The Use and Misuse of Logical Fallacies – Part 1

June 21, 2009

penguin logic As a casual student of debate, we were taught that arguments are not won on logic alone, that they are won by the copious application of wit, rhetoric, and most importantly – by the use and misuse of logical fallacies.

Unlike stating counter-arguments, by catching logical fallacies not only are you providing a valid response, but you are essentially rendering to oppositions arguments invalid. Of course, being the perpetrator of logical fallacies is not a very wise option, for a person with strong logic will always catch the same. But at times the clever use of some fallacies can decisively swing an argument in your favour. And let’s be honest, arguments and debates aren’t just about finding the truth; they’re also about *cough* winning *cough*.

“A fallacy is an argument which provides poor reasoning in support of its conclusion. Fallacies differ from other bad arguments in that many people find them psychologically persuasive. That is, people will mistakenly take a fallacious argument to provide good reasons to believe its conclusion. An argument can be fallacious whether or not its conclusion is true.”


A fallacy is simply an error in reasoning. These are flawed statements that often sound true. It is usually independent of the truth, although conclusion based on such statement might or might not be true.

Below are some of the more common fallacies found in the English language. The same is by no means an exhaustive list of logic fallacies, just some of the more common ones.

1. Ad Hominem

Latin for “argument against the man

This is a form of attack directed towards the character of a person rather than the argument at hand. Such arguments usually assume the following form:-

A makes argument X
B attacks the character of A
Thus A’s argument is false.

Ad Hominem is one of the most popular forms of attack adopted in an argument. And the reason why it is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances or actions of a person does not (in most cases, that is) have a bearing on the validity of the claim purported. Eg.

A: I am looking for some financial advice.
B: Why don’t you get in touch with X, he has a proven record of giving sound financial advice. Why, I myself made a small fortune with his help.
A: X!! How can you accept his advice?! Isn’t he the one who was convicted for armed robbery only a few years ago?

Now X’s supposed conviction does not in any capacity hinder his ability to provide sound financial advice. Thus, the fallacy in reasoning. Ad Hominem is generally not a suggested form of reasoning in an argument. But there are cases where such an attack is considered valid. For example, in a situation where a person would have an ‘incentive to lie’, it would be rather naïve to accept his claim without question.

A: XYZ are by far a most superior brand of cookies.
B: Of course you would say that. Your dad owns the company that makes them!

Now, since A would have an incentive to lie, such an attack would be considered valid.

In another case, when Bill Clinton lied on National television about his relations with Monica Lewinsky, questions were raised on his ability to govern a country. Supporters did argue that Clinton’s sex life would not have any impact on his ability to run a country. Although his willingness to lie could certainly put a question mark on his integrity and ability to adhere to the truth in other cases as well.

2. Slippery Slope (also known as ‘camels nose’)

dilbert-slippery slope

Very popular among housewives, priests and out of work politicians, a slippery slope is not always a logical fallacy. A slippery slope is a claim which states that one thing will lead to another thing (usually far fetched) without showing a plausible connection between the action taken and the stated outcome.

Such statements usually assume the following form :-

If ‘Event A’ occurs
Unrelated ‘Event B’ will occur

Such statements are fallacious because no conclusive evidence is given to show a connection between the two events. If plausible reasons are given as to why A would lead to B, which would in turn lead to C and so on, then the statement is not to be considered fallacious.

Eg. of  a Slipper slope :-

A: What do you think of the government’s move to ban pornography?

B: Absolutely ludicrous! Soon they’ll start burning all forms of literature. One can only image the fate of classics such as Shakespeare and Tolstoy!

When used in extremity (as in the example above), slippery slope arguments are very easy to catch and therefore, to refute. But if used cleverly, such arguments carry a lot of weight in debates.

One such case where a ‘slippery slope’ argument has often been implemented successfully is in the debate over the legalization of drugs.
We’ve often heard the following:-

“If marijuana is to be leglized, we might as well legalize heroin, LSD, and crack cocaine.”

But one could claim that the legalization of one form of drugs could (in principle, at least) open the possibility of other forms being considered for legalization. Thus a valid form of a ‘slippery slope’ argument.

3. Non Sequitur

non sequitur

Latin for “does not follow”

Similar to a ‘slippery slope’, non sequitur is a fallacy wherein the conclusion does not follow the premise, almost to the point of sounding confusing and absurd.

Eg :-

A: There aren’t enough open spaces near my apartment. So I’m thinking of purchasing a treadmill. I just haven’t been getting any exercise.
M: Now, if you can afford a treadmill you can certainly afford to buy a house in a posh locality where there would be sufficient open spaces.
A: Huh?

