Duke University Identifying Fallacies in Your Thinking Humanities Essay

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IntroductionThis assignment provides an opportunity for you to examine others’ reasoning for logical fallacies. You have the tools to critically examine the thinking of other people to determine if it is logical or illogical.

The Assignment  Go to the link below and pick a magazine or newspaper article, or find a website containing an article about a particular topic in which you are interested.

Attempt to identify at least two fallacies, explain how they undermine the credibility and quality of the thinking in the article, and suggest how the thinking could be improved.


To begin to develop one’s skills as a critical thinker, one needs to be able to recognize the quality of thought’s building blocks, the ideas, assumptions, conclusions, transitions, cause and effect relationships, questions, etc., which comprise arguments, positions, and philosophies. Often, weaknesses in those areas can diminish the strength of thinking, can lead to intellectual mistakes and even irrational, sometimes dangerous behavior. As architects of thought, students can improve the durability and value of their own intellectual output by avoiding these pitfalls and thus prevent their mental “buildings” from collapsing upon them. Also, as consumers of intellectual product, they can recognize weak thinking before they subscribe to it, absorb it, and allow it to influence their attitudes, perspectives, decision-making, and actions.

The Assignment
In order to become skilled in locating logical fallacies and irrational impulses such as egocentrism in both your own work and that of others, take a paper you have written for another course and scrutinize it for weaknesses. (If you do not have a paper you can use, look for something else you have written: journal entries, letters to the editor, personal letters, etc.) Look for places where you reached conclusions without sufficient evidence to support them, where you made sweeping generalizations without having a broad base of data to validate them, where you have used slander to try to undermine someone’s position rather than looking at their ideas, or any of the other mistakes you learned about in this module. Try to be as honest in your assessment of your thinking as you can. Pretend you are seeing the work for the first time, and ask yourself if you would be persuaded by the structure and content of your argument.

Take the statements you find which are weak and list them in a document. Underneath each, identify which fallacy(ies) and irrational impulses (egocentrism, sociocentrism) are present and try to rework them, so that they are more logically sound, more accurate, more fair, and more comprehensive.

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