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The LSAT is an exam that is a pre-requisite for anyone wishing to attend law school. The LSAT is offered four times per year at various locations around the nation. Participants can take the LSAT more than one time if they feel that they can perform better given another chance.

It is important to understand, however, that while some schools may accept the best score produced by an applicant, many schools will average the scores together. To understand your options, be sure to look into the policies of each law school that you will be applying to in order to make sure you understand what you are getting into with a retest. For example, if you are only dissatisfied with your LSAT score by a few points, it may not be worth the risk of retaking the test if your schools of choice average all test scores. In addition, you should remember that you could always test worse on the second attempt. This would lead to a reduction in your average score.

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An important academic skill is detecting and avoiding logical fallacies. An argument commits a logical fallacy when its validity rests upon irrelevant appeal, improper generalization, false assertion of cause, or questionable assumption. This handout identifies general categories and discusses specific types of fallacies. An example and explanation is given for each type.

This handout aims at helping students academically, but it is limited to a brief overview. For certain types of fallacies, it is difficult to provide brief examples that clearly correspond to academic writing. Many academic fallacies are often understandable only in terms of comprehensive contexts. The purpose of this handout is to teach principles, and it is hoped that an understanding of these principles will aid students within specific academic contexts.

Disclaimer: Logical fallacies are most pernicious when they subtly uphold cherished values. Therefore, this handout contains examples of fallacious arguments that support values or beliefs of many of the principal audience. The intent is to criticize the manner of argumentation, not the values or beliefs themselves. Bear in mind, also, that although logic is highly prized in academics, it is only one way of looking at the world.

Irrelevant Appeal

One way an argument commits a fallacy is by relying on an irrelevant appeal. A superstar lawyer might identify this appeal by rising to his feet and shouting, “Objection! Irrelevant!”

Popular appeal

The argument relies on widespread acceptance, not logic.

Example: You can’t get uptight about copyright infringement. Everyone owns illegally burned CDs and illegally copied music.

By hiding behind Everyone, this argument avoids the logical possibility that the prevalence of copyright violation might be all the more reason to be uptight about it.

Irrelevant appeal to authority

The argument relies on an irrelevant appeal to authority. Some appeals to authority are relevant, such as appealing to recognized authorities for claims within their areas of expertise. Beware, however, of authorities justifying claims outside of their expertise.

Example: Psychiatry is a pseudo-science. Why else would Tom Cruise criticize it?

Even if he is right, Cruise is not a recognized authority on psychiatry or philosophy of science issues.

Appeal to ignorance

The argument relies on the mere absence of contradictory knowledge or evidence.

Example: Of course God exists. No one has ever proven that he doesn’t.

The fact that no one has refuted God’s existence is not proof of his existence. (The same could be said for the reverse argument: the fact that no one has “proven” that God exists is not proof that he does not.)

Ad hominen (Argument against the person)

The argument relies on irrelevant characteristics of persons associated with an opposing argument. In many cases, this tactic is essentially the same as name-calling.

Example: You can’t take Martin Heidegger’s criticisms seriously. After all, he was a Nazi.

This argument avoids the merits of Heidegger’s actual criticisms. (It is often easier to label others as evil, crazy, or stupid than it is to logically evaluate their disagreeable claims.)

Straw person (Straw man)

The argument transforms an opposing argument into an indefensible claim, and equates that claim with the original argument. This type of argument is often introduced by a phrase such as, “What so-and-so really means to say…” (Graybosch et al., p. 156).

Example: Mr. Stewart says that concealed weapons should not be allowed in public facilities such as college campuses. But those who carry concealed weapons are only concerned with defending themselves. Does Mr. Stewart think we shouldn’t be allowed to defend ourselves? (Adapted from Carter, p. 93)

This argument shifts attention from the right to carry a concealed weapon to the right to defend oneself—implying that being deprived of a concealed weapon is the same as being deprived of any self-defense at all.

Emotional appeal

An emotional appeal is sometimes appropriate, but an argument commits a fallacy when it relies on an irrelevant emotional appeal at the expense of logic. It may appeal to pity, force, patriotism, guilt, or star-crossed destiny, to name a few.

Example: Across the Pacific, heroes bravely fight with the spirit of General Washington, risking their lives for Freedom’s sake. Yet in our own land, vermicular protesters put a torch to the flag, making a mockery of the blood that was spilt for them! Any true American—not ashamed of the banner that yet waves—will stand proudly in support of our troops in Vietnam, and the valiant efforts of their courageous leader, Richard M. Nixon.

This argument dodges the logical validity for supporting Nixon, relying instead upon an irrelevant emotional appeal. In particular, it uses patriotic rhetoric—not logic—to claim what it means to be a true American.

Improper Generalization

Another way an argument commits a fallacy is by producing or relying on improper generalization. Traditional scientific progress requires generalization, but certain types of generalization are not logical.

Hasty generalization

The argument makes a broad generalization based on scanty or inconclusive evidence.

Example: I’m never asking out a redhead again. I’ve gone out with three redheads, and each one had a fiery temper.

In the context of the original argument, this statement implies that all or most redheads have fiery tempers. Logically speaking, the three cases might be a mere coincidence. (A larger, random sample could logically justify a probable claim—this is the heart of much scientific research.)

