Guard Against Flawed Logic Shrapnel | LSATMax LSAT Prep

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Dearest LSAT-studiers, today, I’d like to talk a bit more about flawed logic and its occurrence in the real world. A phenomenon I became used to during my LSAT prep was how often flawed logic appeared in my day-to-day life. The more I learned of the different types of flawed logic, the more I saw people use it. I read flawed logic in newspapers, heard it in conversations and in speeches, and even saw it written in ads, magazines and the like.”

The fact of the matter is, we live in a chaotic and often-illogical world. The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has yet again brought my attention towards this issue of pervasive flawed logic weaving in and out of our society. In efforts both to help you hone your logical reasoning skills and wade through the barrage of illogical shrapnel constantly flying at your face, I’d like to bring your attention to the NRA’s recent press conference in the wake of the Newtown tragedy where 20 children and seven adults, were murdered.  Just in case you missed it:”

I’ve cut bits and pieces of the speech into categories of flawed logic. Hope this helps give you some perspective and logical reasoning practice.”

Appeal to Emotion

First, let’s reacquaint ourselves with this flaw. Appeal to emotion occurs when a speaker tries to get you to accept a claim, not based on evidence, but based on emotion. Rather than using logic and proof to get to their conclusion, the speaker makes an effort to manipulate you through an appeal to your emotions. Usually the argument will look something like this: favorable or unfavorable emotions are associated with x, therefore x is true or false, good or bad, etc.”

Let’s start with this quote by NRA Vice President, Wayne LaPierre:”

“How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order? Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, court houses, even sports stadiums are all protected by armed security.

We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by Capitol Police officers. Yet, when it comes to our most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it, and exploit it.

If we truly cherish our kids, more than our money, more than our celebrities, more than our sports stadiums, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible. And that security is only available with properly trained, armed good guys.”

This is a classic example of the appeal to emotion logical fallacy. Instead of actually giving us evidence as to why and how our children should be protected by armed guards, LaPierre merely uses emotion-evoking words to appeal to our emotions rather than our sense of logic.”

Here is another great quote from LaPierre illustrating the appeal to emotion flaw:”

"But what if -- what if when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he’d been confronted by qualified armed security? Will you at least admit it’s possible that 26 little kids, that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day? Is it so important to you would rather continue to risk the alternative? Is the press and the political class here in Washington D.C. so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and American gun owners, that you’re willing to accept the world, where real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school principal left to surrender her life, her life, to shield those children in her care. No one. No one, regardless of personal, political prejudice has the right to impose that sacrifice."

Once again, LaPierre is appealing to our emotions rather than giving us sound reasoning.”

Correlation for Cause & Effect/Ignoring Alternative Causes

You know this flaw well. Just because there is a correlation doesn’t necessarily mean there is a cause and effect relationship. Take for instance, the more x there is, the more y occurs. This correlation doesn’t necessarily mean that x causes y, because y could be causing x, or z could be causing both x and y.

LaPierre continues his speech mentioning that guns are not to blame, but rather the prevalence of violent video games are. He mentions specifically a video game named, “Kindergarten Killers” and goes on to blame “blood-soaked films” like “American Psycho,” and “Natural Born Killers.” LaPierre even mentions “1,000 music videos” that “portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life.””

Again, just because there might be a correlation between violent video games and violence in our society, doesn’t mean one causes the other. A person who is predisposed to playing and enjoying violent video games may also be predisposed to murder. This is a classic scenario where z is the hidden variable/alternative cause that could be causing both x and y.”

Another example can be seen in this quote by LaPierre:”

“Politicians pass laws for gun free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And, in doing so, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”

Just because shootings are occurring at gun free school zones does not mean that they are being caused by the press releases and laws passed by politicians. A correlation in no way means a definitive cause and effect relationship, LaPierre.”

A great example of ignoring alternative causes can be seen in the following quote by La Pieree:”

“Meanwhile, while that happens, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40 percent, to the lowest levels in a decade. So now, due to a declined willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years.”

Again, there could be multitudes of reasons (reasons other than “a declined willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals”) as to why violent crime is increasing. One must look at all the changes that have been occurring in the past nineteen years to get a better grasp of the big picture.”

Ignoring Counter Evidence

Many times a speaker will conveniently ignore evidence that weakens or nullifies their argument.”

Case in point:”

“You know, five years ago after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy. But what if -- what if when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he’d been confronted by qualified armed security?”

Actually, Mr. LaPierre, there was a trained armed guard at Virginia Tech and Columbine. The armed guard at Columbine even exchanged fire with the shooters. Pretty convenient of you to have overlooked that handy piece of evidence, wasn’t it? Lawyered!”

Ad Hominem Attack

Ad hominem is a Latin phrase that means “against the man.” An ad hominem flaw is when the speaker attacks the person who makes the argument rather than the argument itself. For example, Jack is a bad person, therefore what he says is not true.”

The following quote from LaPierre is a great example of the ad hominem flaw:”

“A child growing up in America today witnesses 16,000 murders, and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. And, throughout it all, too many in the national media, their corporate owners, and their stockholders act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators. Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize gun owners."

Whether or not the media has moral failings has no bearing on the gun control debate. Here, LaPierre is trying to attack those who are “silent enablers” and the morally corrupt media, instead of actually discussing the issue of whether guns are to blame.”

Assuming Continuity Between Past & Future

This is a logic flaw that sneaks up on you on the LSAT. Just because something has occurred or has not occurred in the past does not necessarily mean that it will continue to or continue not to in the future. For instance, it is not sufficient to conclude that x will continue to occur in large quantities because it has done so in the past.”

Let’s take a look at this quote from LaPierre’s speech:”

“Worse, they perpetuate the dangerous notion that one more gun ban or one more law imposed on peaceable, lawful people will protect us where 20,000 other laws have failed.”

Just because “20,000” laws have “failed,” doesn’t mean a new law will do the same. There is no connection between the past laws “failing” and any new law “failing.””

Mistaking Necessary for Sufficient

This flaw is the bread and butter of the logical reasoning section. You have been trained to identify what is the sufficient part of a statement and what is the necessary part. Let’s take a look at this sufficient/necessary sentence that LaPierre throws out:”

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

This principle, if true, would be written out as such (remember the subtle difference between "only" and "the only"):”

SBGwG - GGwG

If you stop a bad guy with a gun, then there must have been a good guy with a gun.

Contrapositive:”

GGwG - SBGwG

If there is no good guy with a gun, then you cannot stop a bad guy with a gun.

Let’s think about this. How often is there a good guy with a gun and a bad guy with a gun is not stopped? I’d say pretty often; the tragedy at Columbine still occurred while there was an armed guard on duty. Thus, it’s obvious that LaPierre is mistaking necessary for a sufficient. His claim is that it is necessary to have a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun but that doesn’t mean a good guy with a gun is sufficient to stop the bad guy with a gun (DON'T JUST REVERSE!).”

These are just a few examples of the many, many logical fallacies in LaPierre's press conference. More so than being an article underhandedly voicing my own political views, I hope this was a learning tool for you to be able to spot out flawed reasoning not only on the LSAT, but also in your every day world. Flawed logic is all around you, whether you hear it in an NRA press conference, at a political convention, or on the Bravo TV network; I kid sort of. Keep your logical minds honed in on the flaws around you, so that you’re constantly practicing for the LSAT Test, even when away from your precious practice exams!”

Happy Studying! And Happy Holidays!”

By: M.N. Akbari

P.S. You can donate to the United Way Sandy Hook School Support Fund here. Every little bit helps.”

Naz signature Updated on Aug 18, 2016