The Fallacy Fallacy: How to Avoid Poor Reasoning About Poor Reasoning

As you learn about logical fallacies, you’ll probably find plenty of examples in your everyday life.

Maybe someone makes a bad first impression on you, and you conclude he’s a rude person. But then you realize that’s a hasty generalization. You can’t draw that conclusion based on such a small sample size.

Perhaps a friend tells you that she doesn’t feel well because of the fish she ate yesterday. You identify this as a false cause fallacy. She can’t know that it’s necessarily the fish that caused her to feel bad.

Someone might recommend a book, telling you that “everyone loves it.” And you recognize this as an appeal to popularity. How popular the book is says little about whether you’ll enjoy it.

And when you spot a fallacy, it’s tempting to think that the claim must be wrong. But that assumption is actually itself a fallacy aptly named the fallacy fallacy. You see, it’s entirely possible to reason poorly, use a variety of fallacies, and still arrive at a true conclusion.

The person you met might actually be rude. You can’t know it from just one meeting, but it’s fully possible that future encounters will be equally unpleasant.

Your friend does indeed feel bad because of the fish she had. There are many factors that could have caused it, but the fish might just be the correct one.

The book someone recommended might just be spectacular. While the claim that “everyone loves it” isn’t very useful, it could still turn out to be an excellent read.

The takeaway? A fallacy is never evidence against the claim. It’s just evidence for poor reasoning.

Being able to identify logical fallacies is an important skill that can dramatically improve your thinking. But if you concentrate too much on them, you can lose sight of the content within the reasoning. And if you focus too much on calling them out, well, then you’ll risk becoming an annoying know-it-all.

So whenever you spot a fallacy, keep this helpful command in mind:

“Don’t shoot the message. Just because the messenger is stupid, doesn’t mean the message is.”

This article is an excerpt from my book The Decision-Making Blueprint.