Fallacy of Relevance
Definition of the Fallacy of Relevance
Let’s start with a simple definition: a fallacy of relevance is when an argument is made using information or points that may seem important but actually don’t have anything to do with the topic at hand. It’s like trying to solve a math problem by talking about history—it just doesn’t fit.
Think of it this way, too: a fallacy of relevance is when someone plays a trick in a conversation by mentioning something that might make you feel a certain way, but it doesn’t help answer the real question. Imagine if you were asking for directions and instead of telling you where to go, the person starts telling you a story about their cat. It might be an interesting story, but it won’t help you find your way.
People often use fallacies of relevance without even knowing it. They might bring up something that sounds convincing or that makes you feel strongly, hoping it will make their point seem stronger. But if we look closely, we can see that these bits of information aren’t really helping us figure out what’s true or right. They’re just distractions.
Examples of the Fallacy of Relevance
Argument Ad Hominem:
Imagine someone says that we need more parks in our city. Another person might reply, “You don’t even go outside much!” Here, the second person is not talking about the need for parks, which is the main issue. Instead, they are attacking the first person’s outdoor habits. That person’s habits don’t change the fact that more parks could be beneficial for everyone in the city.
Appeal to Emotion:
Let’s say there’s a debate on if homework is helpful for students. One person argues that homework makes students too stressed by showing pictures of kids crying over textbooks. Those pictures make people feel sad, but they don’t give us scientific facts or research about the impact of homework on learning. So, the pictures don’t really help resolve the homework debate.
Appeal to Force:
Consider if a friend says, “If you don’t let me borrow your bike, I won’t invite you to my birthday party.” Here, the friend is using the threat of not getting invited to the party to get their way. But threatening doesn’t make the friend’s need for the bike any more valid. Why the friend needs to borrow the bike is the real question, not the possible loss of a party invitation.
How to Avoid a Fallacy of Relevance
In order to steer clear of a fallacy of relevance, it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize—stick to the actual topic. When you’re chatting or arguing about something, ask yourself if what’s being said really helps answer the main question. It’s like playing detective: you need to find clues that lead to the solution, not those that take you to a dead end. If you find that what someone said doesn’t seem to fit with the problem you’re solving, they might be using a fallacy of relevance. Checking whether each point is directly connected to the topic is like checking each puzzle piece to see if it fits. This way, you won’t be fooled by irrelevant information, and you’ll keep your discussions straight to the point and fair.
Related Topics with Explanations
Fallacy of Equivocation:
This happens when a word is used in more than one way, causing confusion. For instance, saying, “I have a right to my opinion, and I think your house is ugly. Since it’s my right, you can’t argue with it.” Here, the word “right” is twisted—it’s true that everyone has a right to think what they want, but using that to say someone can’t disagree is misleading.
Straw Man Fallacy:
This is when a person makes up a simpler, weaker version of an argument to make it easier to knock down. For example, if someone says, “I think kids should play more sports,” and then another person responds with, “So you’re saying kids should just play all day and not study?” This is changing the original statement into something much simpler and not what the first person meant at all.
Red Herring Fallacy:
This type of fallacy happens when an irrelevant topic is introduced to divert attention from the main issue. For instance, during a discussion about saving money, someone might say, “We can’t budget while we have so much laundry to do.” The laundry has nothing to do with planning a budget. It’s a distraction that takes the focus off the money discussion.
In conclusion, a fallacy of relevance is like using the wrong key in a lock—it simply doesn’t work to open the door to the truth. Anytime someone mentions something that doesn’t directly help us tackle the main topic, they’re probably using a fallacy of relevance. It’s essential to focus on real reasons and actual evidence related to the conversation at hand, rather than being swayed by things that just sound convincing or make us feel strong emotions. Understanding related fallacies, such as equivocation, straw man, and red herring fallacies, can further enhance our ability to maintain logical and straightforward discussions. Spotting these errors in reasoning allows us to navigate complex conversations with greater clarity and fairness, ensuring that the truth can shine through. Remember, the goal is to find the truth, not just to win an argument with whatever tactics possible.