Unqualified generalization (Dicto simpliciter)

The argument begins with a simple claim, and then generalizes that claim to a situation which must be qualified to be accepted.

Example: All other things being equal, an overweight person who begins jogging regularly will weigh less than one who does not. So if you need to shed a few pounds, unbury those jogging shoes and get moving!

The first claim is so general that it is virtually indisputable. The concluding recommendation, however, is an oversimplified generalization: jogging is not a good choice for many overweight people, such as those with bad knees or severe osteoporosis—or those who adequately exercise in a different way.

Composition

The argument generalizes that if all the parts of a whole have a given property, then the whole must also have that property.

Example: If all of the players for the Dallas Mavericks are good, then the whole team must be good.

Not necessarily. It’s possible for a team to be filled with tremendous players who, for whatever reason, do not play well as a team. The whole does not always equal the sum of its parts.

Division

The converse of composition, this argument generalizes that if something has a certain property, then its parts have that property also.

Example: The American Psychological Association (APA) endorses the legalization of same-sex marriage. Dr. Smith is a member of APA. Therefore, Dr. Smith supports the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Without a premise, such as “APA members must support the group’s collective policies,” it does not logically follow that Dr. Smith supports same-sex marriage. And, in fact, he does not—nor is it required for a member of APA to do so. The parts do not always reflect the whole.

Slippery slope

The argument takes several ideas that are related to each other by varying degrees and inappropriately makes a generalized statement about them all.

Example: You might call Mrs. Jones a psychopath for murdering her husband without remorse. But she’s not alone. Dr. Zirktof maintains a poker face as he mechanically inserts forceps into half-birthed babies every day. And my neighbor Ned Farkas coldly fires his shotgun at many an innocent deer. And I once saw your nephew Billy playfully squash an innocent spider. So if Mrs. Jones is a psychopath, so is little Billy.

This argument equates Billy with Mrs. Jones without accounting for the vast difference between them. If a generalization can be made about the two, it should be demonstrable without the intermediary premises about Dr. Zirktof and Ned Farkas. Omitting these premises clearly reveals that more support is needed for a logical claim.

Questionable analogy

The argument takes an analogy that is related in one way, and generalizes the relationship in a way that is not appropriate.

Example: I know we’ve only dated for two months, but I feel confident about asking Becky to marry me. After all, you don’t have to eat a whole cake to know that the cake is good. (Adapted from Shulman.)

This analogy might express one’s hope, faith, or intuition, but it cannot be used as a logical reliance. In one sense, the goodness of a short-term relationship can be compared to the goodness of a slice of cake. The analogy flops, however, in the arena of long-term commitment. Alas, even the best cakes go stale in time.

False Assertion of a Cause

The third type of fallacy is a false assertion of cause. Because traditional scientific progress thrives upon discovering causes and effects, it is important to be able to detect and avoid this type of fallacy.

Oversimplified cause

The argument attributes a causal relationship as being the only possible cause, when in reality other causes may have contributed to the effect.

Example: If those two missionaries wouldn’t have knocked on my door 14 years ago, I wouldn’t be a member of the Church today.

This tribute is touching, but it commits a logical fallacy. Perhaps missionaries would have knocked on the person’s door 12 years ago, or 7 years ago, or perhaps not at all, and yet he might have joined the Church another way.

Post hoc

A type of oversimplified cause, this argument attributes a causal relationship based merely on the grounds of an event preceding a proposed effect.

Example: Are you sure you want to go to Berkeley? My uncle went there and he lost his faith and left the Church.

Although the uncle went to Berkeley before he started losing his faith, it is not necessarily a contributing cause.

Questionable cause

The argument attributes a causal relationship based on “token evidence, such as a correlation that has not been subjected to further investigation” (Graybosch et. al, p. 160).

Example: Studies show that married American adults, on average, are happier than non-married ones. Clearly, marriage leads to greater happiness.

This argument confuses causation with correlation. It is not clear why married Americans are happier—it might be that happier people are more likely to get married. Similar issues are raised concerning TV exposure and violence, or presidential policies and economic stability.

Questionable Assumption

Finally, an argument commits a fallacy by relying upon questionable assumptions that distort the argument’s claims. Often this is unintentional, but it is fallacious nonetheless.

Begging the question (Circular argument)

The argument has no strength without assuming beforehand the thing it wishes to prove.

Example: Of course the Bible’s true. It says so itself!

The conclusion—The Bible is true—is the same as an essential premise, rendering the argument meaningless (even if the Bible istrue).

False dilemma (False dichotomy)

The argument assumes that only one of two choices is possible, when in reality other alternatives exist.

Example: A BYU student violated the dress and grooming standards on television yesterday. Is this student not a member of your Church and therefore exempt from the standards, or are some members just apathetic to what the Church asks them to do?

In the context of the original argument, this question is a rhetorical one that cleverly (or naïvely) assumes that only two options exist. In reality, a third explanation such as ignorance, moral weakness, or outright rebellion—which might have nothing to do with apathy—may be possible.

Equivocation

The argument assumes that two or more inconsistent terms are the same.

Example:     The Bible says that Jesus was liberal. Thati=’s why I think it’s funny that so many Christians are conservatives.

Whatever the similarities, the biblical use of “liberal” is not synonymous with the contemporary political ideology to which the argument appeals.

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