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Avoiding logical fallacies

Logical fallacies are tricks that are typically used to fool people. One might commit logical fallacies to also fool oneself. Generally, people are not trained to notice fallacies, and therefore are liable to fall victim to predatory organizations including marketing agencies, political parties, and pertinent to this website, predatory religious institutions. We list some logical fallacies, and give examples to help readers detect them.

1.Bandwagon fallacy or appeal to the majority: This fallacy also goes by other names like argument from the masses.

proposition must be true because many or most people believe it, often concisely encapsulated as: “If many believe so, it is so.” (from wikipedia)

This fallacy is used by people in many different forms. For example:

So many people are followers of my guru all over the world. That proves the authenticity of my guru.

2. Appeal to authority.  

A proposition is true because an “authority” says so.

Again, this is a very popular fallacy that some people use to manipulate emotions of the target. Here is an example.

My guru says that XYZ is true. Do you think you know more than he/she does?

Notice how the argument also deflects the burden of proof for the statement from the proposer to the opposer. In the field of bhakti, propositions have to be established based on the scriptures. The above argument is disingenuous also because it minimizes the scriptures and elevates the guru above it. A real reply would establish the validity of the proposition from scripture.

3. Personal incredulity.

A proposition is false because it is difficult to imagine how it could be true

This one is commonly used to oppose scientific theories like evolution or the big bang. For example,

 I cannot explain how evolution occurred through just random events, therefore it cannot be true.

Notably, the proponents of this fallacy, at least in the field of bhakti, lack the training and hence imagination anyway. Generally, this fallacy works for target audiences who are not familiar with the scientific method.

4. Ad hominem

A fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself (from wikipedia)

Here is a typical example:

We believe our guru, and not the scientists, because our guru has purity of character. The scientists are, on the other hand, atheistic rascals.

Notice that the proposer offers no real evidence, justification or argument against science. He/she probably lacks the expertise to carry out even a five minute conversation with a real scientist. Discrediting the scientist by name-calling does little to address the actual details of the scientist’s argument.

There are many more logical fallacies, and we will examine them in later articles. At its heart, a logical fallacy is an exercise in dishonesty. It behooves people, particularly in the field of bhakti, to be honest with themselves, and with others.

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12 replies »

  1. It is commendable that the author attempts to educate bhaktas on logical fallacies. Unfortunately, he (or she) falls into the fallacy right in the midst of his attempt. He writes “In the field of bhakti, propositions have to be established based on the scriptures. The above argument is disingenuous also because it minimizes the scriptures and elevates the guru above it. A real reply would establish the validity of the proposition from scripture.” Which implies a guru as an “authority” is not ok, but some book (scripture) as an authority is perfectly fine. If the author is to really walk his talk, he has to accept that accepting anything solely based on authority in any form (human or text or tradition, etc.) is not acceptable. This is what the authority logical fallacy is really about.

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    • Not true. There is an appeal to authority fallacy, which is different from deferring to an authority. Do a quick search to all learn about the difference.

      I make a conscious choice to defer to evolutionary biologists on evolution. That is not a fallacy.

      In the field of Bhakti, the accepted authority is scripture. These are the standards of Bhakti, and within those standards, there can be fallacious recourse to authority. That’s what the article is about.

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  2. Well, are you inquiring about unconditional truth or compartmentalized “truth”? There is no really “the field of Bhakti.” Or it is not substantially different from “the field of followers of a particular guru.” In both cases it is just a bunch of followers following this or that guru or this or that text, authority. Actually, I would claim that in your reply with the phrase “These are the standards of Bhakti, and within those standards” you just fell into the bandwagon fallacy.

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    • I am inquiring about compartmentalized truth. And before you claim Bhakti is just a bunch of followers following this guru or that, you should take the time to understand what it is really about.

      Provisional acceptance of certain truths is not a fallacy. Hardly a bandwagon fallacy.

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  3. Dear T. Krsna dasa, thanks for clarification of your position.

    Well, if you are after “compartmentalized truth” you are not after “satyam param” of verse 1.1.1 of Bhagavatam. Supreme truth is not a “compartmentalized truth.” So, sorry, you are not really following the sastra either.

    I am sorry if I were sharply critical. Nothing personal. We are just inquiring into the truth, hopefully for the mutual benefit and the benefit of the readers.

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    • Yes but read the guidelines for posting comments.

      If you are teaching me scripture now, we need to discuss your understanding and forget about the above diversions.

      On second thoughts, feel free to believe what you want. My goal is not to benefit my readers by arguing with you.

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  4. Perhaps in her first post Sofia was trying to point out a subtlety involved in accepting scripture as authority? We don’t really accept scripture as authority independent of guru. Not only does guru resolve our doubts in cases where we perceive conflicts between two scriptures; the guru also offers commentary and context to help us grow to understand scripture beyond our present limited understanding. For that matter, in some cases, the guru may recommend some scriptures over others. For instance, if I am basing my understandings of some points on Prema-vivarta and Caitanyopanisad, the guru may direct me to better sources. It is not that I can independently decide that Caitanyopanisad is my authoritative text by which I will measure other texts and their commentators. As such, we may wish for a more nuanced statement than we saw in the original article, which states:

    In the field of bhakti, propositions have to be established based on the scriptures. The above argument is disingenuous also because it minimizes the scriptures and elevates the guru above it.

    This statement is accurate in the context of a bhakta who has developed faith in the guru and in the scripture the guru considers authoritative. If the guru lacks discrimination, or the scripture is not appropriate for the bhakta (or in extreme cases may not even be scripture) there’s more that could have been said. It’s a very helpful article, though. Thank you so much!

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    • I mentioned above that I am inquiring into compartmentalized truth. This blog is discussing one tradition out of many different traditions in India. That one tradition has a standard. It accepts Srimad Bhagavatam as the main scripture, and the Goswamis as the founders of the tradition. Now, any guru who *claims* to represent this tradition, is obligated to understand their works and be consistent with them. When there is a question about arriving at a correct understanding on key issues, the answers have to be settled based on the Goswami’s works. This is the accepted standard. Of course, not all things are laid out in the scriptures; there is also verbal transmission of knowledge, and there are other pramanas of knowledge also. The fallacy arises in this field of bhakti when one does not take recourse to scripture, but instead cites this guru or that as an authority independent of scripture, without at least providing some defense of the proposition *based on scripture*. Such reasoning is what I am calling fallacious, and my example is a very specific one. Undoubtedly the overall issue is nuanced, and there is much more that can be said. The purpose of the article is to give examples of different types of fallacies, and not focus on one.

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      • Sadhu! Sadhu! Regarding matters of philosophy, it is regrettable that some neo-Gaudiyas in the last century or so have reformed “this tradition” into one that nominally accepts acintya-bhedabheda but that as a practical matter is dualistic in some ways that seem to owe as much to the Abrahamic traditions as to Madhva.

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      • Yes indeed. The so-called “Founder-acharyas” of the Neo-Gaudiya sect were deeply influenced by strains of Christian doctrine in their reformulation of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Siddhanta. Fall-vada is basically a reworked version of the Christian dogma of Original Sin while the pathological hatred towards women, Homosexuals & certain ethnic groups evinced by those above mentioned “Founder-Acharyas” can also be traced to Abrahamic doctrinal roots. Their Anti-Science stance comes from the same source too.

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      • This would be an ad hominem type fallacy Aryan 🙂

        Concepts matter. Where they came from or how they developed is not relevant.

        Further please note that according to the rules for posting, I would like people to steer away from specific persons. Let’s keep the discussion focused on concepts.

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