I’m going to be honest: most courses you take in university aren’t worth a whole lot.
That’s not because the professors are bad or the coursework is pointless (although sometimes that is definitely the case).
I mean that most of the courses you take will never be all that relevant to the rest of your life.
But then, every once in a while, often by accident, you stumble into a course that is hugely impactful on your life. That happened to me in my sophomore year.
I needed to take an elective from the humanities department, and not wanting to get sucked into a seminar on “Romantic literature of the 1840s” or whatever, I went for the least humanities-sounding thing I could find on the list: a philosophy course called “Logic and Reasoning.”
It probably ended up being the most valuable course I ever took in my life.
From day one, I loved my logic course. Each morning, we’d all come into class to find a question like this on the board:
“Every time a train arrives at the station, there are many passengers on the platform. You arrive at the station and see many passengers waiting on the platform. Is it necessarily true that a train will arrive soon?”
Pretty much everyone in the class would answer “yes” and then become infuriated when the professor told us the correct answer was no—just because trains always arrive when there are many passengers does not mean that many passengers will always result in a train arriving.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pissed off twenty-year-olds as I did in that classroom each week.
Many would accuse the professor of making shit up to humiliate them and give them poor grades. Others simply couldn’t follow what was going on, struggling to follow the steps in reasoning between “people,” “train,” and “time.”
But I loved it.
Despite the outrage, the professor was demonstrating some of the most fundamental principles of thinking:
- Just because two things often occur together does not mean that they will necessarily always occur together.
- Just because a line of reasoning is intuitive does not mean it’s correct—logic can often be counterintuitive.
Logic is the bedrock of pretty much all human knowledge.
As such, philosophers have killed many trees over the centuries, analyzing and determining the principles that define logic and reason. Their ambition has been to determine what we can know to be true and what we cannot know to be true.
What most people don’t realize is that logical fallacies—that is, errors in judgment and reasoning—are incredibly common in day-to-day life.
Worse, we’re mostly unaware of how they disrupt and harm our lives, often in profound ways.
These fallacies are right in front of our noses, yet we are so comfortable with our own thought processes that we fail to spot them.
This article will take you through some of the most common logical fallacies. It will teach you how to not only spot them in yourself but also how to spot them in others.