College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Students Earn Bounties for Finding Logical Fallacies

Philosophy students were assigned the task of uncovering everyday examples of flawed arguments.  The professor’s reasoning behind the assignment: to expand his students’ knowledge of logical fallacies.

Neil Manson, associate professor of philosophy, devised the competition for his spring-semester class, Philosophy 103 Logic: Critical Thinking, and offered a “bounty” of extra-credit points for each fallacy.  Manson said that logical fallacies are committed every day, but people do not scrutinize what others say or write to notice them.

“I thought I would give the students an incentive to pay attention,” he said. “I listed various fallacies and awarded extra-credit points to students who provided real-life cases from advertisements, opinion articles, television shows and so on.”

And what is a logical fallacy? It’s an argument that does not conform to the rules of logic. It tries to support some claim through illogical claims or premises. Fallacious arguments can be persuasive, which is why it is important to develop the ability to recognize them.

Some common examples are argumentum ad baculum (appeal to force), trying to get someone to believe a proposition by threatening them, and ad hominem (to the man), appealing to prejudice and emotion rather than reason.

After students turned in their assignments, Manson created a display of the results in the lobby of Bryant Hall, outside the Department of Philosophy and Religion’s main office, so visitors could see what was uncovered. Students found examples in advertisements, fliers and newspaper columns.

Biochemistry major Amber Ward provided an example of an appeal to force: a flier from the Residential College that said, “Bus your own plates and cups, or I’ll kick your butt. Have a nice day.”

Classics major Bennett Windham found an example of insufficient sample size, another type of logical fallacy, in a news article that described research with a sample of 14 men—too small a number to draw a solid statistical conclusion.

“The first student to find an example won the bounty, and no further submissions were allowed for that fallacy,” Manson said. “It also made many of them start thinking carefully about what they were reading and watching. As a teacher, that is gratifying. Plus, some of the fallacies they found were pretty funny. I think a viewing of the bounties board is worth a trip to Bryant Hall.”