Chapter 7 What About Faults And Gaps In Arguments

Fallacies in Arguments

  • Arguments break down when readers discover weak linkages between a thesis or claim and its support; typically break down in one of three main ways:
    1. Reasoning or logic (activated by evidence)
    2. Credibility (built with verification, reputation, or presentation)
    3. Emotion (evoked by illustration)

Weak Evidence

  • Arguments commonly fail when the audience does not consider the evidence presented to be sufficient or relevant
  • Fallacies do not build the best possible case for reaching a conclusion

Unqualified Claims

  • In general, people don't change their minds easily
  • A qualification is a stated restriction that limits a claim's strength
  • Qualifying claims helps us to avoid exaggerating arguments


  • Even when there's sufficient support, the linkage between that evidence and the claim or thesis may be weak
  • A common kind of relevance fallacy confuses correlation with causation
  • A second type of relevance fallacy intentionally introduces information that's only weakly related to the conclusion
  • A third type of relevance fallacy occurs when writers create "straw man arguments" (oversimplified, exaggerated, or simply inaccurate versions of opposing arguments) to make alternative perspectives seem weak, foolish, and easily refutable (most common is to misquote or use someone's words out of context

Truth As Support

  • Not really open to question (religious beliefs, patriotism)
  • Invoking a 'truth' often shuts down arguments because once a discussion gets down to matters that "aren't open to argument," there's little left to debate

Relying Too Much On Credibility

  • The first kind of mistake is agreeing with an argument because of the author's reputation, rather than the verification and evidence presented
  • Credibility can also be used in deliberately or inadvertently negative ways
    • Ad Hominem ("against the person") - fallacy intentionally emphasizes negative credibility, rejecting an argument just because of the arguer's reputation

Getting Emotional

  • Emotions provide the least reliable but most powerful kind of support
  • Emotion can also cloud judgment, especially when these emotions become intensely positive or negative, so scholars employ emotions sparingly in their arguments

The Usefulness of Fallacies

  • Becoming more careful about fallacies in your own arguments can also help to write more carefully in college and beyond
  • Arguments based on sound reasoning can withstand harsher scrutiny, and in most cases they can help us arrive together at more commonly acceptable answers to our questions and solutions to our problems

Anticipate and Respond to Opposing Views

  • Another way to make arguments stronger is to address alternative perspectives
  1. Anticipate Objections (imagining potential objections is one of the best ways to fortify our arguments against resistance)
  2. Walk in the Reader's Shoes
  3. Identify the Potential Controversies
  4. Play the Devil's Advocate

Respond to Objections

  • Once we pinpoint the objections readers could raise, we acknowledge and respond to them
  1. We can concede
  2. We can refute

Elaborate to Fill Gaps

  1. Incorporate more examples
  2. Respond to more objections
  3. Relate the argument to real life contexts
  4. Discuss the larger implications of your argument
  5. Make connections to other related issues
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