Logical and Pathetic Fallacies

What’s the Difference Between Logical and Pathetic Fallacies?

A logical fallacy is an argument that stems from an unsound or disputed contention. Here are just some of the many different types of logical fallacy:

  • Ad hominem attacks are when you attack the person making the argument rather than addressing the point itself.
  • An appeal to authority is when you defer to the general opinion of an authority figure on the subject rather than concentrating on the merits of that particular argument.
  • An appeal to popular opinion is when you argue, essentially, that just because many people are doing it, it is the right thing to do.
  • Begging the question is when you assume that the statement under examination is true. For example, a child is "begging the question" when they state that "Santa Clause is real because that is the only way the cookies got eaten." The assumption that Santa is real falsely predetermines the outcome of every conclusion that follows from it.
  • Slippery slope is when you conclude that a small event will inevitably spiral into a larger problem if it is allowed to happen. For instance, if a state lowers the legal driving age by six months, the accident rate will increase by 100 percent.

While logical fallacy is the province of argumentation, pathetic fallacy is a literary device. It occurs when the writer attributes human emotions and behavior to elements of nature. Coined by John Ruskin in his mid-nineteenth-century book, Modern Painters, pathetic fallacy is a type of personification.

How Do You Identify Fallacy in Writing?

Logical fallacies abound in non-fiction writing. Go to any online forum and scan through the comments. There you will see any number of ad hominem attacks; for instance, someone might say that another person is "weak" or "stupid" for liking a certain pop star rather than stating reasons why that musician lacks artistic talent. By the same token, social activists tend to make slippery slope arguments, fearing that change will lead to a complete lack of personal responsibility or environmental devastation.  

Examples of pathetic fallacy are no less common, but the purpose is different. Writers may use pathetic fallacy to foreshadow human events or to establish setting. In poetry, pathetic fallacy may be used to demonstrate human emotions in the absence of characters. 

Examples of Fallacy

1. "Republicans are jerks who drive gas-guzzling cars and hate minorities" is an ad hominem attack.

2. "Ghosts are real because there is a cold spot in my house" is an example of begging the question.

3. "I won’t be tired if I stay up late to finish playing this video game because all my friends are doing it" is an all too common appeal to popular opinion.

3. In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy to describe the night as "unruly,. . . prophesying with accents terrible."

4. In Keats’ "Ode to Melancholy," the flowers are "droop-headed," and the clouds are "weeping" while spring "hides. . . in an April shroud" — the entire scene uses pathetic fallacy.

5. The title of William Wordsworth’s poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" is itself an example of pathetic fallacy.


(View all literary devices)