The human mind - Dishonest modes of thought, and how to defeat them

There are a set of dishonest and erroneous modes of thought which are often used to try to influence the outcome of a debate, or discussion, so that people come away with a view that does not reflect the underlying reality of the subject under discussion. Here is a list of some of the worst offenders that crop up again and again.

using emotion to prejudice the logic

Prestige by false credentials.

Prestige by the use of pseudo-technical jargon.

The appeal to mere authority.

Suggestion by prestige.

Suggestion by repeated affirmation.

Suggestion by use of a confident manner.

The use of emotionally toned words (as in propaganda).

Angering an opponent in order that he may argue badly.

Argument by attributing prejudices or motives to one's opponent.

Affirmation of failure to understand backed by prestige.

emotional blackmail.

Anything for a quiet life.

Overcoming resistance to a doubtful proposition by a preliminary statement of a few easily accepted ones.

Statement of a doubtful proposition in such a way that it fits in with the thoughts, habits, or prejudices of the hearer.

The use of generally accepted formula of predigested thought as premises in an argument.

Commending or condemning a proposition because of its practical consequences to the hearer.

The argument that we should not make efforts against X which is admittedly evil because there is a worse evil Y against which our efforts should be directed.

parameter of extent

Extension of an opponent's proposition by contradiction or by misrepresentation of it.

The recommendation of a position because it is a mean between two extremes.

The use of a dilemma which ignores a continuous series of possibilities between the two extremes presented.

The use of the fact of a continuity between them to throw doubt on a real difference between two things (the "argument of the beard").

Putting forward a statement as if it were a factual judgment (such as that too much of a thing is bad).

classification errors

The use in one context of an argument which would not be admitted in another context where it would lead to the opposite conclusion (special pleading).

Making a statement in which "all" is implied, but "some" is true.

Proof by selected instances.

faulty logic

The use of an argument of logically unsound form.

Argument in a circle.

Argument by imperfect analogy.

Argument by forced analogy.


Evasion of a sound refutation of an argument by the use of a sophistical formula (ie like lawyers).

Diversion to another question, to a side issue, or by irrelevant objection.

Proof by inconsequent argument.

Pointing out the logical correctness of the FORM of an argument whose premises contain doubtful or untrue statements of fact.

Change in the meaning of a term during the course of an argument.

Illegitimate use of or demand for definition.

"There is much to be said on both sides, so no decision can be made either way", or any other formula leading to an attitude of academic detachment.

Other errors

Assuming what is to be proved already (begging the question).

Discussing a verbal proposition as if it were a factual one, or failing to disentangle the verbal and factual elements in a proposition that is partly both.

The use of a speculative argument.

The use of questions drawing out damaging admissions.

I will try to sort all of these different dishonest methods of thought into types of problem, and try to get methods of refutation for each of them added to this page as soon as I have the time. I will also try to extend the user guide to cover other things to do with using your mind in the most useful manner that it is currently known how to do.

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last modified 20:48 2006/05/29