Five informal logical fallacies I’ve recently coined:
1. Non-circular question-begging 2. Esoteric question-begging 3. Ad mysticum 4. Ad mantra 5. Ad complicatio
1. Non-circular question-begging. First, review simple question-begging fallacy, which is also known as Circularity. This occurs when the conclusion is appealed to somehow as a premise for itself. X says “Mark is suicidal.” (That’s a conclusion.) Then Y asks “how do you know?” (Asking for a premise.) X replies “because Mark has a tendency to try to take his own life”. (That’s synonymous with being suicidal. That equates with saying “P, because P”, which is more obviously circular.) Non-circular question-begging is worse than circularity, which at least appeals to the exact amount of evidence any claim might already have for itself (in circularity), by appealing to a premise in need of greater support than the conclusion. X says “acupuncture really works better than Western medicine”. Y asks “how do you know?” X replies “because the aliens told me when I was abducted”.
2. Esoteric question-begging. This is appeal to a premise more esoteric and thus less comprehensible than the esoteric, incomprehensible conclusion it is appealed to in order to support, thus, a special case of question-begging fallacy, where the premise is simply in greater need of support than the conclusion. X says “everything happens for a reason”. (This is vague, but somewhat comprehensible, however difficult to establish a clear meaning for.) Y asks “how you know?” X replies, “The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said the Logos, the Cosmic Word, governs all things.” (These ideas are clearly more esoteric. (The concept of Logos is more mysterious than the original claim.) This example might be imperfect for believers in any of its elements, so try this: X says “this world is part of a multiverse”. Y asks “how do you know?” X replies, “Indian scriptures say the god Indra created an infinite web of diamond-type dimensions each of which functions like a diamond with infinite facets, each of which facet reflects the others, like mirrors mirroring mirrors, and this infinite net reflects an infinite matrix containing all possible worlds”. Ironically, some might find that example unproblematic as well, in which case the assumed context of knowledge in the participants is a relevant factor.
3. Ad mysticum. Often, informal fallacies overlap and unite. It depends. If I appeal to a traditional Buddhist doctrine, I may do so out of a combination of traditional indoctrination, faith in testimony, and lack of full understanding of something, which might be an ad populum fallacy, or appeal to authority, but the doctrine itself might originally have been an ad hoc stipulation designed to evade understanding by appeal to an implicit hope that the audience will do the fake head-nod of pseudo-acceptance of what they think might be over their head, a kind of “ad mysticum”, a particular form of esoteric question-begging fallacy where the premise is particularly mystical.
4. Ad mantra. Table-thumping fallacy (cocky overly-confident insistence) is a reinforcement of the appeal to authority: this happens a lot with ideological/doctrinal memes. As does “ad mantra”: similar to ad populum, this one involves repetition, often among group-think clubs (like religions, political groups, etc.), where believers simply try to wear nonbelievers down by virtually chanting their beliefs the way the devout chant mantras, in the hope that the mantra will become more vested with credibility the more widely and frequently it is chanted.
5. Ad complicatio. Here’s one more fallacy many of us here in social media seem to commit daily: “ad complicatio”, the fallacy of evading an obviously valid criticism of one’s claim by generating a virtually-dissertation-level conceptual problematization of the otherwise simple conceptual-linguistic-socio-historical-etc. elements of the claim in question, as if the critic misunderstood the vast conceptual background informing and determining the meaning of the original claim, and then engaging the critic in disputation about various sub-elements of this complexity, to the point where these other dialectical exchanges function as a red herring relative to the original criticism, after which point any host of alternative fallacies might kick in as adjunct supports for this complex instance of the red herring fallacy. This fallacy is probably the most frequently committed fallacy in social media and perhaps all debate.
Do these fallacies strike a chord, seem uncannily familiar? Not surprisingly, they are probably part of any ideological meme-plex, the immunological tendency of meme-complexes to protect themselves against critical thinking. Even otherwise critical-thinking Buddhist social justice warriors, for example, are not only not immune to this meme-immunological tendency, but often particularly prone to it.
Be mindful of initial indications that an exchange is luring you away from the original point with hints of these fallacies, stick to the original point, if you must continue the discussion (sometimes better to just drop out) and ward off these efforts of distraction by nipping them in the bud.