In the past two parts in this series, we’ve delivered a glossary of fallacies for you to use in identifying fallacious argumentation in your next round. However, just calling an argument a fallcy isn’t enough to kill it. So how do you take down fallacies?
First of all, you need to be able to recognize fallacies. Of course, when reading an article which is clearly about fallacies, it may seem easy to detect these fallacies. Indeed, even in a round many of the fallacy types would be easy to detect. However, when you actually are in a round and the opponent is making numerous arguments and isn’t trying to make it obvious that he is employing a fallacy, you must really pay attention and quickly identify flaws. Understanding the many types of fallacies will thus help with the first step.
Second, you need to understand how/why the arguments are fallacious—in particular, where they make a fallacy. This means you need to look for the argument’s specific flaws in the premises, conclusion, and overall structure. Formal fallacies commit these errors in the arguments’ structures, which may not always rigidly conform to the “Premise 1, Premise 2, Conclusion” structure.
Lastly, you need to clearly articulate to the judge why it is a fallacy, not just that it is one. After identifying and stating which type of fallacy it is (if you can, or just a generic “Fallacy” if you can’t), clearly identify how it is fallacious by pointing out its weakness. You likely shouldn’t worry about other details of the argument as long as you precisely pick out the irrelevant link and expose it. (And of course, also make sure to explain why the argument matters in the round)
By following these steps, you should be much better off! Judges—especially community judges who may have heard of them before—love hearing the “fallacy” buzzword (as long as you use it correctly), so it can also help you in speaker points.
Mistakes to avoid:
There are three primary mistakes to avoid when responding to fallacies.
The “Fallacy!” Fallacy
As already discussed, when responding to a fallacy you cannot disprove some conclusion just by saying its support is fallacious—especially if it is an informal fallacy (which tend to be more debateable). Rather, you have to clearly articulate what I wrote before: that the particular argument does not support its conclusion. In other situations, this mistake can be an issue of not impacting your point (i.e. not explaining why “That’s a fallacy!” matters).
Misidentifying a fallacy
Of course, incorrectly calling something a fallacy is bad, and so people may already try to avoid this. The problem becomes particularly prevalent, however, when analyzing some informal “fallacies” which, in certain situations, may not actually be fallacious.
Always pointing out fallacies
Although as I just stated, pointing out fallacies can sometimes (note: sometimes) help you in speaker points, you don’t always need to point out every fallacy someone makes. Just because you can recognize a flaw doesn’t mean it’s what you should spend your speech time on.
This is more of general advice, but for some reason, this trend is particularly prevalent with fallacies. I totally understand the natural reaction is to say “Ooh! I know that! It’s a _____ fallacy!” And it is good that you recognize it. However, just like with any other argument, you have to make tactical decisions as to how to budget your time; if there is a bigger, more obvious flaw elsewhere in the argument, you should probably worry about that.