Such fallacies should be avoided as even a novice logician will catch these without a hitch.
The penguin illustration used at the beginning of the post is also a classic example of non sequitur.



Glasbergen (Penguin Illustration)


Mad Over Donuts (M.O.D.)

July 25, 2008


An English dictionary defines a donut (formally spelled: doughnut) as “a small usually ring-shaped cake fried in fat”.

Now I find that repulsive, vulgar, derogatory and almost punishable. To be able to get away with classifying the heavenly ‘comfort food’ as something as uncouth as “cake fried in fat” is rather preposterous. But then the same dictionary defines a star as “a huge mass of gas “. So you know where they’re coming from.

Though still a new fetish in India, doughnuts have been around for quite a while. Their origin can be traced back to the eighteenth century when they were known as olykoenks (meaning oily cakes) and it was the Dutch who have been credited with taking sweet dough balls and frying them in pork fat. It was the migrating Dutchmen who brought these olykoenks to America, who in turn prepared these with fruits and prunes in the middle. In the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Gregory fried flavored dough with walnuts for her son Hanson Gregory, hence the name doughnut.

By the turn of the twentieth century these ‘donuts’ had already achieved status as an American favourite. And during the First World War American soldiers were served doughnuts by the legendary ‘Salvation Army’ on the French front. These doughnuts were more than just a casual snack; they represented all that the men were fighting for— the safety and the comfort of mother, hearth, and home.

Coming to the purpose of this post, ‘Mad Over Donuts’ is one such doughnut place recently opened in Great India Place, Noida. Though not the first of its kind in the city, ‘M.O.D.’ is far ahead of its Indian contemporaries when it comes to quality, taste, service and just the sheer variety of doughnuts on offer. From the simple M.O.D. – My Original Donut to the exquisite ‘Cool Blue Ice’ this place has it all.

The brainchild of Lokesh Bharwani, ‘M.O.D.’ is truly a first of its kind. After a B-school stint in the US and with no prior experience in catering, Bharwani put his faith in science and formed a team of PHDs and top notch bakers from Singapore to come up with a special eggless batter for the doughnut, which has now been patented.

midnight beauty

The holy ‘Midnight Beauty’ – An exemplary union of dark and white chocolate

At the time of my visit, they were offering 16 different flavours (with the promise to introduce more soon, of course) ranging from ‘Perk Me Up’ (mousse) to the chocolate melted ‘Original Sin’. The strawberry flavored ‘Blush Factor’, ‘Coco Loco’ (coconut), the caramel oozing ‘Carameltz’, the ‘Almond Einstein’ and finally my personal favourite – ‘The Midnight Beauty’ – an exemplary union of dark and white chocolate, enjoyed both cold or warm. There’s even one with cheese, herbs & garlic and one with mushroom as well, for those without a sweet tooth I assume. To each his own I suppose.

Now if all this sounds rather expensive, then you’re in for quite a surprise. At Rs. 30 for a simple glazed donut and Rs. 35 for a flavored ring, it will hardly burn a hole in your pocket. Also the ‘buy 9 get 12’ and the ‘buy 5 get 6’ offers left me with a “six pack” of a very different kind!

Great doughnuts, friendly pricing and amazing variety. The perfect place to visit on a lazy Sunday , or any other day of the week, actually. The only thing missing was a hot a cup of latte!

Finally ending this post in the philosophical words of Matt Groening:-

Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?


Place: Food Court, Great India Palace, Noida
Average spending: Anything between Rs. 30 to 300.

PSD Rating:       4.75on5
PSD Suggestion:  Midnight Beauty

Note: Text relating to the history of doughnut courtesy . Click to read more.

Five Point Someone – Chetan Bhagat

July 16, 2008

Every now and then you read a book that makes you identify with the main protagonist, a book that makes you laugh out loud, a book that makes you applaud the authors style of story-telling, a book that makes you a better person…

Five Point Someone is – well – not that book.

I finally succumbed to hype. Had been avoiding reading this one for some reason or the other. Recently went out and purchased the entire-works of Mr. Bhagat.
Rs. 295 for 3 books, packaging and 3 bookmarks (free).
Quite a bargain you might say.

Chetan Bhagat starts his tale by thanking Mr. Bill Gates and Microsoft Windows, for without the ‘spell-check’ ability of the ‘powerful’ Microsoft Word this book wouldn’t have been written in the first place.

The folks at Microsoft can use this experience as an idea for their next advertisement, because Mr. Bhagat was obviously not using an original copy of Microsoft Office, or maybe someone forgot to tell him that Word can’t always be trusted when it comes to “replace-alls”.

