Readers, Writers, Texts

Logical Fallacies

“You are trying to pretend that unlike things are like.”

CS Lewis, Through Darkest Zeitgeistheim
Learning about Logical Fallacies can be fun and, for some people, finding out certain logical fallacies creates that ‘lightbulb moment’ – you knew something was wrong, but couldn’t quite put your finger on it. Watch this short explainer to introduce yourself to some of the major logical fallacies.

The basis of arguing or debating effectively is using objective evidence to justify opinions, rather than relying on assertions that are based on logical fallacies. Understanding what a logical fallacy is can be an epoch-making event for many students, and identifying them in everyday conversations, the sales pitches of advertising campaigns, and the rhetoric of politicians’ speeches is an immensely empowering skill.

We have, arguably, never before lived in a time when logical fallacies are so prevalent. Entire political campaigns are built on them, in all countries of the world: see Brexit and the election of Donald Trump for two popular examples of campaigns from which you can find – literally – hundreds of logical fallacies. 

Read around this topic – then listen to a speech and enjoy picking apart all the logical fallacies you find inside:

Class Activity 1: fallacy flashcards

When you first start reading about logical fallacies, you’ll soon discover that there are more than you might have imagined. One leads to another, and leads to another – and before you know it you can’t tell your ‘ad hominem’ from your ‘straw man’ from your ‘red herring’.

Use the articles and embedded videos in this section, and do your own wider reading and research as well if you like. Choose a good number of logical fallacies that you have discovered and read about (anywhere from ten – twenty would work well for this exercise). For each fallacy, create a flashcard. On one side design a simple icon; on the other name the fallacy and provide an example. Use your flashcards to test yourself and a friend and help you learn different fallacies.

Class Activity 2: covid-19 fallacies

Covid-19 spreads fast – but misinformation spreads faster. Over the last couple of years, seemingly everybody has become a veritable expert on viruses and vaccines. It can be challenging to sort out the reliable scientific information from the ‘alternative facts’ (or misinformation) out there. One way is to look for the logical fallacies, which are errors in reasoning that people often make. In this activity you will find ten arguments people make when discussing Covid-19, vaccinations or other preventative measures. Each argument depends upon a logical fallacy – all you have to do is identify which one.

Discussion Points

After you’ve got your head around the material in this section, pair up, pick a question, spend five minutes thinking and noting down your thoughts – then discuss your ideas with a friend and report back to the class:

  1. Do you think logical fallacies are more prevalent in today’s media world than they were in the past? Why or why not?
  2. Why is it so important to be able to evaluate information you receive? How do you act when you encounter misinformation or logical fallacies?

Learner Portfolio

Taking down a speaker who employs logical fallacies can be extremely satisfying. Choose a speaker, advert or other persuasive text (I guess Donald Trump would be a good, if obvious, choice, but you might be surprised how many logical fallacies you can find in popular speeches by other speakers too) and see how many logical fallacies you can take down in the first 3 minutes. Consider how you want to complete this work: you could write an article, create a presentation for your class, or even make a short youtube-style video. Post it and see if anyone likes your takedown – and don’t forget to add it to your Learner Portfolio too.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: satirical texts

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). One of the hardest text types to approach unless you’ve had some prior exposure might be the political, editorial or satirical text. This type of text is fantastic at lampooning some of the more blatant and outrageous logical fallacies that some people – overeager politicians, climate-change deniers, pseudo-intellectuals, wannabe populists – propagate in the mass media. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of satire and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

Key features of satirical texts
  • Purpose: satirical or political cartoons aim to satirise, meaning to ridicule, lampoon or criticise a specific target.
  • Topical: satirical cartons are up to date and relevant.
  • Caricature: people are simplified and exaggerated in ways that draw attention to the writer’s subject matter.
  • Symbolism: people, items of clothing and other objects signify wider concepts.
  • Irony: a satirical writer might write the exact opposite of what they really think!
  • Labelling: often names or captions are superimposed over images to make the target of the satire clear.
  • Artistic style: cartoons are drawn purposefully and with intention. Are the pictures crisp, heavy, weighty, light, cartoony, realistic, bright, dark? Can you tell whether the artist used pencil, pen and ink, or brush? Words that describe mood and tone can be useful when analysing style.
  • Bias: satire is often one sided and subjective, representing the opinion of the cartoonist.

