Years ago I started writing “The Reasonable Person’s Guide to Strange Ideas” and this article was part of the research for that unwritten book. It is made available below now, November 8, 2019 in hopes that some will still find it useful. Not only can it make you a happier, healthier person, but the development of reasonable thinking can save your life.
Self Improvement: Mental Health
Created 12/28/2002 – Updated 11/8/2019
The Reasonable Person’s Guide to Strange Ideas next examines reasonableness itself and offers some mental health and logic tips to keep you grounded, positive and strong.
1. What is Reasonable? | 2. Orthodox vs. Reasonable | 3. A Healthy Mind Will … | 4. Logic Tools | 5. Ad hominem | 6. Ad Hominem Tu Quoque | 7. Appeal to Authority | 8. Appeal to Belief | 9. Appeal to Common Practice | 10. Appeal to Consequences of a Belief | 11. Appeal to Emotions | 12. Appeal to Fear | 13. Appeal to Flattery | 14. Appeal to Novelty | 15. Appeal to Tradition | 16. Appeal to Pity | 17. Appeal to Ridicule | 18. Bandwagon | 19. Begging the Question (Circular Reasoning) | 20. Biased Sample (Prejudice) | 21. Appeal to ignorance | 22. Confusing Cause and Effect | 23. Division | 24. False Dichotomy (Black & White Thinking) | 25. Genetic Fallacy | 26. Guilt By Association | 27. Omission | 28. Arbitrariness | 29. Red herring | 30. Middle Ground | 31. Misleading Vividness | 32. Poisoning the Well | 33. Slippery Slope | 34. Straw Man | 35. Two Wrongs Make a Right | 36. Relativist Fallacy
One on line dictionary tells us reasonable persons possess the power of thinking in orderly rational ways. A reasonable person possesses sanity, defined as health of mind or soundness. A thing is sound when logically valid with true premises. A reasonable person, therefore, is of sound mind: free from error, logical fallacy, or misapprehension, well-grounded, relevant and meaningful.
Another definition of the word reasonable is: orthodox, that is “agreeing with accepted views.” This will contradict the earlier definition “free from error, fallacy, or misapprehension” when accepted views are in error (examples below.) Therefore, for clarity this guide will use orthodox apart from reasonable, favoring “logically grounded and free from error” as the definition for reasonable. How does one cultivate a sound healthy mind and logical foundations ( as opposed to superstition and magical thinking )?
Many focus on mental disorders ( non adaptive and/or disorganized mental activity ), but it is our philosophy that mental health is not mediocrity, not merely a lack of sickness. Instead, health is an exciting lifelong process of growth, discovery and exploration of one’s potentials.
The 18 ideas below are adapted from healthymind.com. We get good at what we practice mentally, so focus on the positive as much as you can, and not so much on what is broken. Aim high. Don’t worry. everyone is a bit nuts. Keep improving. If you are reading this, you are already on the right path.
A HEALTHY MIND WILL…
Feel free to check the boxes if you feel you are doing well in an area below. There is no score, nothing to submit, this is just for you.
Adjust the above to suit your needs. Add or subtract at will. There is not a solution to every problem, but having a healthy mind can give you options that you would not otherwise have. Cultivate your potential.
By definition a reasonable person is free of logical fallacies, that is s/he uses reasons which correctly support his or her conclusions. Awareness of faulty logic people use can make you immune to much deception and manipulation. Cultivate a healthy skepticism by matching the logical fallacies below to statements you hear and see around you.
Below are some logical fallacies you should understand if you want to become a more reasonable thinker.
The person making the claim is criticized and the argument itself is ignored. Example:
A: I say 1 + 2 = 3. How about you? B: You're an idiot, a moron and a wacko!
Amazingly, some people listening to this debate will immediately believe that A is wrong simply because B has attacked.
The key is that those who use this trick may be wrong or right, but the reasonable person will recognize that ad hominem attacks make no progress in finding correct answers. This tactic is often used by those who are unable to back their position with facts. Watch for phrases like “you need to seek professional help.” P
Personal attacks are best ignored or deflected, depending on who is attacking and other circumstances.
A: Ridicule is not helpful. When I add 1 and 2, I always get the same result: 3. What is about that? B: You are a frigging Froot Loop! I don't need any #*$& facts because you are a freaking Loony Toon! Your idea is not even worthy of a response.
It takes considerable skill to continue discussing something with a hostile person, but there can be rewards if you master this ability. Just beware of potential escalation and have an escape route planned. Sometimes it is better to break off all communication early.
A: (Ignoring the attack) Are you saying my addition is wrong when I add 1 and 2 to get 3? B: Look, all I see is a crazy person who needs to get a life! Now take your 2 + 1 and #@&$ off you pathetic loser. A: That was 1 + 2 = 3. Sorry you seem to be having a bad day. Bye.
In this example, B may be arguing from a position of dogma or avoiding a factual discussion because s/he knows s/he is wrong. On radio talk this may also be done simply for shock value to increase ratings. In either case, progress is unlikely. Don’t take it personally. Move on.
The person’s current claim is denounced because it contradicts his previous claim.
A: I think 0 + 0 = 0. B: You previously claimed 0 + 0 is undefined, so you must now be wrong. A: If I said that I was wrong, but I now think 0 + 0 = 0. B: You keep changing your mind. You're inconsistent. You were wrong then, so why would you be right now?
Arguing that a claim is true based on someone’s expertise; dogma.
A: I think 0 + 0 = 0. B: An expert with three Ph.D.'s in Mathematics from Harvard's Academe of Science says that 0 + 0 = 100, so you are wrong. A: Even experts can be wrong and different experts often disagree. Do you have any details on why the experts are making this claim? B: Do you think you know more than the experts? Do you think you're some kind of genius or something? I told you the experts agree and you are wrong.
