When you're debating someone, you want to use all the resources at your disposal to convince them you're right.
And that's great – but you should be careful that you don't end up using a logical fallacy to help you make your point.
What is a Logical Fallacy?
A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning that makes your argument less effective and convincing. And you want to be able to spot these fallacies in other people's arguments (and your own) so you can call them out or fix your own strategy.
There are two major types of logical fallacies, formal and informal.
In formal fallacies, there's a problem with how you structure your argument, and how you're making your points. You might be speaking the truth, but the logic breaks down because of the way you're putting your arguments together.
In informal fallacies, there's a problem with what you're saying, and the information might be incorrect or misleading.
In this article, we'll focus on these informal fallacies as they can be pretty common in everyday debate. And keep in mind that we're not talking about the effectiveness or persuasiveness of your argument, here – after all, fallacious arguments can be very persuasive.
Instead, it's all about giving you the tools to identify these weak arguments so you don't make these mistakes in your reasoning.
List of Logical Fallacies with Examples
In this article, we'll look at the most common informal fallacies so you can learn to identify them and avoid them.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy – Definition and Example
Have you ever finished a task (that you really didn't want to complete) simply because you'd put so much time and effort in already? You probably felt like you didn't want all that hard work to go to waste, or to be for nothing.
You were likely falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy. It states that it's actually better to abandon a project that's going nowhere (at any point) rather than waste any more time, energy, and resources trying to finish it for the sole purpose of finishing it.
The reason for this might seem counterintuitive, but think about it: rather than spend another minute of your precious time doing something that isn't going anywhere, it's better to switch gears ASAP (before you spend any more time) and start putting your energy into something productive.
Example of a Sunk Cost Fallacy
Let's say that you've decided to write a book. You spend hours and hours doing research, making an outline, and writing the first 10 chapters. You've put months if not years of your life into writing this book.
But then perhaps your interests change, or you no longer wish to be an author. You might think you should finish the book because you're so close or because you've already spent so much time and energy on it.
Instead, though, you should leave that project behind and focus on what's ahead. Maybe you're trying to get a new job, or learn a new skill, or move to a new city. Any of these current and relevant initiatives would suffer if you continued to work on your unsuccessful book project.
So how do you distinguish between this sunk cost fallacy and persevering until you finish something difficult? Well, it helps to think about whether the experience will benefit you in the long run – in which case, it would be helpful to see it through.
For example, let's say you've done three years of a four year degree program at a college or university. But your interests have changed, and you want to pursue something that doesn't require that degree.
Still, it might make sense to finish the program, as a college degree typically only helps you in future career moves – not to mention the life experience you'll gain in the process.
The Ad Hominem Fallacy – Definition and Example
Ad hominem means "against the person" in Latin. So the ad hominem fallacy happens when you attack a person's character, appearance, personality, or other irrelevant aspects in an argument instead of attacking what they're saying.
These types of attacks are fallacious because they're not relevant to the argument, and so they distract from the point at hand. It doesn't really matter if you think your mom is being a jerk – she's still right that you shouldn't speed while driving.
Example of an Ad Hominem Fallacy
Many people associate ad hominem fallacies with political debates. Unfortunately, some candidates don't seem to be able to help themselves.
What if Candidate A said that you shouldn't trust Candidate B because Candidate B doesn't dress well? There's no established link (that I know of!) connecting a "good dresser" with trustworthiness or good political decision-making, so this would be an ad hominem fallacy.
Or what about when Candidate A insults Candidate B for being too nerdy, or not cool enough? These qualities, first of all, are subjective, and second, they shouldn't affect Candidate B's ability to govern effectively.
On the other hand, sometimes people just deliver insults that aren't actually logical fallacies because they aren't part of the argument. For example, if you were to say that all New Yorkers are rude and unfriendly (but you aren't trying to make a point), that's just an (untrue) insult and not a fallacy.
So when you're debating someone, leave their personal characteristics out of it unless they're relevant to your point.
