Rhetorical Fallacies

There is much information available on logical fallacies. Most of these pages define a fallacy and include a fictitious or conversational example. What is more difficult to find is identification of fallacies in actual public discourse. This page will attempt to fill that gap.

Unlike philosophical logic, there are legitimate uses in rhetoric of many of these "fallacies." Appeals to emotion and character are not only common, but represent much of the highest and best rhetoric. When is it a fallacy? As a rule of thumb: When it is used to obscure other alternatives or divert attention from the subject at hand.

There are many pages listing fallacies. It's a lot harder, however, to locate fallacies in real world rhetoric than it is to invent examples. The examples on these pages should come from speech used in practice.

Logical Fallacies

Errors, or intentional feints, that produce objectively invalid arguments. Unlike formal logic, rhetorical logic is often abbreviated, which can make it harder to identify logical fallacies.

Affirming the Consequent

A valid affirmative syllogism has the form "All A is B :: All (or some) C is A » Therefore some C is B." Since the predicates of all affirmative propositions are particular, if you know only that all or some C is B, you can't conclude from this that all or some C is A.

Begging the Question (petitio princepii)

Denying the Antecedent


False Dilemma

Churchill, Winston. "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat." For without victory, there is no survival.
Obama, A More Perfect Union: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother."

Illicit Process

Material / Emotional Fallacies

Ad Hominem

Donald Trump, Ellipse Speech: "weak Republicans" (paras. 21-32). Used because they are not supporting him. Deflects attention from the false claim that the election was unfair.

Ad Populum

FDR, Fireside Chat. 10 October 1933 "On the Currency Situation": "We are thinking in terms of the average you."

Argument from Ignorance

Argument from Silence

Causal Fallacy (post hoc ergo propter hoc)

Complex Question

Composition (Faulty Stereotype)

Division (Misapplied Statistic)

Red Herring (ignoratio elenchi)

Nixon, Checkers Speech. His dog Checkers: "And you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it." Deflects attention from campaign finance.

Straw Man

Tu Quoque

Web Resources and Bibliography — Fallacies in General

Hansen, Hans. "Fallacies." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Summer 2020.

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