matter how popular or accepted things may be, but be polite. Ask for the premises behind the conclusions. But do not hang on the question when you get a genuine answer (the premises of which seem to be logically sound).

2. Slow down: Judging anything takes time. Take your time gathering appropriate data to have a ground to judge in the first place. There are a number of possible cause and effect chains which cannot be comprehended in just a couple of moments.

3. No defence: Do not defend your opinions (nor of anyone else). Opinions have to change if the evidence points to the opposite direction. This way you’ll never feel offended if anyone questions you or proves you wrong. If your argument overpowers that of the opponent, you win, if his argument overpowers yours (the premises of which are logically sound), it’s again a victory as you have a new but strong perspective that you didn’t think of previously.

4. Follow facts: You must not follow opinions. You’re to be guided by facts, that’s it. Even if someone claims to have opinions based on facts, still be a sceptic and ask for the premises and facts used to reach the conclusions or opinions. There is no authority for you other than facts.

5. You’re fallible: Accept that you can make mistakes even at the time when you’re sure that you’re not going to. So be ready to be pointed out as wrong. To be factually pointed out as wrong is beneficial (as in we can ask for the premises and if they turn out to be logically sound) as we can learn about our own loopholes and grow as a person.

6. Suspend judgement: Sometimes it may happen that either you have no credible evidence for a conclusion to follow or you have the evidence but it doesn’t seem to go in a particular direction. In such situations you should suspend your judgement. Also there is stuff about which we can’t know for sure, like the beginning of this universe and all. Even in this present moment, we cannot perceive each and every thing that is happening around us and so we can’t tell what it is and what it is not. Suspension of judgement is a peace pact with the limits of our perception.

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Faith in science: how good, how bad?

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But natural we take authoritative statements for granted. The scientific minded people promote science as being based on evidence & free from faith. Isn’t faith bestowed on the evidence gathered by someone else? A religious scripture also relies on such an authority & faith. Like a scientific research paper, it also says ‘it is true, it has been tested.’ But where does the difference lie?

The difference is that the scientific finding can be tested to be proved as true or false. You can replicate it & then match both the results, the new & the claimed. If the reliance is solely for the reason that it is a finding published in a scientific peer-reviewed journal, it is as good as the reliance on a scripture, both situations being devoid of impartial testing. The corruption of aforementioned type of journals is being spoken about quite a lot now. But again we can’t commit the logical fallacy to assume that if one part of such publications is corrupt, then the rest too must be the same and so all parts are unreliable.

My point is simple, if faith toward authority is bad in one field because of presumptive bias, how come it is acceptable in another? Both require a kind of surrender. I do not say to a layman to go and test each and every research paper by replication, but at the least he should not blindly follow what the authorities declare. He should be sceptical toward everything. He cannot go and test each and every claim keeping in mind the costs of money and time. In such cases he needs to suspend his judgement as he does not know if the claims are true or false.

The most common logical fallacy which even the lovers of science could commit would be of presuming as true what the ‘majority’ scientists say. It doesn’t matter what your intent is, but once you presume something to be true or false, your effort becomes wasteful.

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