The Straw Man Fallacy – Definition and Example
When you hear the term "straw man", what comes to mind? Probably a figure of a person made of straw, like a scarecrow, or something else insubstantial. That straw figure isn't too solid, and you could just knock it over with a little push or a strong gust of wind.
The same holds true for straw man fallacies – they represent weaker arguments that are oversimplified or that distract from the main point the debater is trying to make.
So instead of responding to someone with a well-reasoned, to-the-point counterargument, someone using a straw man might reframe that person's argument in a vastly oversimplified way, or might latch on to an irrelevant point that's tangentially related and go after that. Basically, they create a "straw man" in place of a real argument.
Example of a Straw Man Fallacy
Perhaps you're discussing education with someone who believes that for-profit colleges are harmful to the broader educational system because they take advantage of their students, don't provide them high-quality education, and waste students' money.
Instead of responding with appropriate counterpoints (such as concrete examples of for-profit colleges who benefit their students), you try to undermine the person's argument by saying "See, they're against higher education and don't think people should go to college!"
In fact, the person has a much more nuanced claim, but you've ignored it and constructed a vague straw man fallacy in response.
Or maybe you're trying to figure out a solution to the number of people living without homes in your area. You might suggest setting up temporary (or permanent) tiny homes for houseless individuals, allocating resources for trash cleanup, and providing medical care during the pandemic.
Your opponent, however, might misconstrue your argument and insist that you're trying to welcome the homeless community to your area by providing so many benefits for them.
The False Dilemma Fallacy (AKA The False Dichotomy Fallacy) – Definition and Example
Have you ever argued with someone and they only give you two options when you feel like there are many more? Chances are they were falling into the trap of the false dichotomy.
Using a false dichotomy or false dilemma in an argument means that you oversimplify your argument or only focus on two outcomes when in fact there are other reasonable possibilities.
This strategy tries to hide important facts and considerations and tries to trick your opponent into thinking the argument is more cut and dry or simpler than it really is.
Example of a False Dilemma Fallacy
Let's say that you're still working on finding homes for houseless people in your community. You might suggest a range of housing options, such as tiny houses, community living, repurposing empty apartment buildings, and so on.
You could also offer to relocate people who wished to leave your area, or you could help them find jobs so they could afford their own home eventually.
Someone opposed to your efforts might say that houseless people either need to get a job so they can afford their own place or leave town. And they wouldn't offer any of the other options you explored.
To someone uninformed about the crisis of homelessness in your area, those two options might sound reasonable. But to someone who had studied the issue extensively, it would be clear that those extremes weren't the only options.
How about another example?
Maybe you're at a political debate and one of the candidates asserts that you're either a Democrat or you're a Republican in an effort to make some point.
In reality, though, this likely wouldn't be the case. Certain people in attendance could be Libertarians, for example – but the politician didn't include that as an option.
So keep in mind, when you're making an argument, that there are likely many nuances that relate to your point. Don't ignore them – simply take them into account and build them into your argument.
Do keep in mind, though, that some arguments really only do have two viable options – so they wouldn't represent false dichotomies. For example, if a General says "Either you're with us or you're against us" during a war, those are the two main options.
The Slippery Slope Fallacy – Definition and Example
The slippery slope fallacy refers to arguments that get increasingly dramatic and out of hand very quickly. Especially when the ever-more-dramatic conclusions aren't realistic or likely to happen.
These types of arguments are often made when someone wants to emphasize how drastically bad an outcome would be.
Perhaps a better name for this fallacy, though, would be the Domino Effect – one thing might lead to another which might lead to another which might...and so on. The problem with these assumptions is that they're all hypothetical, which makes your overall claim very weak.
Example of a Slippery Slope Fallacy
Perhaps your teenager wants to buy themselves a truck. They've been saving up, and they have the money. But you don't want them to drive a truck, for any number of reasons – perhaps you're worried about gas mileage, or parking in a city, or that they'll take it off-roading and get hurt.
Now, these are all fairly reasonable arguments as to why you wouldn't want your kid driving a truck, and they could easily result from that purchase.
But what if, instead of these sensible arguments, you let your emotions get away with you and instead said "You can't get a truck because then all your friends will want trucks and their whole families will then get trucks which they'll start driving all over the place and over-polluting the earth!"
You can see how that escalated quickly, right? And even though the arguer has a point about emissions in general here, it's probably not a realistic outcome of this situation (and it's probably not an effective argument to use to convince your teen not to buy a truck).
The Circular Reasoning Fallacy – Definition and Example
Have you ever noticed someone arguing in a way that they seem to go around in a circle? It might seem like they're making an argument, but they'll use their conclusion to justify their argument, and their argument to justify their conclusion.
If this sounds confusing, that's because it is. When someone says something like "This tee-shirt is wet because it's covered in water," they're making a fallacious argument. In fact, the tee-shirt is wet because you fell in a lake, for example.
In this case, someone saying something's wet because it's covered in water is just stating the obvious. They're not offering an explanation for why it's that way.
You can often recognize a circular argument when the conclusion – the thing the person is arguing in favor of (or against) – is also one of the premises (or arguments) they're using to justify their assertion (it's wet because of water, which is wet). In other words, if this is true because that is true, that is true because this is true.
Example of a Circular Reasoning Fallacy
So here's another example: you say that your friend Jessie lies all the time, and you know this because they never tell the truth. But your argument (that Jessie lies all the time) and your premise (because they never tell the truth) are the same thing. That means that this is a circular argument.
Here's another way to think about it: if your argument's premises assume that your conclusion is true right from the beginning, rather than proving or finding that it's true, you're arguing in a circle. Just remember: if your argument is defined in terms of itself, it is probably fallacious.
And if you want to know why it's sometimes called "Begging the Question," you can read all about it here. (Hint: it's a mistranslation of 16th century Latin that was actually a mistranslation of the ancient Greek phrase...fascinating.)
The Equivocation Fallacy – Definition and Example
Equivocation means that you're taking a word or phrase and changing its meaning slightly so that it means something else. Or you're using one word or phrase instead of another to hide the true meaning of what you're saying.
In other words, you're being ambiguous with your language. If something is ambiguous, it means that you can interpret it in more than one way or that it has two meanings. This is exactly what happens in an equivocation fallacy.
The word "equivocation" comes from the Latin for "equal voice" – meaning that it appears that what you're saying means one thing but it really means or can also mean something else.
The important thing to remember about equivocation fallacies is that they attempt to deceive in some way.
You might jokingly use ambiguity in a story, play, or playful conversation – but you're not really trying to convince your listener of something serious (or it's clear that you're being tricky or silly).
But when you use equivocation in a serious debate, political campaign, advertisement, or something similar, that's when it's more malicious and fallacious.
Example of an Equivocation Fallacy
So how do you tell the difference? Be mindful of the setting in which you use ambiguous language, or you see it being used.
Here's a simple example: "Nine out of ten dentists recommend Colgate toothpaste." First of all, what does "recommend" mean here? This could be misleading – do they really specifically recommend Colgate, or do they just recommend that you brush your teeth in general?
How about another example? What if you break up with someone, and they ask you never to drive by their house again. So you walk by – but you justify it by saying that you didn't drive by. You walked.
Clearly your ex meant that they didn't want you going by their house in any way, but you used the ambiguity of the situation to tweak their words and do it anyway.
The Post Hoc Fallacy – Definition and Example
You might have heard the phrase "post hoc ergo propter hoc" before, even if you've never studied Latin.
This Latin phrase translates to "After this, therefore because of this." Now that might sound like a jumble of conjunctions and such, but it basically means that if event B happened after event A, that must mean that event A caused event B.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc → (B is) After this (A), therefore (B is) because of this (A).
