How to use The Fallacy Files
The Fallacy Files are files on individual logical fallacies, together with some extras accessible from the Main Menu―see the navigation pane to your left. There are two tools for accessing the files:
- The Alphabetical Index: This appears as a scrollable list on the left side of your browser window. In this index, the fallacies are listed in alphabetical order. You should see, just under the "Main Menu" in the lefthand navigation pane, a dropdown list titled "Alphabetical List of Fallacies". Here's how to use the index to look up a particular fallacy file:
- Click on "Select a Fallacy" and you should see the top of the complete list of fallacies.
- If necessary, scroll down in the list to the fallacy that you seek.
- Click on the name of the fallacy; the file for that fallacy will appear.
For instance, suppose that you are looking for the fallacy called "Poisoning the Well". Click on "Select a Fallacy", which causes the top of the alphabetical list of fallacies to appear. Then, scroll down until you find "Poisoning the Well" and click on it, which will take you to the file for that fallacy.
The index is most useful when you know the name of a fallacy that you want to look up. It is less useful for browsing, though, since many fallacies have aliases, which are listed separately. So, for instance, if you select Bifurcation, then the Black-and/or-White Fallacy, then False Dilemma from the index, you may be disappointed to discover that each links to the same fallacy. This is because the same fallacy has gone under these distinct names, as well as the Either/Or Fallacy. One value of the alphabetical index is that it provides cross-references to these different names by which one fallacy has been known. Thus, if you are looking for the fallacy False Analogy, you can find it in the index under that name, though I prefer to use the more accurate name Weak Analogy.
Furthermore, if you've never heard of the fallacy of Argumentum ad Verecundiam, you may be pleased to discover that this is the Latin name for the more familiar Appeal to (Misleading) Authority. This proliferation of names for fallacies is the result of logicians attempting to find more accurate, and more mnemonic, names than the traditional Latin ones, but it can make studying fallacies confusing. It makes it seem that the number of fallacies is larger than it really is. Thus, the number of entries listed in the alphabetical index is not the number of distinct fallacies in these files, but the number of names for those fallacies. If you wish to count the number of distinct fallacies, see the next tool instead.
- The Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies: The taxonomy is a classification of the logical fallacies listed in the Index by types, and it is available from the Main Menu at the top of the navigation pane to your left. If you're looking for a specific fallacy by name, then the Index is the place to look; but if you would rather study the fallacies systematically, the Taxonomy is a better place to start. Also, if you don't know the name of a fallacy that you are trying to find, it may help to look for it in the Taxonomy under some broader type whose name you do know.
- Search the Fallacy Files: If you can't find what you're looking for listed in the index, try keyword searching. You can find a Google search box in the navigation pane to your right.
Examples and Counter-Examples
Many of the entries in The Fallacy Files on individual fallacies include both Examples and Counter-examples.
- Examples: Examples of fallacies are intended to be fallacious arguments which display the form of the fallacy, thus serving to illustrate that form. Furthermore, since fallacies are meant to be types of argument which are, at least sometimes, deceptive, the examples have been chosen for plausibility. So, the primary purpose of an example is to illustrate the seductiveness of the fallacy, and secondarily to show its form.
Also, wherever possible, I have used examples drawn from real-lifewhat I call "wild" or "raw" examplesrather than ones that have been created specifically, and solely, to be examples of fallacieswhich I call "tame" or "cooked" examples. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to find wild examples of fallacies, or the wild examples are too confusing to serve as good examples. For this reason, I sometimes do resort to cooked-up examples.
- Counter-examples: Counter-examples, like examples, are arguments with the form of the fallacy they illustrate, but unlike examples, they are meant to be obviously fallacious arguments. As such, they serve a different purpose than examples, namely, to illustrate the fact that the fallacy is a bad form of argument. Specifically, many of the counter-examples in The Fallacy Files have been designed to have true premisses and false conclusions, which establishes that the form of argument is non-validating.
Using the Glossary
The Fallacy Files contains a separate glossary file, which can be accessed directly from the Main Menu in the navigation pane to your left. However, the glossary is designed to be used from the files on individual fallacies. In each file, the first occurrence of each term which is listed in the glossary is linked directly to that glossary entry, so that you can consult the definition of an unfamiliar term simply by clicking on it. For example, the last word in the preceding paragraph is highlighted, as it may be unfamiliar to you. Click on it and you should be taken to its definition. Of course, since all of these definitions are gathered into a single file, and you may arrive at the glossary from many separate places, you will need to use the "BACK" button on your browser to return to the file you came from, including this one.
In addition to the Glossary itself, if you hover your cursor over linked words that are included in the glossary, you should see a short definition. For instance, the word "validating" at the end of the paragraph on counter-examples above is a different color than the surrounding text, which indicates that it is hyperlinked to the Glossary. Hover your cursor over it and you should see a short definition. These definitions are usually so short that they may only be of use as a reminder of the word's meaning; if you are completely unfamiliar with the word or need a longer definition, consult the Glossary.
If you fail to find information in The Fallacy Files, please check The Fallacy Files weblog, which can be accessed from the Main Menu in the navigation pane to your left. The weblog is also available in an RSS feed, which is also accessible from the Main Menu. This weblog includes examples drawn from the media, questions received from readers together with my responses, logic puzzles, notices of new books on fallacies and related topics, and occasional book reviews. If the current weblog doesn't have what you're looking for, check the weblog archives, which are accessible from a dropdown menu below the List of Fallacies in the lefthand navigation pane.
Q & A
If you cannot find what you seek in any of the places above, please email me your question. Also, feel free to write with suggestions or criticisms of The Fallacy Files, as I am continually striving to improve the site. I will respond to all serious, courteous emails, though I do not use all of them in the weblog. However, it may take awhile for me to respond, depending upon the difficulty of the question as well as the press of other responsibilities, though I try to reply promptly. Please be patient, and I appreciate your taking the time and trouble to write. If I do not respond within a week or two, feel free to send me a reminder as it's possible I may have lost track of your email.
If you don't want your name or email to be used on the website, please so indicate. Otherwise, all communications will be assumed to be intended for publication and may be edited.