Identifying the ‘flaws’ in an argument involves determining what is wrong in an argument, which mainly involves logical fallacies. This is one of the most difficult types of question to master, but this is certainly achievable through practice.
Solving ‘flaw’ questions
- Identify and understand the idea of the conclusion and premises.
- Identify assumptions because, from them, you can more easily identify flaws in arguments.
- Keep an eye out for extreme statements since these statements are harder to defend or prove and therefore, are more susceptible to flaws or fallacies.
Read all the answer choices carefully to find the one closest to your understanding of the flaw.
Ad hominem flaws are logical fallacies that involve personal attacks intended to discredit the person making a certain argument. Arguments of this kind are fallacious because instead of attacking the argument of the person, the attack is shifted to the person himself.
· Argumentum ad populum
Argumentum ad populum is a kind of logical fallacy wherein the truth of a statement becomes based on how popular it is or how many people believe it.
· Genetic fallacy
This fallacy means dismissing an argument based on its source or where it came from.
· Appeal to authority
The appeal to authority is a fallacy that bases the validity of a statement on whether it came from an authority. In other words, it is taking the word of an authority on a subject as absolute truth.
· No true Scotsman
This fallacy is dismissing the argument of a person by saying that they are not really a member of your group.
Previously, we have discussed fallacies or reasoning flaws involving the relation between an argument and its source or the person saying it. In this part, we discuss flaws involving argumentative techniques.
- Fallacy of faulty analogy
This fallacy is making an analogy between two things that are not similar or irrelevant to the argument.
- Straw man fallacy
The straw man fallacy involves giving the impression that one is refuting the opponent’s argument, even though it is not really the argument the opponent presented.
- Slippery slope
The slippery slope fallacy assumes that if one thing happens, another thing would follow even though in reality, the thing that supposedly would follow does not necessarily have to.
- Begging the question
Also known as circular reasoning, this fallacy ‘begs the question’ by presenting the conclusion as the premise.
- Fallacy of equivocation
This fallacy occurs when a word or phrase with more than one meaning is used differently throughout an argument.
- Either/Or thinking
Also known as ‘black or white’ fallacy, this thinking assumes that there are only two possible ways for something. It assumes that something is either black or white and that there are no other options.
- “All things are equal” fallacy
The ‘all things are equal’ fallacy assumes that background conditions are equal in all situations.
- Non sequitur
Arguments that are non sequitur claim that a statement follows from another statement, even though they do not necessarily follow from one another. It presents conclusions as following from a premise or premises when in fact, it does not necessarily have to.
- Special pleading
Special pleading is making an exception for an argument when it is proven to be false. It is saying that if something refutes an argument, that something is an exception to the rule.
The part-to-whole fallacy incorrectly assumes that the part of something or quality of something automatically applies to the whole.
- Fallacy of fallacies
This fallacy involves saying that because an argument is fallaciously argued, it is already incorrect. There are cases wherein an argument is completely valid but the person arguing for it commits a fallacy, which does not mean that the argument then becomes invalid.
Now that you’ve wrapped up the Assumptions chapter, we’re going to move on to some trap question types.
Trap Answers: BEWARE OF TWINS
If two answers are the same, then both are likely wrong. This video is from the GMAT critical reasoning section, which is very similar to the GRE Critical Reasoning questions.
Beware: Scope Trap
If you’ve found the main point, you must also identify what is in the range of the argument. Scope is related to more than just the general topic being discussed: it is the narrowing of the topic. Is the article about graduate-school admissions, business school admissions, or helping literature students get into the business school program of their choice? Each step represents a narrowing of the scope.
Let’s look at this critical reasoning question to examine scope.
Apartment building owners argue that rent control should be abolished. Although they acknowledge that, in the short term, rents would increase, they argue that the long-term effect would be a reduction in rents. This is because rent increases would lead to greater profitability. Higher profits would lead to increased apartment construction. Increased apartment construction would then lead to a greater supply of residences, and lower prices would result because potential apartment residents would have a better selection. Thus, abolishing rent control would ultimately reduce prices.
Name an assumption made by the owners:
(Hint: this is a difficult question, but you can eliminate four of the five answers as outside the scope of the argument.)
- Current residents of rent-controlled apartments would be able to find new apartments once their rents increased.
- The fundamental value of any society is to house its citizens.
- Only current apartment owners would profit significantly from market deregulation.
- New apartment construction will generate a great number of jobs.
- The increase in the number of apartments available would exceed the number of new potential apartment residents.
Which possible answers are outside of the scope? The scope is the argument that deregulation will increase supply and lower prices. “Name an assumption” means find a direct assumption of the supply/demand argument.
(E) is the only choice that isn’t outside the scope of the argument: price of rents. So, we can choose it without even seeing a question stem. The argument revolves around a supply/demand dynamic in housing, so the answer should as well.
(A) is incorrect because current residents aren’t related to the issue in the argument. (B) and (C) go afield into areas that aren’t related, such as societal ethics. The issue of jobs isn’t mentioned either, which rules out (D). (E) is the only choice directly germane to the paragraph.