Unfortunately, we are all guilty of this error in logic. It so permeates the fabric of our society and interactions that its acceptance, in varying degrees, is almost universal. But, just because the majority accept this type of thinking as valid, does not make it so.
Miriam-Webster defines Fact and Opinion as such (only definitions relevant to this post):
Fact: a piece of information presented as having objective reality
Opinion: a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter
To most, the difference between the two would seem obvious, but there are areas where the distinction breaks down in the minds of individuals. This generally occurs when an individual is overly vested in, or otherwise inordinately attached to their beliefs.
Evidence of this is observable in the extremes of religious fanaticism, however, the more 'normal' religious types can become quite defensive and sometimes physically aggressive in protecting their beliefs. And while I certainly don't disparage anyone's personal faith, it becomes problematic when those beliefs are imposed upon others, thereby restricting their freedom to have or practice their own individual ideals.
There is no objective evidence for the absolute truth of any faith...regardless of what a priest, preacher, rabbi or guru may proclaim, regardless of how many followers it has, how much money it generates or how fast it's growing. It is all opinion, and while that does not discount the respective relevance of such systems of thought, they remain Opinion, not Fact.
Another example comes from the 'secular' world. Let's assume you've just reached your 21st birthday and want to exercise your newly granted ability to purchase alcohol. The problem is, you don't have a valid ID that verifies your birth date. You go to the store and are asked for your ID. Not having it, you attempt to explain to the clerk that you truly and FACTUALLY are of legal age...you have a friend there to verify it...you call your mom on your cell phone to confirm it, but you walk out with no alcohol.
In this case, while an absolute Fact did exist...you were in fact 21,..there was no valid, objective evidence demonstrating it. Until such documentation is presented as Fact, in the mind of the clerk, your word and that of your friend and mother are all merely Opinion.
Politicians frequently employ this fallacy by making statements such as:
"We need more tax cuts in order to stimulate the economy and create more jobs"
This may sound reasonable and factual...especially when spoken by a skilled politician; however, there is no objective evidence that this is Fact, and in fact, there are equally valid (though also lacking objective evidence) arguments to the contrary
Our best defense against this error in thinking is being able to recognize and manage it within ourselves. We must recognize that we are not our beliefs; that they are simply ideas and conceptualizations. They do not define us. We must accept that beliefs can and should be adjusted when presented with valid and objective information. Finally, we must understand and appreciate that addressing and correcting this fallacy within ourselves is not easy. Many beliefs are emotionally charged and very deeply rooted. It is those that we should scrutinize carefully, as they are the ones most commonly prodded to confuse thinking and manipulate behavior.
Begging the question” refers to the informal fallacy known as petitio principii, which literally means “requesting first principles.” The “question” in “begging the question” refers to the matter at the heart of the debate, the issue being debated.
To “beg the question” is to attempt to have that question conceded by assuming it either implicitly or explicitly in the premises of the argument the arguer offers for its truth. In other words, the arguer assumes what he trying to prove and uses that assumption to prove that assumption correct.
This one is confusing for many and is often improperly used and identified. Here is an example of common misuse:
I have been writing a series of Logical Fallacy posts for the last few weeks. This begs the question, "Which logical fallacy will I address next?"
In the example above, the phrase “This begs the question” is a synonym for “this raises the question”. This is the way the phrase is commonly misused but this is not what the phrase actually means.
A better example which illustrates proper use would be:
Support the American tradition of individual liberty and oppose mandatory seat belt laws! This begs the question, "Are laws requiring seat belts actually a violation of personal liberty?"
In this last example, the question being 'begged' clearly refers back to the 'first principles' of the issue of debate...seat belts and personal liberty. Notice that it doesn't naturally 'raise' the question, but one must think about what is being said in order to appreciate what is being 'begged'.
Again, this one is confusing for most and misused by almost all. In order to fully appreciate it, do a bit more digging online. The important thing is that we learn to comprehend what is actually being expressed to us. If complete comprehension cannot be obtained, then the prudent move would be to suspend judgement or action until clarification can be had. Otherwise, one could find oneself acting and interacting in the world in an irrational and ineffective manner.
Apropos to the season, this weeks segment of the Critical Thinking series addresses the Straw Man fallacy. But, just because it is Fall, doesn't mean you should fall for this common fallacy.
The Straw Man is named after the scarecrows that are often placed in large gardens and fields to scare off birds. The scarecrow is effective because it looks like a 'real' man, while obviously not actually being one. Likewise, a person can attack ideas that sound like their opponent's idea's, but are actually inaccurate and often absurd.
An example of this fallacy plays out frequently with regards to the national abortion debate. Often, persons who are 'pro-choice' are characterized as being 'pro-abortion'...or persons who are not blatantly 'pro-life' must be 'pro-death'.
Clearly, these are absurd generalizations and do not represent the overall feelings or actual legislative motives of the 'choice' movement. But, setting up these types of Straw Men and attacking them are easier than addressing the actual issues head-on.
This not only plays out in this particular debate, but listen to ANY political debate and be ready to roll bails as the straw flies! Being vigilant against these fallacies requires only clear thinking and a willingness to research (as opposed to repeating) new and seemingly 'shocking' and/or 'damning' information.
But even more importantly, don't engage in using Straw Man attacks. Resorting to the Straw Man often makes one resemble the straw man...no backbone, just a stick up the butt!