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Bad Arguments

A lot of arguments simply don’t make sense. Spotting bad arguments is a vital, and I’d guess, rare skill for academics and business people. Ali Almossawi has a fun little book on bad arguments. They are all illustrated to make them more memorable. I don’t completely endorse all the descriptions. Still, he raises important things to bear in mind when listening to discussions.

Some Bad Arguments

He gives examples of bad arguments. For instance:

The argument from consequences is especially interesting. Here one says that if an opponent’s argument were true terrible consequences would follow. This is then used as evidence that it can’t be true. I.e. I don’t want it to be true so it can’t be true.

Classification Can Be Subjective

Some bad arguments are hard to classify objectively. They depend upon your perspective, i.e. are subjective. For example, an appeal to irrelevant authority is only classed as such if you think the authority is irrelevant. We won’t all necessary agree on this.

The Appeal To Ignorance

My personal favourite is the appeal to ignorance.

The appeal to ignorance “.. assumes a proposition to be true simply because there is no evidence proving it is false.”

Almossawi, 2013, page 24

If you don’t know something you can use your lack of knowledge as support for your case. We do that in academia all the time. A great line that we all use is “to the best of our knowledge we are the first researchers to do this”. This is clearly easier to argue if one knows little of past research. In many ways the less you know of the literature the easier it is to write academic papers.

Four Dubious Forms Of Argument

How we make, hear, and respond to arguments is a fascinating topic. Almossawi will have helped more people think about the problem of bad arguments.

For more on decision-making see here, here, and here.

Read: Ali Almossawi (2013) An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, The Experiment, New York

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