Definition of Fallacy
A fallacy means faulty logic that weakens an argument. When writers use fallacious reasoning, it hurts their ideas and makes them less believable. Fallacies contain many forms, but usually involve questionable evidence, false assumptions, weak links between points, loaded words and other tricks. While sometimes writers use fallacies on purpose to persuade, mostly they show failed tries at good reasoning.
Recognizing fallacies allows readers to analyze texts more critically and separate strong positions from weak ones. Understanding common fallacious patterns can both improve writers’ abilities to craft logical, evidence-based arguments and readers’ skills in evaluating persuasive works.
Types of Fallacy
Some common fallacies found in writing and literature include:
- Ad Hominem: Attacking the character of the opponent rather than addressing their argument.
- Bandwagon: Appealing to what a majority believes rather than examining the evidence.
- False Cause: Assuming that because two things correlate, one caused the other.
- Either/Or Fallacy: Presenting only two choices when there are more than two options.
- Composition/Division: Assuming what is true for the whole is true for the parts, or vice versa.
- Red Herring: Introducing irrelevant information to divert from the main issue.
- Post Hoc: Assuming because event Y followed event X, that X must have caused Y.
- Slippery Slope: Warning that a relatively small decision will inevitably lead to major, harmful events.
- Straw Man: Misrepresenting an opponent’s argument to make it easier to refute.
Function of Fallacy in Writing
Fallacy in literature varies rhetorical effects, which is based on the style and purpose of writing of the writer. The author intentionally uses faulty reasoning for creating satirical, comedic and dramatic ends. For example, a writer creates a narrator who constantly contradicts themselves, speaks in circular, illogical patterns or has a clearly one-sided worldview filled with assumptions.
Sometimes, the difference between the narrator’s confidence and their lack of credibility troubles the readers. This encourages reflection on our own biases and the elusiveness of truth. Fallacy also works as an argumentative tool for persuasive writing. Through selective use of half-truths, misdirection and emotional appeals, fallacies produce instinctive reactions that serve the goals of the author. Though often manipulative, this method is useful for the skilled writers.
Of course, fallacious reasoning works best when it appears unintentional – when the mistakes seem the accidental product of flawed thinking rather than calculated moves. More often than not, fallacies simply represent poor argumentation abilities that weaken the overall literary work. Regardless of authorial intent, fallacies always require critical analysis from the reader and invite us deeper into interrogating different perspectives.
Examples of Fallacy in Literature
“Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens
“So Valjean invoked his ecclesiastic dignity, appareled himself in his ceremonial garb, probably for the first time in three years, and put on his bishop’s cap, behind which the entire prudence of the man disappeared and vanished.”
This excerpt echoes the themes and character dynamics of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” we see a character similar to Jean Valjean adopting a disguise, not merely as a means of concealment but as a transformation of identity. By donning his bishop’s attire, which he hasn’t worn for years, he steps into a role that demands respect and authority, far removed from his actual circumstances or character.
The fallacy at play here could be seen as an appeal to authority, where the character’s change in clothing is expected to bring about a change in perception that overshadows his true nature. This is a fallacy because the clothes do not inherently imbue him with the virtues or authority of a bishop; they merely create a superficial image meant to influence how others perceive and interact with him. The phrase “behind which the entire prudence of the man disappeared and vanished” suggests that the outward appearance of ecclesiastical dignity is enough to erase or conceal his true character and past actions, relying on the assumption that the garb itself carries an intrinsic authority that overrides individual identity.
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
“Once you began admitting explanations in terms of purpose – well, you didn’t know what the result might be. It might be to ask yourself the most disturbing questions.”
The fallacy in the paragraph concerns slope argument. The writer uses phrase ‘Once you began admitting explanations in terms of purpose – well, so did not know what might be the result; it could lead to a question that is disturbing.
The slippery slope fallacy happens when someone says that some significant result occurs because of a single small step with no evidence being presented to show this chain reaction is inevitable. In this sense, the fallacy implies that considering such a purpose behind certain actions or events would lead one to an uncomfortable path of either existentialism or philosophy which can be considered potentially perilous in terms of society where “Brave New World” is housed.
It points out the general topic of the Novel, where doubting and questioning are suppressed to preserve societal stability. This fallacy throughout the text accentuates the power that state exercises over an individual’s mind and control over purposeful, constructive inquiry. It implies the dystopian society wants to stifle deep thinking and preserve shallow well-being and regulation.
“1984” by George Orwell
Big Brother figures simplistically present only two options in their propaganda:
“It’s either freedom or happiness, you can’t have both!”
But obviously the two states are not mutually exclusive. The either/or construction limits critical thinking while painting the dystopian regime as the only path to happiness.
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë
“I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven; these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of—”
The statements made by Mr. Brocklehurst to Jane, during his visit at Mrs Reed’s Aunt before taking her away from Gateshead Hall to Lowood show a superficial judgment. He presupposes purely on the basics of what Mrs. Reed described Jane as being a prevaricator and self-admiring. She was an imposter without any empirical or teleological analysis for her character is like many in Education Setting more are struggled with the challenges stellations may cause them to act. This logical fallacy is clearly presented in the readiness of Hamlet to stereotype Jane due to biased and hearsay information, which shows that when it comes describing her by drawing conclusions without actual facts.
This case reveals one of the consequences caused by fallacies as Mr. Brocklehurst’s preconceived opinion about Jane, amplified through exaggeration fueled by Mrs Reed lies exemplifies how she is treated and viewed in Lowood school It shows the dangers of making hasty conclusions without properly considering or studying individual circumstances or a person’s character.
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tom Buchanan tries spreading anti-immigrant sentiment:
“Civilization’s going to pieces. I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Coloured Empires by this man Goddard?”
Tom appeals to vague collective beliefs (“civilization’s going to pieces”) and a made-up popular book to bandwagon his racist platform. The reader can recognize his appeals based on popularity rather than substance.
“The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
When observing Phoebe smile, Holgrave offers a pseudo-scientific theory:
“My faith is that the Idea she has inherited from the Puritans – an Idea of the soul’s unspotted whiteness…This Idea has gradually ‘seeped into her active nature…and inspired her daily life.'”
The author narrates that the character has embraced a Puritan notion of ‘pure, unstretched soul’. This idea has metaphorically ‘leaked’ into her life, fundamentally influencing opinion and deeds. Though the text offers a sequence – first, adopting an idea about soul purity and then its impact on behavior – this does not confirm causality alone. However, the author attributes her behavior to this single influence alone without considering other possibilities or more sophisticated motives and lack of free will.
Human behavior involves a variety of social, psychological and contextual aspects, with the metaphor of concepts ‘penetrating’ into one’s soul further clouds decision-making machinations and personal development. However, the text does not regard this inherited notion of pure whiteness as a reflection that helps to define who she will become. It simplifies the issues with personal motives and reasons for actions that solely correlating timing of adoption to later actions does not provide a solution to. There might be other secondary influences, graduated impact or rational self-determining that holds a more leading rule.
Unreliable Storyteller – This is when the person telling the story can’t be trusted to tell the full truth. They may get things wrong or leave things out on purpose. This can lead to wrong conclusions, which is a fallacy.
Red Fish – The writer distracts you from the main point by bringing up something that doesn’t really matter. This distracts you from the real issue, which can trick you into making a false conclusion.