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Detecting fallacies


One reason fraud is so prevalent is that people do not know how to use deductive reasoning, so they fall prey to the fallacies put forth by martial art "masters" and other types of con men and women. Fallacies are common pitfalls that should be avoided when constructing a deductive argument.

In everyday usage, the term fallacy refers to a mistaken belief; however, in logic, the term has a more specific meaning. In logic, a fallacy is a technical flaw that makes an argument unsound or invalid. Arguments are almost always presented with some specific purpose in mind, so the purpose, or intent, of the argument may also be criticized.

Many martial art instructors, including taekwondo instructors, believe and pass on many fallacies; some even create their own fallacies. As a student of the martial arts, you must learn to differentiate between fallacy and fact, or you will be misled, confused, and sometimes separated from your money. Some "masters" are really masters—masters at ripping you off. If you stop and seriously think about something and do a little research, you can usually make the differentiation between fact and fallacy.


A fallacy is an argument that uses poor reasoning. Arguments that contain fallacies are described as fallacious. An argument may be fallacious whether or not its conclusion is true. Some fallacies are committed intentionally to manipulate or persuade by deception while others are committed unintentionally due to carelessness or ignorance.

At first sight, arguments may appear valid and convincing; only after close examination is the logical flaw noticed. When you are listening to or reading statements from politicians, salespersons, martial arts masters, or anyone who is trying to convince you of something, be aware of these fallacies and do not be trapped by them.

The following is a list of some common fallacies and some rhetorical devices often used by people who are trying to confuse you, get you to believe them, or simply take you money. The list is not complete, but by learning to recognize some of the more common fallacies, you may be able to avoid being fooled by them.

