Discordian Wiki

This is a page, not to list simple descriptions of fallacies (you can find an excellent resource about that at Wikipedia), but to explain how to avoid particular fallacies in your thought, when a fallacy isn't actually a fallacy, and when to use fallacies in argument. Much of jamming relies on the creative and constructive use of fallacies, so this hopefully will be a valuable resource for Discordians.

About Fallacies[]

Quick recap for those who want it: A fallacy is a structural mistake, often a type of misplaced assumption, that weakens or renders invalid someone's argument. There are several generally accepted categories for fallacies, but basically all that matters are deductive fallacies versus inductive ones. A deductive fallacy is a point in someone's argument at which they make a mistake that voids that section of the argument because there's a deductive flow error. A classic example is, "All mammals are warm-blooded. All cats are warm-blooded. Therefore, all cats are mammals."

The mistake here becomes obvious if you substitute terms, because structurally there's no difference between one term and another. You could say, for instance, "All cats are mammals. All dogs are mammals. Therefore, all dogs are cats." There's absolutely no structural difference between this argument and the one above it, but it's obviously false, and there's no way to argue that it could be true.

The other kind of fallacy we're interested in are inductive fallacies. These are a bit trickier, and they're the kind most people think of when they talk about fallacies generally. An inductive argument isn't obviously voided when you make a mistake -- you can only make it weaker or stronger. Inductive fallacies are typically times when people try to attach some kind of unrelated information to an argument to make it look better than it really is. All that you need to do is recognize that the information doesn't matter to their overall case, and then consider what they have to say as though they hadn't made that mistake. For instance, if I'm making an argument about Republicans being hypocritical, and I mention how greedy Dick Cheney is, that's completely irrelevant. It's just a random attack on the character of a particular Republican -- it's an ad hominem fallacy. If that's all that my argument consisted of, then I didn't really make any argument at all.

Please add to this section if you think you can clarify things, but let's avoid over-academic treatments of the subject here.

When A Fallacy Is Not A Fallacy[]

This is a bit more important. There are many cases in which people identify some sort of behavior that's like a fallacy, and conclude that it is one. For instance, say in my example about Republicans I'd said Dick Cheney was greedy (and maybe provided something to back that up), and gone on to say that he was criticizing Democrats for not being charitable. Well, that's different! Here's a case where he really is being hypocritical! No fallacy after all: my attack on his character is relevant to the argument I'm trying to make.

...Maybe. It's almost always more complicated than that. Because Cheney himself might have been saying that Democrats were hypocritical by demanding charity be given, and not giving any themselves. If that's the case, then he's not judging them for failing to be charitable because he thinks they ought to be, but because they have said they (and others) ought to be and they're not living up to it.

When A Fallacy Is Only Kind Of A Fallacy[]

As mentioned earlier in the article, nothing explicitly kills an inductive argument, which is the kind most conversations revolve around: they can only be strengthened or weakened. Technically, almost any use of rhetoric could be judged at some level of rigour to be irrelevant and therefore fallacious (and in fact, there have been philosophies that have incorporated similar claims). But it's often more useful to instead recognize degrees of relevance, rather than trying to enforce absolute boundaries.

The Worst Kind of Fallacy[]

...is the kind you make without realizing it. Discordians who delude themselves are in mortal danger of Missing The Point.

Fallacies And What To Do With Them: A List[]

The Strawman[]

This is probably the most-cited fallacy on the Internet (citation needed). The poor strawman has been used, abused, and outright violated for much of its life, and deserves a chance to make its case.

What The Straw Man Is[]

The straw man is the fallacy of taking some position, ignoring, removing, or adding parts to it to make it seem weaker (or outright ridiculous), and then eloquently shredding this newly-restuffed position.

Here's an example: Let's say a pro-life debater has made the case that abortion is immoral because in their spiritual view, human beings have souls which arrive at conception. They have said they believe there is no difference, metaphysically, between an embryo and a child. So abortion, to them, is equivalent to infanticide.

Now say I take that argument and I characterize the position as the following: "So what you're saying is abortion is wrong because God told you so."

That's a straw man. It's not what they said and arguing against it, even eloquently and at great length, has absolutely no bearing on their position.

What The Straw Man Isn't[]

It's not re-stating someone else's position, nor is it even misunderstanding their position. It's absolutely not attacking another position -- this is the basis of all argument.

An example: Say a pro-choice debater has made the case that they do not believe in souls and that physically, there is a great deal of difference between an embryo and a child. They have said that according to any reasonable biological definition, the embryo is only as much a human being as a kidney is.

Say I then restate the position as follows: "So what you're saying is that you think aborting a child is okay because fetuses aren't people."

Now, my restatement has some angry rhetoric attached to it -- I'm using some loaded terms, like "child" (and they might legitimately object to that). However, unless there's obviously some deeper issue, then what I said is technically correct. I've described the process they support and the reason they support it, and I haven't added anything in or subtracted anything out to weaken it.

The straw man is also not anything else, like attacking someone's integrity, being dismissive of their premises, introducing extraneous information to the argument, or re-stating one's own argument to adapt to one's evolving position. There are different fallacies that cover each of those things, except the last one, which is simply good practice.

How To Avoid Using The Straw Man[]

The primary rule for argument is not to let your emotions get in the way of your view of your opponent, and this is important here. Equally as important is not to presume you understand exactly what your opponent is trying to conclude or where they're coming from -- even in cases where you probably know these things, they may have an unusual wrinkle to their argument that merits new consideration.

How To Use The Straw Man[]

Probably the most effective time and place to use a straw man is when your opponent seems unsure of their own argument. If you start criticizing points that aren't what they made and they start trying to defend those other points, you can steer the discussion around in all sorts of ways. What's important here is to remember yourself what you want to accomplish. Just making somebody angry isn't usually the purpose of a Jamming session -- that's easy enough to do without having read anything here, or indeed, having read anything in your life ever anywhere.