|•||Make up a Silly Example of a foolacy, e.g. Dominos of Doom: “If the government can force kids to go to school, next they’ll force them work in coal mines!” Confusing the Cause: “Older children wear bigger clothes, therefor wearing bigger clothes makes you grow!”|
Find a foolacy in online Comments, or an argument by a Politician or News Pundit, and explain why it’s a foolacy.
Read an Article that opposes your personal belief. Identify any foolacies and any bad arguments that are not foolacies.
(Remember not all bad arguments are foolacies. A good journalist shouldn’t use any foolacies, though you may still disagree with all their arguments.)
but still bad arguments:
People often cheat in arguments. Politicians and pundits try to manipulate voters. Sellers use misleading ads and packaging. Even friends, family, and loved ones use unfair arguments, even if it is unintentional. And you probably do too.
See the menu for the many different kinds of foolacies.
Foolacies are False, right?
Not always, and not all false statements are foolacies. A statement could be false because of a misunderstanding or lying, which are not foolacies. Also a foolacy is not just any argument you disagree with.
Even if you use bad reasoning you still might have a true conclusion. For example, if I say, “Vegetables are healthy because everyone says so,” it’s true that vegetables are healthy, and it’s true that everyone says so, but it’s bad reasoning to say they’re healthy because everyone says so.
Even something crazy sounding is not necessarily a foolacy. For example, if I say, “You should wear a tinfoil hat to block mind-control waves,” that may sound crazy. But if there really were mind-control waves, tinfoil might in fact be a good shield, so the reasoning is okay even if it’s based on a false assumption.
Who do Foolacies Fool?
Anyone! Usually the arguer is trying to fool you. But politicians debating each other are actually trying to fool the audience. And you might even fool yourself! For example if you think your teacher treats you unfairly because they gave critical feedback, you might be ignoring all the compliments they gave, which is called the Cherry Picking foolacy.
Are Foolacies on Purpose?
Not necessarily. Sometimes people intentionally try to trick others any way they can, even if they know their reasoning is bad. And sometimes they don’t know their reasoning is bad, so they truly believe their own arguments.
Art of Persuasion
Identifying foolacies is a great exercise for critical thinking skills. People usually just argue at each other, complaining but failing to persuade. To actually change someone’s mind, you must:
People cannot reason or be open-minded when they are angry.
Distinguish facts from feelings and speculations.
Act like a judge not a lawyer.
Be a diplomat not a warrior.
Some people think it’s okay to use foolacies to fool people if it’s for a good cause — that the end justifies the means. But this rationalizing is a foolacy itself. No matter how right you feel you are, it’s still cheating to use foolacies. Politicians and pundits are especially guilty of this. What they consider a “good cause” might not be good for you.
Heated arguments go nowhere. When people are angry, they lose their ability to reason logically, and they close their minds. That’s why the expression is “Let cooler heads prevail” and not “Let the loudest shouter win”.
Showing anger can be useful sometimes — it shows others how important the issue is to you, and it can motivate people who already agree with you, and it might even win over someone who is still undecided. But if someone disagrees with you, there is no winning them over with anger. At that point it’s more effective to tell them you’re angry than to show it.
This app is part of the Critical Thinking Project for education reform. My other app teaches Fact vs. Opinion, with more apps coming later. See: