So what's wrong with my argument? (I)

 © 2011 by Jensen DG. Mañebog

INFORMAL FALLACIES > Fallacies of Relevance

LOGICAL FALLACIES ARE ERRORS in reasoning that occur frequently enough, either alone or in combination, to deserve special attention. Fallacy is false reasoning, a bad method of argument, whether deductive or inductive.

There exists an infinite number of bad arguments as arguing badly may be done in an infinity of ways. The term fallacy usually pertains to typicalflaws in arguments that many nonetheless consider persuasive though erroneous. The informal fallacies are called so because they display a persuasiveness that leans on informal aspects like ambiguity, fear, prejudice, and so forth. If we would want to be ready with a good defense against deception, it is imperative that we study these fallacies.


The fallacies of relevance are unsuccessful in providing satisfactory justification to establish belief in the truth of their conclusions. Logicians of the Medieval and Renaissance had identified these fallacies, the Latin names they gave to them have passed into ordinary use.

(1) Irrelevant Conclusion (ignoratio elenchi)

The fallacy named ignoratio elenchi attempts to found the truth of a conclusion by offering proofs or evidences that actually render support for a completely different conclusion. When one proves a conclusion other than the one that should be proved, he commits this fallacy which is also called “fallacy of irrelevant conclusion,” “ignoring the issue,” “missing the point,” “red herring,” and “ignorance of the question.”

The Latin word elenchi came from the Greek word elencho, which means “refutation.” One way to refute a claim is to establish the truth of its contradictory, for contradictory statements cannot be both true at the same time.  Now, one is considered “ignorant of the refutation” or “missing the issue” if in an attempt to refute a certain proposition, he proves or establishes statements other than the contradictory of the statement to be falsified.

Consider this argument:

Evil exists.

Therefore, an all-loving and all-powerful God does not exist.

Suppose that proponents of atheism have proven that evil exists. The question is, is the fact that evil exists inconsistent with and contradictory to God’s existence? Does the statement involve the contradictory of “God exists”? Or, can it be that evil exists and still God exists? For instance, is it inconsistent to think that God allows evil? What if God uses evil to maximize the amount of good in the universe? Or perhaps the existence of evil would contribute to prove that God is ultimately just. In these conditions, God and evil can possibly coexist. Hence, the claim that evil exists may prove that this world is not perfect, or that not all humans are good, or that some events are destructive; but it does not necessarily prove that God does not exist. Therefore, the above-mentioned argument is invalid for it commits the fallacy ignoratio elenchi.

The ignoratio elenchi is very common. The following are some of its forms:

(a) Appeal to Force (argumentum ad baculum)

The appeal to force is someone’s use of power over another who dares disagree to accept his proposition. This is committed when one pursues to establish a conclusion by resorting to coercion, intimidation, threat, or strong-arm tactics. It proposes the idea that ‘might is right’ and is also called ‘appeal to the stick’. Though it is seldom developed so expressly, this type of fallacy is inclined to suggest something like:

I believe that Pythagoras is the greatest philosopher of all times.

If you don’t accept what I believe, I will fail you.

Therefore, Pythagoras is the greatest philosopher of all times.

Notice that the conclusion could still be false even if we accept that all of the premises were true. Certainly, failing you is not the logical and neither a good way to demonstrate that the conclusion is acceptable.

(b) Appeal to Pity (argumentum ad misericordiam)

It is an attempt to gain acceptance by drawing attention to the misfortune that would befall the speaker (and/or others) should we not accept his conclusion. This is logically flawed for it the point at hand by appealing to mercy, sympathy, or compassion.

I’m pregnant and I can’t go to school for another semester if I don’t graduate this year. My father doesn’t know about my condition yet and would kill me if he learns that I also failed in your subject. So I deserve to pass your subject.

The speaker has not proven that she deserves to pass the subject, but that she would be miserable if she fails it.

(c) Appeal to Emotion

It capitalizes on emotional language to stimulate intense feelings, attempting to lead someone into acceptance of a conclusion:

Pre-marital sex is not only practically evil and immoral but is also against the ideals of cultural decency. Moreover, to engage in it is to transgress the rightful and just principle of Christianity because it causes intense destruction to the indispensable sanctity of marriage, as all virtuous and discerning citizens of this nation understand. Therefore, Pre-marital sex has not entered the Filipino culture.

True, the sentimental tone of the premises might excite strong emotions. Nevertheless, produced feelings have nothing to do with the truth of the conclusion.

(d) Appeal to the people (Argumentum ad populum)

When one claims that an idea should be accepted by pointing to a large number of people favoring it or by appealing to popularity or opinions, passions or prejudices of the people or traditional institutions, he commits this fallacy. This is also called the bandwagon appeal or joining the bandwagon:

The Philippines is one of the very few nations left that has not legalized divorce yet.

Therefore, we must legalize divorce in the Philippines.

Granting for the sake of argumentation that the premise is true, still it doesn’t necessitate us to accept the conclusion as also true, for the measure of what is right is not whether or not the majority advocates it.   

(e) Appeal to False Authority (argumentum ad verecundiam)

Here, the view or opinion of a notable person, himself expert in some other field of specialization is presumed to warrant the truth of a conclusion. In other words, a wrong or unqualified authority is here referred to to prove a conclusion. Example:

Next year is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Manny Paquiao believes so.

Though Manny Paquiao could be recognized as an authority in boxing, his opinion regarding Judgment Day nevertheless does not make the alleged Second Advent of Jesus Christ next year to be true.

(f) Appeal to Authority (argumentum ad auctoritatem)

To assert a proposition as true on the sole basis that an expert holds it is also incorrect. Authorities also are not free from errors and have biases in a certain issue. Take this example:

            There is no God. My professor who has doctorate degree in Philosophy and Theology says so.

The truth of a statement is not grounded on the conviction of an individual no matter how accomplished or talented he is. Even the most expert of authorities could be incorrect in fields where they are knowledgeable or skilled. Their statement may be acknowledged as inductive or supporting evidence; never as deductive or necessary proof to say that a conclusion is true.

(g) Argument against the person (argumentum ad hominem)

Ad hominemis a Latin term meaning “to the man”. This fallacy happens when the “person” or personality of the arguer is attacked, rather than his argument. A proposition here is discarded just because a person who stated it is one with discreditable character:

Why should we believe in what this man says that divorce destroys the sacredness of marriage?  Isn’t he an illegitimate son?

Logically, not only is it possible for a disreputable individual to propose something that is correct, also, his opinions and arguments should be evaluated independent of his character or traits.

(h) Appeal to Ignorance (argumentum ad ignoratiam)

Here, a proposition’s truth or falsity is accepted unless it is proven otherwise. When one asserts that a thing is true because it cannot be proven false, or a thing is false because it cannot be proven true, he commits the fallacy called argumentum ad ignoratiam.

No one has categorically proven that there are no ghosts.

Therefore, there are ghosts.

But we know that a proposition is not proven to be true just because there is no evidence against it, nor is it false, just because there is no available proof or evidence provided for it. (With continuation)

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How to cite this article:
Jensen DG. Mañebog. “So what’s wrong with my argument? (I)” @


1. Give an original example for each of the informal fallacies discussed in the lecture (in a yellow paper or [for distance educ. students] in Microsoft Word file (.doc.) to be submitted to your professor’s e-mail address).

2. In the comment section (below), write your short explanation (2-3 sentences) why the topic is important. (To be checked by the class asst. monitor/prof.)


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