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Post Hoc Al-gore Propter Hoc

by Hans Bluedorn

I apologize for the long delay between logic loops. The truth is, this loop was intended as something EVERYONE would participate in and add to. It may be very educational to just read the things I write, but everyone participating is so much better.

Here is a (by now famous) example of a fallacy in the news:

Al Gore, when asked to cite accomplishments that separate him from another Democratic presidential hopeful, former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Gore said:

"During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.''

This is a prime example of the well know fallacy of "Post Hoc Al-gore Propter Hoc (a close cousin to "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc," translated from Latin, "after this, therefore because of this"). If it happened AFTER Al Gore was there, it happened BECAUSE Al Gore was there. Or, if something happened that turned out good, and Al Gore chanced to be around at the time, then he caused it. This fallacy is used with great success by Bill Clinton when he takes credit for the economy (hey, he was around at the time).

The reality is that if something happened before another, there may be a connection, but not necessarily.

Here is another example of a fallacy in the news:

According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, seventy-three per cent of the respondents say they would favor sending ground troops if it was the only way to stop the fighting.

This is a example of a complex question. Many questions are made to sound like a single one so that a respondent unwittingly answers more than one question, thereby affecting the outcome of the argument. Any way you answer the question, your true feelings on the matter may not be voiced. Example:

"Would you pay us the money if it was the only way you could go to the movie?" (The two questions are: "Do you want to go to the movie?" And, would you pay the money to go?")

In our main example these are the two questions. "Do you think we should try to stop the fighting?" And, "would you favor sending in ground troops to stop it?" It is assumed that you think it is our business to stop the fighting, a very big assumption. Many people when polled would answer only one of the two questions, the latter one. Whether it is our business in the first place is ignored.

Your part:

Can you find examples of the following fallacies?

Appeal to Authority: something is true because an authority figure says so.

"Smoking must be all right because my doctor smokes."

Argument From Ignorance: (Arguing that if something is not known, shown, or proved, then something else is true, or, in other words, you're guilty until proven innocent.)

"He can't prove he found the money, so he must have stolen it."

Copyright April 20, 1999, all rights reserved. 4463 views


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