Body of Work: editorial cartoons by Ann Telnaes

In this informative talk, The Influence of the Cartoonist, Ann Telnaes’ explains what being an editorial cartoonist means, discusses the importance of satire and cartooning, and reveals some of the secrets of her success.

Ann Telnaes creates editorial cartoons in various mediums – animation, visual essays, live sketches, and traditional print – for the Washington Post. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for her print cartoons and the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 2017. She attended California Institute of the Arts, specializing in character animation. Before beginning her career as an editorial cartoonist, Telnaes worked for several years as a designer for Walt Disney Imagineering. She has also animated and designed for various studios in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Taiwan.

Telnaes’ first book, Humor’s Edge, was published by Pomegranate Press and the Library of Congress in 2004. Here is a small selection of cartoons taken from Humor’s Edge, all drawn between 1996 and 2003. To explore more of Telnaes’ work, including her contributions to Six Chic, a contemporary magazine exploring feminist points of view, you can visit her website, or search through the links below. Together, these cartoons constitute a Body of Work:

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

A small selection of Ann’s editorial cartoons would be an ideal text to talk about in this assessed activity. Here are suggestions as to how you might use this Body of Work to create a Global Issue. You can use one of these ideas, or develop your own. You should always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own thoughts, discussions and programme of study when devising your assessment tasks:

  • Field of Inquiry: Power, Politics and Justice
  • Global Issue: Language and Literature as Agents of Change
  • Rationale:

Texts are powerful components of culture, and are integral in challenging social norms. In the case of Ann Telnaes’ cartoons, texts can provoke discussion which may – one day – result in social and political change. You could pair her work with any literary text that has a political or social purpose.

Possible literary pairings
  • Broken April by Ismail Kadare – targeting the anachronistic customary law known as the Kanun, Kadare’s novel can be read as a political statement, illuminating the injustices of life for people on the Albanian high plateau.
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw – this play is a social satire and, in particular, Shaw skewers the emptiness of upper class culture. You might like to look at the presentation of the upper classes in Act 3 as a good companion piece to Telnaes’ cartoon.
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – according to the conventions of the time, Jewish characters were expected to be villains. But a closer look at the behaviour of the Christian characters might reveal the true targets of Shakespeare’s cutting play.
  • The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy – a strong pairing. Where Telnaes creates cartoons, Duffy writes poetry to provoke discussion about women in society, a discussion which may lead to social change.
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee – a South African writer, Coetzee was also a fierce opponent of the apartheid system under which he lived. He wrote this novel as an allegory of racism in South Africa, and had a definite anti-colonial purpose in mind.
  • Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit – appalled by Swiss hypocrisy throughout World War Two, Durrenmatt wrote this scathing satire of morality and greed.
  • The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy – in this collection of poems, Duffy promotes a change in attitudes towards women who have been silenced and marginalised throughout history.

Wider Reading and Research

If you are interested in the topics and articles on this page, you might like to conduct some wider reading and research. Here are some recommendations to get you started:

  • Kaltoons – satirical artist Kal Kallaugher caricatures world leaders from Osama to Obama.
  • A Free World Needs Satire – political cartoonist Patrick Chapatte argues the necessity of satire.
  • A Cultural History of Satirical Cartoons – follow the links inside this article to find out more about ‘these instruments of tremendous editorial power.’
  • Gocomics – you can find updated cartoons from many of today’s foremost editorial and political cartoonists by browsing this comprehensive site. Great for practicing your skills.
  • Editorial Cartoons and Social Justice – you can follow this sequence of lessons from the Learning for Social Justice website, each one featuring a cartoon exploring a social theme such as tolerance, language diversity and so on.
  • Critical Thinking: Formal and Informal Fallacies – In this Wireless Philosophy video, Paul Henne from Duke University describes the distinction between formal and informal fallacies. There are plenty more Wireless Philosophy videos for you to watch; they are all very clear and well-explained.
  • Find the Fallacy – an interactive video challenging you to find logical fallacies. It’s a bit cheesy – but fun all the same.
  • Even More Fallacies – more fallacies from Idea Channel.

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