Saturday, November 05, 2011

Book Review: With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies by S. Morris Engel

Many are familiar with deductive arguments (where the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises) and inductive arguments (where the conclusion follows from the premises with a varying degree of probability and strength). But how well acquainted is one with “seductive”(40) arguments?

“Seductive” arguments are another name for informal fallacies, the subject S. Morris Engel takes up in his excellent book entitled With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies. In addition to the great content one will find in each chapter, the book is full of exercises (with an answer key at the end of each chapter for selected questions), diagrams, cartoons, and examples to help illustrate and reinforce the various points being made throughout the book on fallacies.
The book is divided into two parts: “Logic and Language” and “Informal Fallacies.”

Part one introduces the reader to the basics of logic and the use of language in forming arguments. In chapter one, Engel gives a good overview of the basics of logic and language: premises and conclusions, discerning arguments from non-arguments, eliminating unnecessary verbiage, categorical syllogisms, truth, validity, and soundness, deductive and inductive arguments, and an introduction to the use of Venn diagrams in conjunction with categorical syllogisms. In chapter two, Engel focuses on the role of language in argumentation. Morris goes into detail about eliminating ambiguity and vagueness, distinguishing between real disputes and verbal disputes, understanding how to formulate a good definition, and the art of employing “plain talk” in argumentation (e.g. avoiding clichés and jargon).

Part two discusses “seductive arguments” or informal fallacies. But why are informal fallacies so “seductive?” Though they initially appear sound in form and content, they are seductive, because the fallacy is found not in the structure of the argument but in the content of the argument.(94) In part two Engel covers a whole host of informal fallacies, grouped under three main categories: Fallacies of Ambiguity, Fallacies of Presumption, and Fallacies of Relevance. Rather than going into detail about the various fallacies one will learn about in this book, the fallacies will be listed to give the reader an idea of how many informal fallacies one may encounter in life and why it is important to study the subject of informal fallacies. The fallacies that Engel covers are:

  • Fallacies of Ambiguity
    • Equivocation
    • Amphiboly
    • Accent
    • Hypostatization
    • Division
    • Composition
  • Fallacies of Presumption
    • Overlooking the Facts
  • Sweeping Generalization
  • Hasty Generalization
  • Bifurcation
    • Evading the Facts
  • Begging the Question
  • Question-Begging Epithets
  • Complex Question
  • Special Pleading
    • Distorting the Facts
  • False Analogy
  • False Cause
  • Slippery Slope
  • Irrelevant Thesis
  • Fallacies of Relevance
    • Personal Attack
  • Genetic
  • ad Hominem
  • Abusive
  • Circumstantial
  • Tu Quoque
  • Poisoning the Well
    • Mob Appeal
    • Appeal to Pity
    • Appeal to Authority
  • The Authority of the One
  • The Authority of the Many
  • The Authority of the Select Few
  • The Authority of Tradition
    • Appeal to Ignorance
    • Appeal to Fear
So why study informal fallacies? We live in a day and age where rhetoric trumps reason (just turn on the television or radio for five minutes and one will be bombarded by a whole host of fallacies on news stations, commercials, etc. or read some of the New York Times Bestsellers from the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris). And therefore, one of the ways that a Christian apologist must “give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15) is by answering the critics and exposing errors when they are rooted in informal fallacies (e.g. Genetic fallacy: “Christianity is a crutch for the weak”; Appeal to Pity/Authority: “You mean that all of those other religions are wrong and their followers are going to hell?”, etc.).

S. Morris Engel has provided an excellent work on informal fallacies, which the Christian apologist will find incredibly helpful and fruitful for future apologetic conversations and encounters.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Covenantal Philosophy's primary interest is philosophy shaped and built upon the foundation of a Reformed world-and-life view. More of CP's writing can be found at Covenantal Philosophy.


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