Logical Fallacies Through Funny Videos
There are online lists of logical fallacies , websites dedicated to explaining them, posters, children’s books, various videos, and, of course, memes. That many of the examples used to illustrate fallacies are humorous is no accident, as a lot of humor involves both upsetting expectations (e.g., saying something that deviates from what we think follows from what’s already been said) and making fun of ineptitude (including poor reasoning).
I thought it could be an amusing diversion (we need one, don’t we?) to put together a collection of short video clips that illustrate logical fallacies in a funny way—excerpts from television shows, movies, stand-up comedy, and the like.
So, name a fallacy and post a link to a funny video illustrating it in the comments. Include any relevant info about time (e.g., if the example starts 8 minutes and 41 seconds into the video, please say so). If we get enough examples, this could end up being a useful resource.
I’ll start things with this clip from The Simpsons (which I’ve used here on DN before) illustrating “affirming the consequent”:
By the way, while searching for examples this morning, I noticed that the above clip is very similar to part 2 of the following Bert & Ernie sketch from Sesame Street (it should start at the right spot, but if not, skip to the 0:39 mark):
Otter’s speech from Animal House for composition.
Direct TV’s “Don’t end up in a roadside ditch” commercial for slippery slope.
“What’s ridiculous?” from South Park for false cause.Report
“Who’s on First” for confusing the Use/Mention distinction?
Here’s a compilation of the Direct TV commercials illustrating (causal) slippery slope:
Those are great. (Clearly based on the If You Give A Mouse A Cookie books.)Report
Undistributed middle and equivocation:
Post hoc ergo propter hoc on The Big Bang Theory.
Affirming the consequent (of a universally quantified conditional):
Ionesco’s Rhinoceros is timely for a number of other reasons…Report
I’ve collected several dozen short clips of this sort to use when I teach Critical Thinking. Funny examples are fun, but I find subtle examples to be the most effective as they powerfully demonstrate to students how pervasive bad reasoning is in our society. One of my favourite examples is this one, which I found in the trailer of the Hollywood film ‘Inception’:
On first viewing, most students do not catch the fallacy, but when I ask them to work through it a couple of times and write out the structure of the conditional argument being made they usually see that the two characters have affirmed the consequent (and are shocked that such a basic reasoning mistake could make it way into the trailer of an apparently ‘cerebral’ film). It’s also a nice example because there is no good way of charitably reconstructing the argument to make it sound. For example, you might suppose that the character confused the direction of the conditional and really wanted to say ‘If you don’t know how you got where you are then you are dreaming’. However, unlike the conditional actually asserted, this conditional is clearly false as there are many ways of not knowing how you got where you are that do not involving dreaming.Report
This clip seems to me to be a paradigmatic example of good reasoning, given the context. Let D be ‘I’m dreaming’ and ~K be ‘you don’t know how you got here’. DiCaprio asserts that D -> ~K, and then he invites her to see whether K is true. She realizes ~K and concludes D. This is an inference to the best explanation: E confirms H if H -> E and H is the best explanation for E. D is the best explanation for ~K since, one, she already knows about dream sharing (I believe DiCaprio has already explained his abilities and plan with her), and two, moreover, I take it that she judges that ~K would most likely be false if D were not true–it’s very rare that she would be at a cafe and not remember how she got there. D is the best contextually salient explanation.
She doesn’t believe D on the basis of the putative deductive inference D -> ~K, ~K, therefore D, and hence is not affirming the consequent. This is part of the reason why I don’t understand what some take to be the widespread importance of ‘logical fallacies’. It’s only very rare that someone reasons deductively–the above video from “Rhinoceros” is an example of such reasoning, but notice how stilted and unnatural (to non-philosophers) the reasoning sounds. Affirming the consequent is bad because your reasons to do not support your conclusion: holding all else fixed, (D -> ~K) & ~K is no good reason to believe D. But there are cases, like the the video linked, where on such a basis there is very good reason to believe D. We ought to teach our students what are good reasons for what–strict logical fallacies may play some role in this, but I tend to think the role is quite minimal.Report
You are correct that in such circumstances there may be a reasonable IBE to be made. However, that is not at all what is going on here. DiCaprio asserts the conditional, asserts the consequent, and then invites Page to directly infer the antecedent by asking a rhetorical question. At no point does he say anything about the antecedent offering a possible explanation of the consequent, or about this explanation being better than other possible explanations. In fact, no other possible explanations are ever mentioned. And the conclusion is stated with deductive certainty (‘Oh my god, I’m dreaming’) rather than inductive likelihood (‘I’m probably in a dream’). Now, if we want to be especially generous to Page we might suppose that in the split second between DiCaprio asking the rhetorical question and her inferring the antecedent, she has quickly crunched the relevant IBE in her head. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the explicit reasoning is clearly a deductive conditional argument–and it is that that we are assessing. We might of course apply the principle of charity to explicit reasoning to add an extra premise that is need to make an argument stronger. But I’ve never heard of applying the principle of charity involving assuming that an arguer is making an entirely different species argument requiring different kinds of premises that have not been explicitly stated.Report
I guess I disagree that the premise “D is the best explanation for ~K” needs to be explicitly said or expressed in order to interpret her reasoning as an IBE. I think that people make IBEs all the time while never explicitly thinking to themselves that H is the best explanation for E. Compare a rule like Modus Ponens–you can (or perhaps do) reason in accordance with MP without using it as a premise. I think it’s natural to see IBE the same way, as a kind of inference rule. But regardless, premises in everyday reasoning are often elided.
I’m also not sure I see why if she made the IBE she would rather say “I’m probably in a dream”. If ~K makes D probable (above say, some threshold), then it’s very natural to believe D and hence be in a position to assert it. And at any rate IBEs, while inductive arguments, need not be probabilistic or only support probabilistic judgments. Enumerative inductive arguments, for example, license unqualified universal claims.
I grant that my background views about logic and reasoning may be clouding my judgment, but I don’t see that it’s clearly a deductive conditional argument. Something I think supports this is that independent of any particular interpretation of what’s going on, I take it that she has good reason to believe she’s in the dream, based on their conversation and the context. Given what she knows about DiCaprio and the dream sharing, the fact that she cannot remember how she got there is good reason to think she’s in the dream. So the question is whether she comes to believe she’s in a dream irrationally by affirming the consequent and hence does not justifiably believe she’s in the dream, or whether her belief is justified. I acknowledge my use of a bit of the principle of charity in assuming the latter. The rational inference is there and easy for the taking, and I see more reason than not to assume she takes it. With just this small scene in front of us it’s hard to see precisely on what reasons she’s based her belief. (And I think this may be the kernel of our disagreement.) We’d have to ask her what her reasons are. I just don’t see her responding “Well, ~K, and because D -> ~K, it must be that D” while not also saying something like “and also because DiCaprio can create dreams that look similar to this” etc.
Anyway, I don’t want to say that using this clip to illustrate consequent affirming is not a useful exercise for students–DiCaprio doesn’t actually assert the English conditional (he says “You never remember the beginning of your dreams, do you?”) and it’s very good practice to uncover the logic of the conversation, and a good way to raise the issue of consequent affirming, which is important. Thanks for the example and I’ll bookmark the clip to use it in my classes! And thanks for pushing back–it’s helped me understand stuff better.Report
Too many fallacies to count. This video is best when the volume is cranked to 11.Report
MIMS gets the debate going on what constitutes affirming the consequent:
This same example is used in _The Art of Reasoning_ 4th ed. by David Kelley for the same purpose. A good example.Report