This fallacy says that because one thing happened after another, it means that the first thing caused the second thing happen. The argument is a fallacy when someone asserts something based purely on the order that things happened. This means they're not taking into account other factors that affected or caused the event to happen.
If this sounds a bit familiar to you, it means you might have thought about correlation vs causation before. The post hoc fallacy is related, but is more focused on the order of events (and their relationship).
Example of a Post Hoc Fallacy
Let's look at an example to help decipher what's going on in this type of fallacious argument.
Maybe there was an earthquake during which a building fell down. That's a pretty clear example of causality – the earthquake (event A) caused the building to fall down (event B).
But what if, after that same earthquake, a lot of people moved away from the city? Now, some of them might have moved because the earthquake was the last straw. But many might have fled because of rising housing costs, pollution, over-crowding, poor infrastructure, poor schools, or a bunch of other factors.
In other words, the earthquake likely wasn't the only direct cause of people moving away.
So anyone who argued "Look, people are moving out of the city because of the earthquake!" and didn't account for all these other likely causes was making a fallacious argument.
Here's another example: perhaps you're searching for a job, and you're not having any luck. But then someone gives you a good luck charm, and after a few more applications, you get a job.
You might be tempted to think that the good luck charm got you the job. But what's more probable is that you put a lot of effort into your applications, you studied really hard for your interviews, and you found your perfect company fit.
The Appeal to Authority Fallacy (AKA Argumentum ad Verecundium Fallacy) – Definition and Example
When you're gathering evidence to support your conclusion, you'll likely want to cite some experts. They've done research on the subject and know a lot about it, so it makes sense to use their knowledge and opinions to support your own arguments.
But be careful – if you don't use those expert's information correctly, or if you assume they're always right because they're experts, you could be falling prey to the appeal to authority fallacy.
An appeal to authority fallacy is easy to commit, but can be hard to recognize. This is because of the weight we all give to "authorities" in various subjects.
When you're engaging in an appeal to authority fallacy, you're likely either misusing someone's authority, citing an irrelevant authority, or citing a poor authority.
Let's see what these look like with some examples.
Example of an Appeal to Authority Fallacy
Let's say your mom's a lawyer and you seek her advice about a particular legal problem you have. If she practices that type of law and has experience with the problem you're having, you can likely cite her authoritative opinion with confidence.
But if you're arguing with your mom about the best way to save the sea turtles, and she asserts that she knows best because she's an intelligent person, she's using her own authority in a fallacious way (and with little to no justification).
Here's another example. Perhaps you watch a lot of Greenbay Packers football, and Aaron Rogers is your favorite quarterback. You happen to see a State Farm insurance commercial where Aaron endorses State Farm's services. You might think, "Well, I like Aaron Rogers, and he recommends State Farm, so it must be great insurance!"
While State Farm might be great insurance, Aaron Rogers doesn't have the authority to say so. He's an authority on being a great quarterback, but not on the quality or efficacy of insurance. So this is an example of an irrelevant appeal to authority.
So, when you're searching for evidence to back your claim, just remember – authorities aren't the only sources you should cite.
And you shouldn't just expect people to trust what those experts say with no evidence. After all, even the experts can be wrong, and just because they know a lot about one thing doesn't mean they know a lot about everything.
The Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy – Definition and Example
No one knows everything – it's just a fact of being human. We're all still learning, and while some might know more than others, we'll all be ignorant about certain things.
With that in mind, it's pretty easy to see why the appeal to ignorance fallacy is so common and so useless.
When you say something like "Well, no one's ever seen Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster) before, so they can't prove that she's real", you're making an appeal to ignorance. Why? Because no one knows whether she exists or not – because they've never seen her!
But the clearest way you can tell this is an appeal to ignorance fallacy is that you can turn it right around, and it still seems to make sense: "Well, no one's ever seen Nessie before, so they can't prove that she's not real!"
Either way, in both these claims, you're making an assertion based on something no one knows (the ignorance bit). Because no one knows it, you shouldn't use it in an argument.
Example of an Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy
Let's look at another example of an appeal to ignorance fallacy in action.
