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USD Information Literacy Lessons: Page 2

The broad focus of these lessons is understanding sources of information, including examples that can help you learn how to access information sources at USD. Each lesson is dedicated to a specific element of information competency.

Part One: Logical Fallacies

Part One: Logical Fallacies

Logical fallacies send several messages to your audience. They tell your audience that you're not trustworthy since you're constructing an argument based on erroneous logic. Logical fallacies damage your credibility as well. However, conscientious writers don't use logical fallacies intentionally. According to White and Billings, logical fallacies typically emerge for three reasons:

  • Lack of experience with the subject matter. The more informed you are, the more material you have to defend your views. Most arguments fail to convince because they do not draw sufficiently from experience. [. . .] You may feel passionately about the need to save the rain forests, but unless you thoroughly understand the nature of rain forests, the reasons they are so precious, and the ways in which they are so threatened, your argument will lack substance.
  • Lack of familiarity with other points of view. In addition to acquiring a knowledge base about the topic, you also need to be familiar with the range of representative views on that topic. Before you can defend your views on an issue, you need to understand challenging arguments, find reasons why those arguments are not as effective as yours, and be open to the possibility of adjusting your position if another is actually more reasonable.
  • Underdeveloped methods of argumentative reasoning. You not only need to be knowledgeable about issues and familiar with the spectrum of views on those issues, but you also need to know how arguments progress logically from one point to the next." (The Well-Crafted Argument 143)

For example, if your argument is that the former US president's use of "cowboy diplomacy" was endangering US international relations, you wouldn't want to attack the former US president on a personal level by writing, "In the end, he's just a Texas redneck at heart." This would be a logical fallacy called the argumentum ad hominem,* a personal attack that distracts the reader instead of offering compelling evidence for the argument. Typically, personal attacks, ad hominem fallacies, result from poor methods of argumentative reasoning and a lack of audience awareness. Especially in academic writing, personal attacks on those who hold opposing points of view rarely hold any persuasive appeal for readers. Beware the ad hominem fallacy.

* Because logical fallacies were identified during times when the language of scholars was Latin, many of them have Latin names, which we use for your information. If there is a corresponding English name, we'll provide that, too. 


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