The low cost of production meant that there was no money for an editor. Who needs an editor when you have Microsoft Word?

Coming to the story, FPS describes the lives of three students – Hari, Ryan and Alok during their under-graduate years at IIT-D. On the way it caters to each and every stereotype imaginable : –
Tough Professors – check
Students with high GPA’s have no life – check
The low scorers are actually the smart and creative ones – check
One professor who looks beyond just GPA’s – check
The girl falls for the supposedly unattractive one – check
and so on..

Ok, so you don’t expect a first time author to be a Shakespeare or a Wodehouse, but a certain rudimentary amount of style is expected.

Where this book scores on is the fact that it invokes nostalgia. Being an average student, bunking classes, getting high, falling in love, the parathas on the streets of Delhi and so on.

Friendly pricing and extensive marketing have helped in making this book the highest selling English language book by an Indian author.If you’re a light reader or a first time reader you might enjoy this book. But if you’re someone who ‘reads books’ then the odds are that this one will leave you disappointed (Again, standard disclaimers apply :-))

Poor style, lack of a good plot and absolutely no character development.. not a book I would recommend.

PSD Rating: 1on5

FOR SALE: The entire works of Chetan Bhagat, the author of the highly acclaimed FPS, ONAACC and TMOML. Great condition, original packaging (2 of the 3 books have not even been touched). Those interested can email me.(bookmarks not included)

My Cousin Vinny

June 28, 2008

*ing Joe Pesci, Ralph Machhio, Marisa Tomei, Fred Gwynne

My Cousin Vinny is hands down the funniest movie to have come out of the nineties. Rather, it is the funniest movie to have come out of anywhere!

None of the characters in this fish-out-of-water courtroom comedy are out to change the world. Bill and Stan are simply on their way back to college when mistakenly arrested. Believing the charges to be those of petty shoplifting and wondering what the fuss is all about, they casually roll out a confession. Only to find out that the charges are, in fact, not as mundane as shoplifting but those of manslaughter and robbery.

Facing the electric chair (as the law was in Alabama), desperate (and broke), Bill decides to bring in the ‘supposed’ experienced family lawyer Vincent ‘Vinny’ Gambini (played by the inimitable Joe Pesci). Vinny is no experienced attorney. Why, calling him an amateur would be a flattering compliment. Having just managed to clear the bar (after an unprecedented 6 attempts), Vinny has absolutely no courtroom experience. But he is available for free. Sensing an opportunity to gain some practical knowledge (and help a family member in the process), he drives down to good ol’ Southern Alabama along with his fiancée Mona Lisa Vito (the ravishing Marisa Tomei) to save the day. What follows is a series of hilarious courtroom proceedings as Vinny tries to fathom Southern law and also get some sleep.

Directed by Jonathan Lynn (of the YES MINISTER fame) My Cousin Vinny is a comic marvel. In an era where comedy, slapstick and Adam Sandler are used almost interchangeably, this is a breath of fresh air. What works for ‘My Cousin Vinny’ is great direction, screenplay, casting and most importantly stellar acting. Calling the acting brilliant would be an understatement, but such are the limitations of the English language.

Joe Pescei plays the quintessential oddball – dense, violent although remarkably astute. It’s rather unfortunate that he never got a change to do many such roles, for his comic presence is unquestionably first-rate. Marisa Tomei – in her Oscar winning role – goes all out to prove that her intelligence is higher than her heels, and comes through with flying colours. Lane Smith delivers a great performance as the effervescent DA Jim Trotter. But a special mention goes out to the unforgettable (late) Fred Gywnne who almost single-handedly steals the show with his portrayal of the laconic yet loquacious Judge Chamberlain.

All in all, My Cousin Vinny is one light-hearted courtroom comedy no-one should say ‘objection’ to.

PSD Rating:           4.5on5

Vinny Gambini: I object to this witness being called at this time. We’ve been given no prior notice he would testify. No discovery of any tests he’s conducted or reports he’s prepared. And as the court is aware, the defense is entitled to advance notice of all witness who will testify, particularly those who will give scientific evidence, so that we can properly prepare for cross-examination, as well as give the defense an opportunity to have his reports reviewed by a defense expert, who might then be in a position to contradict the veracity of his conclusions.
Judge Chamberlain Haller:  Mr. Gambini?
Vinny Gambini:  Yes, sir?
Judge Chamberlain Haller:  That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection.
Vinny Gambini:  Thank you, sir.
Judge Chamberlain Haller:  Overruled.


June 16, 2008