Spotting Logical Mistakes

In this section we are going to learn about a few logical mistakes people make a lot. There are many out there so after this workshop you should google “logical fallacies”.

The Problem: Arguing With Poor Reasoning

There are a number of common mistakes that people make when they argue. The reason these mistakes are so common is because there’s something that seems right about them but on closer inspection they involve a mistaken assumption.

In some ways, this is the easiest problem to solve because you just need to get good at recognizing the mistakes and be able to explain why they are mistakes even when they seem like good reasoning to others.

In other ways though, you have to think ahead to create the kind of environment that makes it harder to make logical mistakes.

Before reading on, complete the exercise.

Exercise-Spotting Logical Mistakes

The Solution: Spotting Logical Mistakes

I hope you saw from the activity that logical mistakes come in many shapes and sizes. The best way to get good at spotting them is some good old-fashioned memorizing and practice.

  • Practice tip: You can practice by reading arguments in newspapers, magazines, in books and online.

There are two other big mistakes that lead to a lot of problems in arguments:

  1. Trying to prove too much
  2. Looking to disagree

If you can spot and stop these, you will be on the right track.

What do I mean by “trying to do too much”?

  • Getting Lost in Big questions: Remember our activity from before where we took a big question and made it into a bunch of smaller questions? Well when people don’t do that they often end up trying to answer questions that are too big for one conversation or even one book!
    • Solution: Try to figure what question needs to be answered right now. For example, if you’re trying to work out with your friends what to get your other friend for their birthday, you don’t need to answer to big question “what would they like?” you can answer the smaller question “what will they use the most that costs less than $20?”
  • Getting lost in the weeds: Sometimes people will say things in an argument that you disagree with but it doesn’t actually affect the overall discussion. You need to be careful about not getting lost in the small things too.
    • Solution: Consider saying “That’s really interesting, but we’ll have to deal with that later.”

In general, the solution to this problem goes back to the very beginning of this course. Ask yourself, “what are trying to accomplish?” and only focus on what you need to accomplish that and save the rest for later.

 What do I mean by “looking to disagree”?

  • People think that by agreeing they are losing the argument. If you think winning an argument means convincing people of your ideas, then agreeing with other people’s ideas is automatically losing. Thinking about argument this way leads people to make the mistake of looking to disagree. This is a mistake because the other person may be saying something true or useful and you are wasting time by trying to fight the truth.
  • Solution: Instead of looking to disagree, look to agree! Get all the stuff you agree about out of the way so you can focus on the parts you disagree about. We are going to explore this in the next section.

Go to Section 7: Exploring Other People’s Views.