Common fallacies

  • Ad hominem (to the person). Attack the opposition's personal character or reputation instead of the argument using: labeling, name-calling, offensive remarks, and brushing side opposing evidence and arguments by saying they are not worthy of comment. Examples:
  • You say that judo is a gentle art but isn't it true that you once punched a coach during a tournament?
  • You criticize sport taekwondo yet you own a traditional taekwondo school?
  • Argument from adverse consequences. You must accept the argument or suffer adverse consequences. Examples:
  • We should judge the accused as guilty: otherwise. others will commit similar crimes.
  • Disasters occur because God is punishing non-believers; therefore, we should all believe in God.
  • Appeal to authority. Attempts to justify an argument by citing a highly admired or well-known (but not necessarily qualified) figure who supports the conclusion being offered. Examples:
  • If it's good enough for the President, it's good enough for me.
  • Laws against marijuana are silly. Thomas Jefferson is known to have raised hemp on his own plantation.
  • Appeal to Closure. An argument must be accepted, no matter how questionable, or else the point will remain unsettled and those affected will be denied "closure." Some points may indeed remain unsettled, perhaps forever, but that does not mean the argument must be accepted. Examples:
  • We must spend millions of taxpayer dollars to find bodies under the mudslide, for if we don't, we will deny the families closure.
  • The defendant's crime deserves a life sentence, but we should execute him to provide closure for his victim's family.
  • Appeal to consequences. An argument that concludes a premise, usually a belief, as either true or false based upon whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences.
  • You can't believe taekwondo is good for self-defense; those high kicks will get you killed if you use them on the street.
  • You must believe in a higher being; otherwise, life would have no meaning.
  • Appeal to the crowd. Refers to popular opinion or majority sentiment to provide support for a claim. Often, "common sense" provides the basis for the claim. Examples:
  • Anyone with any common sense would know that the death touch is a myth.
  • The last rank test was extremely unfair. Just ask anyone who took it.
  • Appealing to extremes (similar to slippery slope).  Involves taking an assertion to its extreme, even though the arguer does not advocate the extreme interpretation. The difference between this and the slippery slope is that appealing to extremes does not necessarily involve a sequence of causal connections. Examples:
  • Republicans want to take healthcare away from the elderly to subsidize corporations.
  • Democrats want to confiscate everyone's firearms.
  • Appeal to faith. Using faith to defend a premise. Since faith, by definition, relies on a belief that is not based on logic or evidence, depends on irrational thought, and produces intransigence, it is difficult to reason against. Examples:
  • If you do not believe in ki, it will not work.
  • If you have faith that the board will break, it will break.
  • Appeal to heaven. An assertion that a higher power has ordered, supports, or approves one's own argument so no further justification is required. Examples:
  • God told me how to create my martial art.
  • Allah gave me the power of mind control.
  • Appeal to ignorance. Attempts to use an opponent's inability to disprove a conclusion as proof of its validity. Examples:
  • You cannot prove there is no God, so there must be one.
  • Since no student has died from using my style of self-defense, it must be safe.
  • Appeal to novelty. It new, modern, and trending; therefore, it is better. Examples:
  • CrossFit is the best way to train because it is new and uses modern methods.
  • Sport taekwondo is better than traditional taekwondo because more people are doing it.
  • Appeal to pity. Urging an audience to "root for the underdog" regardless of the issues at hand. Examples:
  • We must have a national health care insurance. Have you no pity for sick children and the aged?
  • There are poor people; therefore, those with money should pay more taxes.
  • Appeal to tradition. If it's not broke, don't fix it. We should not challenge time-honored customs or traditions; we should continue to do things as they have always been done. Examples:
  • Why do we bow before class begins? Because that's the way classes begin.
  • Why do I have to punch this way? Because that's the way my master, and his master, etc. said it was to be done.
  • Argument from authority. Using the words of an "expert" or authority as the basis of an argument instead of using logic or evidence that supports the argument. Simply because an authority makes a claim does not necessarily mean it is true. If an arguer presents testimony from an expert, look to see if it is backed reason and facts. Examples:
  • Philip Porter said that chokes are an effective self-defense tactic. (Porter was a 10th-degree black belt in Judo, so we can reasonably expect his opinions on choking to be informed.)
  • Mike Tyson thinks that board breaking serves no useful purpose. (Tyson is a boxer, so it is questionable whether he is qualified enough to speak about board breaking.)
  • Argument from force. I am right because I am richer, more influential, stronger, or bigger than you. Examples:
  • The government may take your land because it is the government.
  • I am taking your lunch money because I am bigger than you.
  • Argument from inertia. Stay the course. It is necessary to continue on a mistaken course of action, even after discovering it is mistaken because changing course would mean admitting one's decision, leader, or faith was wrong. Examples:
  • We must keep using the sine wave movement because, if we do not, it would mean Master Choi was wrong in using it.
  • Taekwondo is considered a Korean martial art; therefore, we must reject the fact that its origin was mostly based upon Japanese Shotokan karate.
  • Argument from motives. Declaring an argument invalid solely because of the evil, corrupt or questionable motives of the one making the claim. Examples:
  • We should not use the results of Nazi medical experiments because they were obtained by torturing Jews.
  • Nixon was forced to resign as president; therefore, everything he did as president was wrong. 
Or, declaring an argument valid solely because of the purity of motives or lack of malice of the person making the claim. Examples:
  • He's a good Christian; how could you accuse him of doing something like that?
  • The black belt should not be charged with manslaughter; he did not intend to kill the angry drunk he punched.
  • Argument from omniscience. Using such words as all, everyone, everything, absolute, etc. when arguing a point. Examples:
  • All the kids at school are doing it.
  • Everyone knows that is not true.
  • Begging the question. Making an argument in which the conclusion is based upon an unstated or unproven assumption. In question form, this fallacy is known as a complex question. Examples:
  • Abortion is murder, since killing a baby is an act of murder.
  • Have you stopped beating your wife?
  • Bifurcation. Everything is either-or, black or white, all or nothing. Assumes that two categories are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. Something must be either one or the other, but not both, or some other category. Examples:
