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Spears: Developing Critical Reading Skills
Developing Critical Reading Skills, 6/e
Deanne Spears, City College of San Francisco


Exercise 2: Recognizing Logical Fallacies in Arguments

Study the following arguments carefully. Then decide which of the following logical fallacies each represents. Here again are the first seven types of fallacies. The answers to the first three have been done for you. Exercise 2 will test you on the remaining types.

  • ad hominem argument
  • false cause
  • post hoc, ergo propter hoc
  • begging the question
  • either-or fallacy (false dilemma)
  • evasion


Yesterday I forgot to take my vitamins, and this morning I woke up with a cold. Now I know that taking vitamins really does prevent colds.

I'm not going to vote for Senator Snortum in his re-election bid even if his proposal to improve the state's transportation system seems sensible. Last year his wife accused him of having an affair, and now I hear their marriage is rocky.

Detergent ad: "If you want miraculously white clothes, use Soapy detergent. It's a washday miracle!"

An item from L.M. Boyd's "Grab Bag" newspaper column submitted by a nurse: "People who don't relate well to other people are the ones with high blood pressure. I'm sure of it. No, I have no documented data. But as a lifelong nurse, I've taken countless blood pressure readings. The loners run high."

Why single out welfare recipients and cut off their measly benefits when the rich get tax breaks that allow them to shelter huge chunks of their income from the IRS?)

During the primary campaign in 1992, Bill Clinton appeared on “60 Minutes” with Hillary Rodham Clinton, to answer questions about his rumored marital infidelity. When asked specifically if he had had a twelve-year affair with Gennifer Flowers, he said their relationship was “very limited, but until this, you know, friendly, but limited.” In another interview where Clinton was asked if he denied having an affair with Flowers, he said: “I’ve said that before and so has she.”

Bill Clinton’s proposal to curb cigarette advertising was a bad idea. Whether to smoke or not is a personal decision, one the government shouldn’t interfere in. Besides, Clinton’s record--from his failure at reforming health insurance to his appointment for Surgeon General--was poor.

Senator Trueheart is asked in a press conference whether he supports the American military presence in Afghanistan. The senator replies: “I think it’s important to defend democratic principles. I don’t want to see any American boys die, but we must defend our precious liberties that we fought so hard to attain.”

One critic of the Clinton administration wrote in an editorial highly critical of Clinton’s first two years in office, “That Mr. Clinton’s reign as a national leader was to be a disastrous one was, after all, clear very early--well before he took office.” (Dorothy Rabinowitz, “Requiem for the Clinton Presidency,” The Wall Street Journal, February 6, 1995.)

[In Wyoming, ranchers and the government have been feuding for years about reintroducing wolves into the areas around Yellowstone National Park. The ranchers contend that the wolves kill their livestock; the government argues that the wolves play an important role in the area’s ecology. ] Bumpersticker seen in Wyoming: Wolves, not cows!

Letter to the editor (paraphrased): San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown promised during his campaign to do something about the homeless. After a month in office, the homeless problem was worse than ever!

The prosecuting attorney asks the defendant, who has been accused of spousal abuse: “So. . . when did you stop beating your wife?”

In May 1996, it was revealed that a clothing line using Kathie Lee Gifford’s name was being manufactured by women in Central American sweatshops toiling in appalling conditions and for very little pay (at least by American standards). Gifford pledged to pressure companies to take their business away from manufacturers who exploit Third World workers. One often-heard argument against Gifford’s position went like this: The impact of Kathie Lee’s crusade will drive businesses from Central America, eliminating jobs and making living conditions for the poor even more miserable. Sweatshops are better than no shops at all.

School districts should not provide day care centers for their unmarried female students with babies. If girls want to go out and get themselves pregnant, they should just drop out of school and take the consequences of their actions.

From an essay by Susan Faludi titled “Blame It on Feminism” in her book, Backlash: “Law enforcement officials and judges, too, have pointed a damning finger at feminism, claiming that they can chart a path from rising female independence to rising female pathology. As a California sheriff explained it to the press, ‘Women are enjoying a lot more freedom now, and as a result, they are committing more crimes.’”

The President of XYZ Corporation states: “The recent settlement between management and the labor union was a huge mistake. Giving in to the union’s demands for a wage increase has resulted in the lowest production figures in almost a decade!”

Sweden is a socialist country, and it has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. It’s obvious that socialism causes suicide.

Prosecuting attorney to the jury: “Does it make sense to release this murderer so that he can just go and commit the same atrocities again?”