How to avoid making the most embarrassing of logical errors

Avoid cutting your own philosophical throat

She stood up in my class and gave us all three logical reasons is to why logic is not useful and reasoned for us as to why we should not be using reason.   My student, was cutting her own philosophical throat.  She was making what philosophers call a self-refuting statement.  Allow me to explain.

I was speaking to a group of business people, and an executive approached me afterwards saying he was having a hard time with people who do not read or engage with anyone outside of their own peer group on a certain issue.  As we talked, I asked him what he thought of the argument for that position.  He said  he will never read the journals nor the evidence for that position–as it was beneath him. He basically said that he believed “these people” are closed minded and embrace the absurd.

By being unwilling to engage the evidence against his position, he was making the same error he was claiming that the others were making.  He was doing what my student was doing, cutting his own throat.  He was refuting himself without knowing it.

A self-refuting statement is a statement which refers to itself and fails to satisfy its own standard of rational acceptability or truthfulness.

It is like saying “I cannot speak a word of English!”

People are quite willing to attack others with a criteria that they will not use for themselves.

We are all guilty of this.

The person who speeds on the road, judges the person who smokes, and the person who smokes judges the person who swears.

We need to understand the people we disagree with so that we can know better why we disagree with them, and something radical may happen, we may see that they are not as insane as we originally thought they were!

However, we do not need to embrace every theory we understand. Aristotle said it well:

 It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Now, a word about judging.  Judging people by condemning them is never our job, that is only God’s job. But judging illogical ideas, and destructive behaviors we become more moral and productive members of our society.  What would you say to a parent who did not judge the bad behavior of her son has he beat his little sister?  Or a police officer who would not judge one as a rape victim and another as a predator?  Society could not function.  We must make moral judgments.

In fact to not make moral judgments is it self a judgment!

I was talking to a woman who said she was angry at people who judge others.  She said they should “shut up and mind their own business” !  I asked her if she was judging them for judging.  She said she never thought about that. She was using the same criteria she was saying these others were guilty of.

I hope this helps….

In a previous post, I posted about the 10 commandments of logic, I have shared these below for your education and entertainment so you can avoid them.

10 commandments of Logic: I found helpful and humorous!

The 10 Commandments of Rational Debate [logical fallacies explained]

These are 10 of the more popular logical fallacies, but there are many others you need to learn in order to master the art of debate…

The 10 Commandments of Rational Debate and Logical Fallacies

The 10 Commandments of Rational Debate

1. Thou shall not attack the person’s character, but the argument itself. (“Ad hominem”)

Example:  Dave listens to Marilyn Manson, therefore his arguments against certain parts of religion are worthless. After all, would you trust someone who listens to that devil worshiper?

2. Thou shall not misrepresent or exaggerate a person’s argument in order to make them easier to attack. (“Straw Man Fallacy”)

Example:  After Jimmy said that we should put more money into health and education, Steve responded by saying that he was surprised that Jimmy hates our country so much that he wants to leave it defenceless by cutting military spending.

3. Thou shall not use small numbers to represent the whole. (“Hasty Generalization”)

Example:  Climate Change Deniers take a small sample set of data to demonstrate that the Earth is cooling, not warming. They do this by zooming in on 10 years of data, ignoring the trend that is present in the entire data set which spans a century.

–Notice in 3,  the writer is calling people who disagree a politically charged negative term “climate change deniers” or “haters” or something similar that people do to discredit the other side without reading or engaging their evidence!

4. Thou shall not argue thy position by assuming one of its premises is true. (“Begging the Question”)


Sheldon: “God must exist.”
Wilbert: “How do you know?”
Sheldon: “Because the Bible says so.”
Wilbert: “Why should I believe the Bible?”
Sheldon: “Because the Bible was written by God.”
Wilbert: “WTF?”

Here, Sheldon is making the assumption that the Bible is true, therefore his premise – that God exists – is also true.

This can be turned upside down on the atheist too 

Sheldon: “God must NOT exist.”
Wilbert: “How do you know?”
Sheldon: “Because the reason says so.”
Wilbert: “Why should I believe reason?”
Sheldon: “Because  it is reasonable!”
Wilbert: “WTF?”

5. Thou shall not claim that because something occurred before, but must be the cause. (“Post Hoc/False Cause”).

This can also be read as “correlation does not imply causation”.

Example:  There were 3 murders in Dallas this week and on each day, it was raining. Therefore, murders occur on rainy days.

6. Thou shall not reduce the argument down to only two possibilities when there is a clear middle ground. (“False Dichotomy”)

Example:  You’re either with me, or against me. Being neutral is not an option.

7. Thou shall not argue that because of our ignorance, the claim must be true or false. (“Ad Ignorantiam”).

Example:  95% of unidentified flying objects have been explained. 5% have not. Therefore, the 5% that are unexplained prove that aliens exist.

8. Thou shall not lay the burn of proof onto him that is questioning the claim. (“Burden of Proof Reversal”).

Example:  Marcy claims she sees the ghosts of dead people, then challenges you to prove her wrong. The burden of proof is on Marcy, not you, since Marcy made the extraordinary claim.

9. Thou shall not assume that “this” follows “that”, when “it” has no logical connection. (“Non Sequitur”).

Similar, but the difference between the post hoc and non sequitur fallacies is that, whereas the post hoc fallacy is due to lack of a causal connection, in the non sequitur fallacy, the error is due to lack of a logical connection.

Example: If you do not buy this Vitamin X supplements for your infant, you are neglecting your her.

10. Thou shall not claim that because a premise is popular, therefore, it must be true. (“Bandwagon Fallacy”).

Example: Just because a celebrity like Dr. Oz endorses a product, it doesn’t make it any more legitimate.

Also, check out this wonderful pseudo debate that you must watch!

A transcript of the show is available here

What do you think?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Terrin Sharp

    You made very awesome points in this post. I have made many logical errors in the past not having evidence to back up emotions which lead to not having a leg to stand on! That video was hilarious and a great examples of the 10 commandments of logic! Lol
    Oh! Professor, I tried posting on i tunes unfortunately I do not own any apple products so I failed.

  • Janina McLemore

    Mr Sweis,
    I do very much agree with this posting. I agree with it because I had a debate class last semester. The issue in that debate class is everyone was so stuck with their point of view that it was hard for them to argue the other position. I believe it is very important to at least understand the other persons side even if you disagree with them.Logic is very important for this reason. It helps understand different points of views.