Perhaps you're an archaeologist who's studying an ancient civilization that lived around 2000 years ago. You study any remaining stone structures, pottery, tools, jewelry, and anything else they left behind.
You try to piece together what life would've looked like for these people based on their artifacts, where they lived, nearby societies, and so on. But you have no written evidence that tells you anything more. No one has found any inscriptions, written documents, or anything else with writing on it.
It would be tempting to assert that, since no one has ever found any evidence of writing, this society didn't have a written language. "We've never found documents or inscriptions, so they must not have written their language down."
But you could also assert that, even though no one has found those documents yet, they still might be out there and just haven't been excavated and discovered yet.
This argument is an appeal to ignorance, because you don't know something/haven't seen any evidence of something, but you're using it to support your argument (that the society doesn't have a written language) all the same.
The Appeal to Popular Opinion Fallacy (AKA Bandwagon Fallacy or Ad Populum Fallacy) – Definition and Example
Have you ever heard the expression "jumping on the bandwagon"? It refers to someone changing their opinion or developing an opinion just because a bunch of people hold that same opinion.
There's not necessarily good evidence for that opinion, but people hold it anyway – maybe because it's been believed for a long time, or just because of the sheer number of people who believe it. But even though many people believe this thing, it may be factually incorrect or misleading.
This is a form of the appeal to popular opinion fallacy. You argue that something is true, good, or right just because a large number of people (or some popular or influential person or people) are doing it or believe it.
What's wrong with that? If everybody's doing it, it must be good – right? Well, not necessarily. People aren't always completely rational and don't always think things through. Think of the term "mob mentality". What does that conjure up? Probably a bunch of people causing chaos – in other words, not a good thing.
So before you say something like "Well everyone believes this, so it must be true", think again. Because this isn't a case of "strength in numbers" – an ad populum fallacy results from a lot of people believing incorrect or misleading information.
Example of an Appeal to Popular Opinion Fallacy
What if your young teenager comes to you and wants to get a tattoo. They argue that all their high school friends are doing it because some celebrity just got this new tattoo.
Now, whatever your feelings about tattoos, this is a logical fallacy. Just because everyone's getting this tattoo doesn't mean it's the right choice for your kid. Maybe they haven't thought it through, or maybe they can't handle serious pain/needles, or maybe they will change their mind in a few years and regret such a permanent choice.
Also, everyone has different reasons for getting tattoos. Some do it to commemorate someone or something, some do it for the beauty of the art, some do it while intoxicated on vacation, and so on. But if a group of young teenagers is getting a tattoo on a whim to copy a celebrity, perhaps that's something you want your kid to think about more carefully.
So your kid arguing that "all my friends are doing it, so it's cool" doesn't take that into account. They'd need to think about getting a tattoo for their own reasons, and justify it to you that way.
Here's another example: you're FaceTiming with your family, and it's an election year. Most of your family belongs to one political party, but you belong to another.
Your mom starts trying to convince you to vote like they do – "The whole family votes this way! And we've been voting this way forever! Come on, you should be like your family and support the same candidate/things we do."
While it's understandable that your mom would want your political beliefs to align with hers, she's making a fallacious argument here. Just because they've always voted that way doesn't make it right.
She shouldn't say you should vote like she does because "that's what the family's always done/it's what they all do now". She should point out the benefits of her candidate, how they could help you out, why their policies are fair, and so on – and then let you decide for yourself.
The Hasty Generalization Fallacy – Definition and Example
People make generalizations all the time (that, right there, was a generalization!). And sometimes this is ok. If you're just stating something that's generally true, like "I like to cook" or "Puppies are cute", there's typically no harm in that.
The problem arises, though, when someone uses a generalization a bit too zealously in an argument without sufficient evidence. These types of "hasty" generalizations can fall into stereotyping, racism, falsehood, exaggeration, and more.
Often someone makes such a generalization when they're basing their opinion or argument off of the behavior or characteristics of just a few members of a group. This often means they're not taking the behavior of the whole group into consideration.
