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The Book of the Fallacy Report

The Book of the Fallacy: A training manual for intellectual subversives by Madsen Pirie is a great piece containing an entertaining introduction to logical fallacies and errors. There is no doubt that human being is to error, and there can’t be an end to human folly and error. Therefore, the way Pirie treats and presents the 50 most egregious fallacies is not only instructive but also entertaining. Although the book is old, the newer books dealing with similar content have- not been able to get to its level. ‘The Book of Fallacies’ is the most detailed content I have experienced. This paper presents a report on the book while discussing and analyzing the different categories of fallacy presented in the book.

At some point, we have found ourselves in arguments that start as jokes in one or the other. Although everybody knows that the joke is wrong, no one can see where the mistake is. Moreover, nearly everyone has found themselves in a debate where one side of the argument appears to have strong evidence supporting their case. The one side will appear to be winning until someone from the other side of the debate presents greater convincing evidence. The final decision is only reached when the superior argument wins, and it is too late by this time.

‘The Book of Fallacies’ is an entertaining piece of writing which has a master and a guide to different tricks used by people to make their arguments appear more convincing than they are. Pirie also shows how to spot such arguments and identifies the holes in their logic. In his book, he lists logical fallacies that can lead people either by design or accident to support false conclusions.

Most of the time, we know that the arguments we listen to are wrong, and we even know why. However, as Madsen Pirie points out in his book, knowing that the argument is false and why it is wrong is not enough reason to defeat the person moving it. I find this point very useful because it suggests that arguments by the threat of force (ad baculum) do not necessarily fade away, just proving the person making it wrong. Irrelevant humour can carry away a valid debate on a gale of laughter if it is funny enough. It is, therefore, hard to stop something that appeals to emotions just by mere logic.

Nonetheless, understanding why an argument is wrong is a good beginning. Knowing yourself and where you are standing is the best start because, without knowing oneself, the chances are slim, if any, of convincing another person. Pirie’s book is very crucial and helpful in guiding you to understand how to see and judge where faulty logic is applied.

Madsen Pirie’s ‘The Book of the Fallacy: A training manual for intellectual subversives’ was republished in 2006 and given a new title ‘How to Win Every Argument – the use and abuse of logic.’ Comparing the two texts, they are over 95% similar in content. The only slight difference noted in the newer version is the inclusion of new concepts like ‘Thatcher’s Blame.’ Unfortunately, the latest version does not include the highly appealing cartoons as illustrated in the original version.

Unfortunately, this amazing book is now out of print. Its content is crucial in today’s society, where people have chosen to be short-sighted and accept the blurred vision, whether from information overload or apathy. The book provides a prescription to cure these challenges in today’s world. The author explains every trick in a clear, concise prose manner. It is a great piece of writing which has helped people in arguments.

Below are some of the fallacies discussed in the book:

  • Formal: Affirming the Consequent Fallacy

A formal fallacy refers to a logical error seen in an argument. There are several classes of formal fallacy, but this essay discusses the ‘affirming the consequent fallacy. This is a logical fallacy, and it occurs when someone mistakenly supposes the opposite of a true “if-then” statement is true. Therefore, it means that in the argument logical structure, there exists an error that renders the conclusion invalid. The fallacy is also known as the converse error or fallacy of the consequent. In this form of reasoning, the opposite of a true conditional statement is also assumed to be true. For instance, suppose we say that many adolescents have tried drugs in recent times. Therefore, it is assumed that if you hang out with your peers who are adolescents, you will also try drugs at some point. This can’t be true. After all, you don’t have to try drugs because those around you have tried.

  • Informal – Linguistic: Fallacy of composition

The fallacy of composition occurs when it is assumed that what is true for an individual in a group is also true for the entire group. The group is therefore considered as a unit. This fallacy arises from the failure to notice that a group is a distinct entity, and things that apply to one person may not apply to all the members individually. Therefore, any evidence presented to confirm the traits of the members is irrelevant. Americans are the most affected by this fallacy due to their grammar, which does not distinguish between individuals and collective entities. For instance, Jane is a protestant, and she is honest. In composition fallacy, we will say all protestants are honest. But this may not necessarily be true.

  • Informal – Relevance (Omission): Refuting the Example.

In most arguments, examples support the subject and are more convincing. However, when the attention is focused on disapproving and showing how false it is, it leaves the central thesis without any challenge. This fallacy is referred to as ‘refuting the example.’ For instance, one may say, “Nowadays teenagers are very disrespectful. The teenager boy forms the neighbouring door knocked on me in the streets yesterday and didn’t bother to apologize for it. That is incorrect; young James in the next door is not even a teenager.” Although examples are critical in illustrating and reinforcing an argument disregarding the example does not necessarily discredit the argument fact. Outside the example, many more genuine cases can still support the thesis.

  • Informal – Relevance (Intrusion): Wishful Thinking.

Although many people happily use wishful thinking, it becomes a fallacy when elevated and used in arguments. We move into fallacy when we accept an argument simply because we wish it to be true. Arguments and evidence provided should be the basis of accepting any debate. Likewise, we also move into a wishful thinking fallacy when we reject something because we wish it were not true. Wishful thinking fallacy, therefore, happens when someone believes that what they want to be true is the truth regardless of the evidence presented or believing that something is false because you don’t want it to be true. For example, someone may say, “It doesn’t matter what the studies say, and I don’t care about them, I believe that capital punishment is good for deterring criminals.” To convince others to accept an argument by wishful thinking, you must appeal to their wishes rather than yours. For instance, “This project will succeed, and I believe you will get a huge profit in the first year.”

  • Informal – Relevance (Presumption): Abusive analogy.

This fallacy is a specialized version of the ad hominem argument. The arguer is abused indirectly. An analogy is developed to bring him into disdain or disrespect. The opposer is compared with something to make the audience have an unfavourable response. What makes it effective is that the analogy may even be valid. It, however, remains fallacious because its purpose is to introduce new information in an argument to influence the outcome. Abusive analogies need a composition. If you approach it unprepared, you will draw a comparison that has been used so long that it doesn’t have the freshness to bring out clear images as needed. For instance, during the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump threw an abusive analogy to Clinton when he said, “Now you tell me she looks presidential, folks. I look presidential.”

In conclusion, logical fallacies are many and continue to be used in different platforms. When used to manipulate, these fallacies can be very harmful to the targeted individuals. Therefore, the best way is to avoid rushing to conclusions but rather think and discern what could be the truth in the whole matter.


Pirie, M. (1985). The book of the fallacy: A training manual for intellectual subversives.


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