Read An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: A Fun Primer on How to Strengthen, Not Weaken, Your Arguments

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The sci­ence of argu­men­ta­tion can seem com­pli­cat­ed, but in day-to-day terms, it quite often comes down to com­pet­ing emo­tions. Polit­i­cal dis­agree­ments thrive on dis­gust and fear; we shut down our rea­son­ing when we feel stressed or angry; and it is dif­fi­cult to get oppo­nents to hear us, whether they agree or not, if we do not exhib­it any sym­pa­thy for their posi­tion, hard as that may be.

How­ev­er, sub­jects in tests told not to feel any­thing about an issue before view­ing media about it tend to be more sup­port­ive. They’ve had some oppor­tu­ni­ty to access high­er order think­ing skills and to over­ride knee-jerk reac­tions. Most argu­ments take place in the fray—family din­ners, online forum wars—but even in these cas­es, apply­ing the best of our rea­son­ing, before, dur­ing, or after, can put us in bet­ter stead. As Ali Almos­sawi, author of An Illus­trat­ed Book of Bad Argu­ments (read online ver­sion here) puts it in his pref­ace:

… for­mal­iz­ing one’s rea­son­ing [can] lead to use­ful ben­e­fits such as clar­i­ty of thought and expres­sion, objec­tiv­i­ty and greater con­fi­dence. The abil­i­ty to ana­lyze argu­ments also help[s] pro­vide a yard­stick for know­ing when to with­draw from dis­cus­sions that would most like­ly be futile.

Almossawi’s strat­e­gy to mit­i­gate bad, or wast­ed, think­ing comes in the form of an inoc­u­la­tion. He quotes Stephen King, who “describes his expe­ri­ence of read­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly ter­ri­ble nov­el as, ‘the lit­er­ary equiv­a­lent of a small­pox vac­ci­na­tion.’” Rather than a Ciceron­ian trea­tise on what makes a good argu­ment, Almos­sawi presents us with nine­teen exam­ples of the bad: infor­mal log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es we may be famil­iar with—Appeal to Author­i­ty (below), Cir­cu­lar Rea­son­ing (fur­ther down), Slip­pery Slope (bottom)—as well as many we may not be.

Appeal to Authority

The twist here is in Ale­jan­dro Giraldo’s play­ful illus­tra­tions, and the mem­o­rable exam­ples that fol­low Almossawi’s descrip­tions. Inspired part­ly by “alle­gories such as Orwell’s Ani­mal Farm and part­ly by the humor­ous non­sense of works such as Lewis Carroll’s sto­ries and poems,” the draw­ings are also high­ly rem­i­nis­cent, if not very much inspired by, the baroque car­toons of Tony Mil­lion­aire. The art is rich and full of sur­pris­es; the sam­ple argu­ments sil­ly but effec­tive at mak­ing the point.

Circular Reasoning

The next time you find your­self melt­ing down over a dis­agree­ment, it will like­ly help to take a time out and refresh your­self with this use­ful primer. If noth­ing else, it will give you some insight into the short­com­ings of your own argu­ments, and maybe some mea­sure of when to drop the sub­ject alto­geth­er. As Richard Feynman—quoted in an epi­logue to the book—once remarked, “The first prin­ci­ple is that you must not fool your­self and you are the eas­i­est per­son to fool.”  Find the book online here, or pur­chase a copy here.

Slippery Slope

Relat­ed Con­tent:

130+ Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

A Guide to Log­i­cal Fal­lac­i­es: The “Ad Hominem,” “Straw­man” & Oth­er Fal­lac­i­es Explained in 2‑Minute Videos

Philoso­pher Daniel Den­nett Presents Sev­en Tools For Crit­i­cal Think­ing

Oxford’s Free Course Crit­i­cal Rea­son­ing For Begin­ners Will Teach You to Think Like a Philoso­pher

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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