Sunday, October 28, 2012

Logical fallacies examples – appeal to novelty and age

As always let's begin with a simple definition. A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning which usually relies on a wrong assumption made in the argument. Appeal to emotion is one of the most popular types of logical fallacies – examples of these fallacies may be very often found in the advertisement. Today I would like to describe you two very popular fallacies relying on appeal to emotion – argumentum ad novitatem and argumentum ad antiquitatem. You will be surprised how often we are unaware of these reasoning tricks. You may ask – why should I care about the fallacies at all? Well, developing your critical thinking skills is necessary not only if you want to succeed in philosophy but practically in (well, almost) every profession. It's very likely that while arguing you have used these fallacies yourself without even noticing them.

A typical argument consists of at least one reason and exactly one conclusion. Reasons should clearly lead us to the conclusion. If they do, the argument is valid (for more information on validity click here). Sometimes an argument contains both reasons and a conclusion but it is not valid because of a more or less obvious flaw in it. Consider the following argument:

This is the newest medicament which is produced according to the most recent discoveries in medical chemistry. This is something completely new! Forget about your granny's herbal teas and buy our pills today!

You have probably encountered this sort of argument. Have you noticed the fallacy in this argument? If not, then read it again and take your time. This argument is called argumentum ad novitatem and its fallacy relies on the wrong assumption that if something is new it's automatically better or right. The fact that the pills are new and are produced using the most recent discoveries by no means guarantee that they are better than the  previous medicament. It may be as effective as other pills or maybe even worse. Even if the medicament is better the argument is still invalid because the conclusion does not follow from the reasons. This argument could be easily challenged by varrous statements (assuming they are true) such as:

  • Herbal teas do not contain synthetic substances therefore are safer for health
  • Herbal teas have been proved to treat illness quicker than pills because they're a liquid

Consider another argument:

For two centuries already, all members of our family have been treated with a herbal tea invented by our great-aunt Rosemary. Don't you buy these new pills!

You have probably noticed that this argument is invalid too. It's called argumentum ad antiquitatem which is in fact the opposite of argumentum ad novitatem. It relies on the assumption that if something is old or used for a long time, it's automatically better or correct. Again, even if it is true that Rosemary's herbal tea is more effective than the new pills, the argument remains invalid. Now you should be able to come up with your own ideas of statements which would challenge this argument.

As you're reading this blog you may find these fallacies quite obvious but in a real life most of us are susceptible to this kind of 'reasoning'. Don't you think that critical thinking should be a compulsory subject in all schools? This would limit ads' influence on new generations and would encourage firms to launch more informative advertisements instead of emotional ones. If you have profited from the post do not hesitate to like Mind and Philosophy blog on Facebook!

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