Take a look at nearly any book on critical thinking and you’ll come across a list of fallacies: ad hominem, argument from ignorance, appeal to emotion, appeal to authority, post hoc ergo propter hoc, god of the gaps, and so on. The problem is that many of these “fallacies” closely resemble good lines of reasoning. Overreliance on fallacy lists – common practice in the skeptic community – fosters shallow criticism, distracts from the substance of an issue, and doesn’t even accomplish the ostensible purpose of demarcating good and bad reasoning.
I’m hard on skeptics in this episode, but that’s because I used to lean on this crutch myself. Over time, the usefulness of this approach struck me as less and less credible, and talk about fallacies tapered off. Fortunately, philosophers like Maarten Boudry and Michael Huemer, whose work you can find below, explained in clear terms what is so unhelpful about this mode of thinking. “Fallacy theory,” as Boudry calls it, is only one feature of a shallow, facile mode of philosophizing, one which isn’t very conducive to a genuine search for truth. I would suggest that one way of improving the quality of our discourse would be to lay off the fallacy accusations a bit. It would lead to a more fruitful search for knowledge and understanding.
After the first five minutes or so of big picture criticism, the bulk of the episode is dedicated to concrete examples, focusing on the ad hominem fallacy, ad populum, “correlation does not imply causation” – the post hoc ergo propter hoc (or cum hoc) fallacy – and begging the question.
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