So why are these generalizations bad? Aside from lacking evidence and being based on problematic premises, people often assert hasty generalizations as if they were 100% true all the time. Which, of course, very few likely are.
If you want to avoid making hasty generalizations, you can use certain qualifiers when you make a generalization – like "Sometimes", "Often", "We often see", or "It may be the case that...". Those types of words and phrases let your listener know that you're not arguing that this thing is true across the board for everyone. It's just a general trend you've noticed.
Example of a Hasty Generalization Fallacy
Hasty generalizations are quite common, as people use generalizations all the time in regular conversation. And again, many generalizations don't hurt anyone. But let's look at some examples of bad generalizations.
If you say "People in the southern part of the US are so conservative and close-minded. I really can't stand how all they care about is football and BBQ", you're using a hasty generalization (a couple, actually).
While it's true that some people in the south have these characteristics, it's not true for everyone living in that region. And by making those assertions, you're perpetuating stereotypes that are likely overblown and miss a lot of nuance about southern American's characters and beliefs.
Here's another example: let's say you're having a fight with your significant other and you say, "You always pick fights with me!", you're likely exaggerating and making a hasty generalization. Unless it's literally true that they are always the one to start the fight, you're probably getting carried away in the heat of the moment.
One way to save yourself from making a hasty generalization in this case would be to say something like "You pick fights with me a lot" or "You often pick fights with me."
The Tu Quoque Fallacy (AKA Appeal to Hypocrisy Fallacy) – Definition and Example
Tu quoque in Latin means "You, too". And when you attempt to distract from your own guilt by calling out someone else's similar guilt, you're committing this fallacy.
The name makes sense – it's like you're saying "Well I may have done this, but you did it, too!" Now, think about that. Just because someone else did something similar to (or the same as) what you did, it doesn't make you any less guilty. You've still committed whatever crime or done whatever bad thing you've done.
This is also called an "appeal to hypocrisy" fallacy, because the person making the argument (let's call them Person A) often calls out the fact that someone else (Person B) did something similar to what they did. Person A argues that they may have messed up, but Person B did the same thing so should be punished. Person A is being a hypocrite because they're trying to escape the blame they'd like to assign to Person B.
It's tempting to use this type of argument, because people are always looking to shift the blame from themselves to others. It's especially enticing when that other person is not blameless and therefore seems to deserve some share of the guilt.
But this isn't an effective argument strategy because, while distracting, a tu quoque argument doesn't actually prove you innocent. It just draws attention (falsely) away from the issue at hand, which is your misdeed.
One thing to remember about tu quoque fallacies is that the information the person making the argument cites is typically irrelevant to the case at hand. Just because Person B is guilty also, doesn't mean Person A is any less guilty. So that accusation that Person A makes is irrelevant to their case.
Example of a Tu Quoque Fallacy
Let's go back to our teenager. Perhaps they've been caught skipping school, and their parents want to ground them for a week. The teenager might argue, "Yeah I skipped third and fourth periods, but Marta did, too!"
While it's not great that Marta skipped class as well, it doesn't really make that teen any less guilty of skipping school. They just knew someone who did the same thing, and are trying to justify what they did by bringing up Marta's transgression as well. But it doesn't mean that they skipped any less school.
Here's another example: perhaps your friend caught you cheating on a test, and threatened to turn you into the teacher. But you saw them cheat in another class last year, so you say "I may have cheated today, but you cheated on that math test last year, too!"
Again, their cheating a year ago doesn't make you any less guilty right now. While it might feel good to say, "You did that, too, so how could you think I should be punished for it!", it's not really a strong or relevant argument to make.
Instead of resorting to this type of argument, make sure you take responsibility for your actions and keep your points relevant to the issue at hand. Don't think you can get away with something just by calling out someone else's hypocrisy. It's likely not going to help your case.