  • Either you favor a strong national defense, or you favor allowing other nations to dictate our foreign policy.
  • Either you are for us or you are against us.
  • Damning the source. Attempts to refute an argument by attacking the source of the argument rather than the substance of the argument itself. Examples:
  • There is no reason to listen to the arguments of those who oppose school prayer, for they are atheists!
  • The ACLU favors of this piece of legislation, so you know it must be bad for ordinary citizens.
  • Equivocation. Allows a keyword or term in an argument to shift its meaning during the argument. The result is that the conclusion of the argument is not concerned with the same thing as the premise(s). Examples:
  • Only man is rational. No woman is a man. Therefore, no woman is rational.
  • No one should doubt that the miracles in the Bible took place. Every year we witness countless new miracles such as people surviving explosions, organ transplants, lottery winners, etc.
  • Faulty analogy (literal or figurative). Assumes that because two things, events, or situations are alike in some known respects, that they are alike in other unknown respects. Examples:
  • What's the big deal about the early pioneers killing a few Indians to settle the West? After all, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
  • Banning "head" shops from selling drug paraphernalia to curb drug abuse makes about as much sense as banning bikinis to reduce promiscuity.
  • Faulty cause. Mistakes correlation or association for causation, by assuming that because one thing follows another it was caused by the other. Examples:
  • A black cat crossed Fred's path yesterday and, sure enough, he was involved in an automobile accident later that same afternoon.
  • My child was never in a fight until he began training in taekwondo. That just shows how taekwondo increases aggressive behavior.
  • False dilemma (a form of bifurcation). Implies that one of two outcomes is inevitable, and both have negative consequences. Examples:
  • Either you buy a large car and have increased fuel costs, or you buy a small car and take a greater risk of being injured or killed in the event of an accident.
  • You can put your money into a savings account and pay tax on the interest, or buy stock and risk losing everything when you need it most.
  • Faulty sign (includes argument from circumstance). Wrongly assumes that one event or phenomenon is a reliable indicator or predictor of another event or phenomenon. Examples:
  • Oncoming cars have their headlights on; they must be part of a funeral procession.
  • That guy is wearing a ball cap backward and baggy pants; he's probably a gang member.
  • Hasty generalization. Bases an inference on too small a sample, or on an unrepresentative sample. Often, a single example or instance is used as the basis for a broader generalization. Examples:
  • All sailors are drunks. I saw two throwing up on the subway last night.
  • Pit bulls are gentle, sweet dogs. My uncle has one that loves to play with children.
  • Hypothesis contrary to fact. Offering a poorly supported claim about what might have happened in the past or future if circumstances or conditions were other than they actually were or are. Includes treating hypothetical situations as if they were fact. Examples:
  • If you had only tasted the stewed snails, I'm sure you would have liked them.
  • If President Obama had not pulled the military out of Iraq, ISIS would not have gained a foothold there.
  • Inconsistency. Advancing an argument that is self-contradictory, or based on mutually inconsistent premises. Examples:
  • A martial art school owner says, "Hey, you can't trust those schools. They'll say anything to get you into their school."
  • A parent has just read a child the story of Cinderella. The child asks, "If the coach, and the footmen, and the beautiful clothes all turned back into the pumpkin, the mice, and the rags, then how come the glass slipper didn't change back too?"
  • Non-sequitur (does not follow). Generally, any argument which fails to establish a connection between the premises and the conclusion may be called a non-sequitur. However, the term non-sequitur tends to be reserved for arguments in which irrelevant reasons are offered to support a claim. Examples:
  • I wore my first tobak when I took the rank test; that's probably why I did so well.
  • Fred couldn't be the person who robbed that lady, he always says hello when he sees you.
  • Red herring. Attempting to hide a weakness in an argument by drawing attention away from the real issue. The name of comes from the days of fox hunting when a herring was dragged across the trail of a fox to throw the dogs off the scent. Examples:
  • Accused by his wife of cheating at cards, Ned replies "Nothing I do ever pleases you. I spent all last week repainting the bathroom, and then you said you didn't like the color."
  • There is too much fuss and concern about saving the environment. We can't create an Eden on earth. And even if we could, remember Adam and Eve got bored in the Garden of Eden anyway!
  • Slippery slope (snowball effect or domino theory). Suggests that if one step or action is taken, it will invariably lead to similar steps or actions, the end results of which are negative or undesirable. Always assumes a chain reaction of cause-effect events which result in some eventual dire outcome. Examples:
  • If the Supreme Court allows assisted suicide, next thing you know they'll allow euthanasia, and it won't be long before society disposes of all those persons whom it deems unwanted or undesirable.
  • If I make an exception for your speeding, then I'll have to make an exception for other speeders, and, before long, the speed limit will mean nothing.
  • Straw man. Stating an opponent's argument in an extreme or exaggerated form, or attacking a weaker, irrelevant portion of an opponent's argument. Examples:
  • A mandatory seat belt law could never be enforced. You can't issue citations to dead people.
  • What female MMA fighter would want total equality with male fighters? No woman wants to fight a man in the ring.
  • Sweeping generalization. Assumes that what is true of the whole will also be true of the part, or that what is true in most instances will be true in all instances. Examples:
  • Fred must be rich or have rich parents because he attends an Ivy League school.
  • I'd like to hire you, but you're an ex-felon and statistics show that 80% of ex-felons recidivate.
  • Tautology (a subcategory of circular argument). Defining terms or qualifying an argument in such a way that it would be impossible to disprove the argument. Often, the rationale for the argument is merely a restatement of the conclusion in different words. Examples:
  • The Bible is the word of God. We know this because the Bible itself tells us so.
  • You are a disagreeable person and, if you disagree with me on this, it will only further prove what a disagreeable person you are.
  • Tu quoque (two wrongs make a right). Pointing to a similar wrong or error committed by another. Examples:
  • How can you tell me not to do drugs when you smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol?
  • We should not criticize the human rights policies of other nations, as long as there is discrimination in the United States.

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