The false fallacy fallacy occurs when a person’s argument is falsely claimed to be a logical fallacy when it is actually logically valid. This fallacy is a form of straw man argument. A straw man argument occurs when a person’s argument is misrepresented. This misrepresented argument is then attacked. In the false fallacy fallacy, the person’s argument is specifically misrepresented as being fallacious when it is in fact logically valid.
False fallacy arguments are usually used by those who do not understand the fallacies they claim are being committed. This fallacy can also be very effectively used by those wishing to deceive an audience that is unfamiliar with the fallacies claimed.
Let’s take a look at a few common examples of how the false fallacy fallacy is used.
Bob calls Peter scientifically illiterate because Peter believes the official story of how the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. Bob then goes on about how there is no evidence whatsoever to support the official explanation but there is evidence for the controlled demolition explanation. Peter claims Bob committed the ad hominem fallacy because Bob insulted Peter by calling him science illiterate. However, the ad hominem fallacy is committed when a person is attacked instead of their argument. Bob is not doing this. He is simply negatively characterizing Peter and supporting that characterization by exposing the flaws in his position.
Sara argues that human caused global warming is real because there is a consensus of environmental scientists that believe that this is the case. Jane correctly counters that this argument involves the appeal to the masses fallacy and is therefore invalid. Sara counters claiming that Jane is committing the fallacy fallacy. This is a misrepresentation though. The fallacy fallacy merely states that it is fallacious to claim a conclusion is wrong simply because the argument involves a logical fallacy. This is not what Jane was doing. Jane merely pointed out that Sara’s premises did not warrant her conclusion, not that the conclusion was wrong. That is, Sara’s argument is wrong not her conclusion.
Floyd states that since a human is made only of atoms, either mental states magically arise out of nowhere when these atoms interact or atoms have some sort of primitive mental states. Gertrude declares this argument a false dichotomy fallacy and is thus invalid. However, in order for a false dichotomy to be committed you must show what the other possibilities are which are being excluded. Gertrude did not do this so she has misrepresented Floyd’s argument with only a bare assertion fallacy as support.
Alice argues that because all physical systems are composed of other smaller simpler physical systems all mental systems should similarly be composed of smaller simpler mental systems. Jim claims this is an argument from ignorance. An argument from ignorance fallacy involves assuming something is true because it hasn’t been proven false. That is not what Alice is doing. She is simply drawing a logical comparison between two concepts. She is not saying it has not been proven that mental systems are not made of simpler mental so therefore they are. She is merely saying mental systems should act the same way as physical systems in this respect.
The false fallacy fallacy is a newer fallacy that is not identified much but it should be. To my knowledge no texts on logic cover it but they should. In my experience at least, the false accusation of logical fallacy use is very common. Falsely accusing others of committing fallacies is perhaps one of the most deceptive ways of subverting the critical thinking process. For that reason it is imperative to identify this practice and stamp it out whenever possible.
Michael Fullerton is a software designer based in Vernon BC Canada. His writing explores and exposes pathological skepticism and the corporate pseudo-science it tends to serve. He also has an intense interest in organizational psychopathy, or how psychopaths rise up in organizational structures of all kinds. As a pantheist he strives to be part of the movement to unify spirituality and science.