The Loaded Question Fallacy – Example and Definition
When you ask a question that intends to reinforce your position and undermine someone else's, you could be asking a loaded question. These questions are helpful to you but harmful to the person you're asking, and may skew the opinion of anyone listening in your favor, perhaps unfairly.
Instead of asking a straightforward question that attempts to get more or new information, a loaded question often includes an accusation (or a confirmation of an accusation) – an oft-quoted example is "Are you still beating your wife?"
In this question, you're referencing an accusation – that the person beat their wife – without directly accusing them of doing it currently. But by including it in the question, you're turning listeners' minds to the fact that this person did, at one point, beat their wife. So either way, they'll appear guilty.
Example of a Loaded Question Fallacy
Let's look at some more examples of loaded questions, and why they're fallacies.
Perhaps you're at a rally in support of clean energy, and a rep from Exxon is there. If you're not old enough to remember, Exxon had a horrific oil spill in Alaska in 1989 that devastated 1300 miles of coastline and released over 10 million gallons of oil into the ocean.
You might call out that rep and loudly ask them if their company is still polluting the world's pristine oceans and killing millions of sea creatures.
Whatever your feelings about Exxon or environmental justice, it's not fair to set the company up like that for those listening. Your question is heavily loaded, and doesn't give them a shot at convincing others of their current position, whatever it might be. You're making your argument by essentially biasing the crowd against them from the start.
Here's another example: what if a company hires formerly incarcerated people, and you find out that one of them was a bank robber. If you asked their employer "You're really gonna let a thief handle your products?" you're creating a negative bias against them.
It's not necessary to refer to them as a thief or allude to their past as a bank robber. By doing so, you're only creating prejudicial feelings against them that may not be relevant or meaningful at this point in time.
So just remember – when you're asking questions to try to prove your point, keep them relevant, unbiased, and focused on the issue at hand.
The Red Herring Fallacy – Definition and Example
You might wonder where the term "red herring" comes from. It's a bit of an odd name for a fallacy, don't you think?
Well, there has been some debate about this in the past but most sources agree that a red herring signifies a distraction or something meant to mislead someone.
Fun fact before we continue: there's not actually a species of herring called a red herring. A "red herring" refers to a herring that's been brined and smoked until it becomes extremely pungent and turns a bright red color.
So these red herrings were used as training aids for animals because of their strong smell (to attempt to lead them in a certain direction).
Anyway, back to our fallacy: if you make an argument with the intention of distracting from the real issue at hand, it might be a red herring. Also, if you drop some seemingly related bit of info into a conversation or debate that leads your listener down the wrong path, that's also a red herring.
Ultimately, a red herring argument distracts or leads your listener away from the crux of the issue so that they get off course or off topic.
Example of a Red Herring Fallacy
Remember, a red herring basically a diversionary tactic in an argument. It's meant to lead the listener away from the main point of the conversation.
Suppose you're arguing with someone who is in favor of a dam that's being constructed in a beautiful river. You bring up the environmental impact that said dam will have, and how devastating it'll be to the surrounding natural habitat.
Your opponent might say something like "Yes it will destroy the habitat for many fish and other river animals, but if we don't build the dam it'll take jobs away from so many people who would've worked on it."
Now, this person has just used a red herring fallacy to try to distract from the environmental impact of such a dam. Instead of arguing for the benefits of the dam itself, and arguing against the environmental impact, they're dropping in a red herring – the potential impact on the workers who would've been hired to build the dam.
While that itself is a whole separate issue, it doesn't deal with or respond to the issue at hand, which is what happens to the natural environment when the dam goes in.
How to Avoid Logical Fallacies in Your Arguments
We've just discussed a whole bunch of logical fallacies, and you might be thinking – how can I make any arguments at all without saying something fallacious?
It's not always easy, as some of these fallacies are very tempting and easy to fall into. But as long as you stick to the point, don't try to deceive your listener, cite relevant evidence from relevant sources, and avoid any derogatory or misleading language, you should be ok.
Good luck, and happy debating!