Fallacy of Relevance
Fallacy of relevance can be defined as making a point or conclusion which is logically not relevant to the argument at hand. It refers to an attempt of proving a conclusion by offering considerations that simply do not bear its truth. In order to prove the truth in any conclusion, one must provide evidence to support it. Arguments that commit fallacies of relevance fail to do this since the considerations that they give in support of their conclusions are irrelevant in determining the truth in those conclusions.
There are various forms of fallacy or relevance that include; Appeal to Force (argumentum ad baculum), Appeal to Pity (argumentum ad misericordiam), Appeal to Emotion (argumentum ad populum), Appeal to Authority (argumentum ad verecundiam) among others.
In Appeal to Force, a person in position of power threatens to bring down dire consequences upon anyone who dares to oppose his or her proffered proposition. Despite this form of fallacy of relevance being rarely developed explicitly, it might propose:
- If you do not agree with my political opinions, you will get a grade F for this course
- I believe that Herbert Hoover was the greatest President of the United States
- Thus, Herbert Hoover was the greatest President of the United States.
Appeal to Pity tries to win acceptance by revealing the unfortunate consequences that will otherwise fall upon the speaker and others, for whom we need to feel sorry. The conclusion under this fallacy may be false, even if the premises are all true. An example is as follows:
- I am a single parent, solely responsible for the financial support of my children
- If you give me this traffic ticket, I will lose my license and be unable to drive to work
- If I fail to go to work, my children and I will become homeless and may starve to death
- Therefore, you should not give this traffic ticket to me.
Appeal to emotion is reliant upon emotively charged language to ignite strong feelings that may lead an audience to accept its conclusion. An illustration of this form of fallacy of relevance can be as below:
- As all right-thinking residents of our beautiful state have already realized, the Governor’s plan for financing public education is nothing but the bloody-fanged wolf of socialism cleverly disguised in the harmless sheep’s clothing of concern for children.
- Thus, the Governor’s plan is bad public policy.
With regards to Appeal to Authority, the opinion of someone who is famous or accomplished in another area of expertise is supposed to guarantee the truth of a conclusion. Bear in mind that even in fields where people have certain special knowledge or skills, expert’s authorities could be mistaken. We may accept their testimony as inductive evidence but never as deductive evidence of the truth of a conclusion. Personality is in no way relevant to truth. An example can be like:
- Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan believes that spiders are insects
- Therefore, spiders are insects.
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