Most people believe it, so it must be true.
A: I think 0 + 0 = 0. B: Most people believe that 0 + 0 is -1. The majority would not be wrong, therefore, you are. A: The majority is sometimes wrong, I can name a dozen examples if you'd like. (1. alchemy, 2. geocentric universe, 3. slavery, 4. circular planetary orbits, 5. heavier objects fall faster, 6. time is a constant 7. germs spontaneously generate 8. continental drift 9. witchcraft 10. Nineteenth-century craniology 11. Mesmerism 12. Flat earth.) Why do most people today think 0 + 0 is -1? B: Whatever. You're just one person, everyone else says you are wrong.
Most people do it, so it must be safe / right / justified / moral, etc.
A: When I add 0 and 0, I get 0. B: Most people add 0 and 0 while eating spotted mushrooms and they get all kinds of other answers, like 92 or 21. Your method must be faulty.
X is true (or false) because it has good (or bad) consequences if true (or false.)
B: A nuclear war is not being planned to reduce the world's population. If I believed it was, I would not be able to get up in the morning. It's too depressing.
X is true because people feel good about it.
B: Everyone feels good about milk, so it could not contain anything dangerous.
Y is frightening, therefore X is true. (Creating fear in people does not constitute evidence for a claim.)
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: I've just murdered someone who looked like you, and by the way 0 + 0 = 15. A: You are right, of course.
Person A is flattered by Person B, therefore Person B’s argument is correct.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: I'm very impressed with your use of the "+" sign and I'll be sure to mention your skills in my new book, but first we need to clear up the fact that 0 + 0 = 984. A: Me, in a book? How flattering! My Mistake.
Something is new, therefore it is better or correct. New things are not necessarily better. Sometimes they are, but novelty itself is not a logical reason to believe a claim.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: The latest work in this area, the breaking news is that 0 + 0 = 3.
Something is old or traditional, therefore it is better or correct. This is a simple but powerful fallacy that you will find in many places. In fact, it seems to rule many people’s lives.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: It has been known for many years, even before I was born that 0 + 0 = 5.
Feelings of pity or sympathy that are substituted for evidence.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: I have a deadly disease and only one week to live. My dying wish is that you agree that 0 + 0 = 6.
Mocking a claim to show that it is false.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: 0 + 0 = 0?! Nothing against you personally, but that's the most ridiculous absurd load of unsubstantiated bullpucky horse- feather poppycock that I have ever heard! 0 + 0 = 4.
A threat of rejection by one’s peers (or peer pressure) is substituted for evidence in an “argument.”
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: If you say so, but no other reasonable person will be seen talking with you if you continue with this unpopular view.
Something is true because it is assumed to be true. The term “begging the question” is often misused to mean “prompts one to ask the question”, but that is not the correct usage. Begging the question is a form of circular reasoning. It may not always be easy to spot circular reasoning. It is any argument where the conclusion is assumed in one of the premises.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: Clearly, 0 + 0 = 8 because 8 is what you get when you add 0 and 0. As you can plainly see 8 is the result and 0 are the things added. What more proof do you want?
Some % of observed A’s have trait X, therefore all A’s do.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: 0 + 1 = 1, right? Also 0 + 0 + 1 = 1 and 1 + 0 + 0 = 1, right? Finally 1 + 0 = 1 SO 0 + 0 must also = 1! All the other examples = 1, right? It's so obvious.
X has not been disproved, so it must be true.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: You cannot disprove that 0 + 0 = a kangaroo, so you must be wrong.
Y and Z regularly occur together, so Y is the cause of Z.
B: Your dog is always barking when cars go by. Obviously, your dog's barking is bringing the cars.
What is true of the whole must be true of the parts.
B: My watch can tell time 24 hours a day. If I cut it in half, I'll be able to tell time only 12 hours a day.
You are presented with two alternatives, such as owls or jobs, the economy or the environment, when there are really more than two alternatives.
B: The Dempublicans are wrong when they say 0 + 0 = 8, so the Republicrats are therefore right when they say that 0 + 0 = 7.
The origin of a claim makes it true. I was brought up to believe X therefore it is true.
A: I say that 0 + 0 = 0. B: I was raised to know right from wrong and that I was ALWAYS taught that 0 + 0 = 87.
A claim is rejected because it is accepted by people disliked by others.
A: I say that 0 + 0 = 0. B: I reject this because evildoers all over the world make this same exact claim.
Failure to consider alternative explanations.
B. There are three possibilities 0 + 0 = 1, 0 + 0 = 9 or 0 + 0 = 13.
Claim that a definition or rule is arbitrary.
A: I say that 0 + 0 = 0. B. Addition is an arbitrary construction with no real meaning.
Information irrelevant to the discussion; changing the subject of a debate.
A: I say that 0 + 0 = 0. B: Numbers are derived from symbols written in clay. The important thing here is the clay!
A moderate opinion may be correct, but when used as a weapon, this fallacy says the middle of any two extremes must be true.
A: I say that 0 + 0 = 0. B: Well, Bob says that 0 + 0 = 100, therefore, I must be right that 0 + 0 = 50. The moderate opinion is the most reasonable.
This example may sound unlikely and absurd, but some day you may find yourself being part of a group making a decision where you are outvoted using this type of broken logic.
A dramatic or vivid event which makes a strong impression on the human mind but is not in accord with the majority of the statistical evidence occurs, and will therefore happen again.
A: I say earthquakes are rare. B: I remember one vividly, so I say they are very common.
A personal attack before evidence is presented.
B: Hey everyone, A is about to tell some math lies. A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: Just like I said. I called it! Just as I said, A is wrong.
Assertion without proof that one event must inevitably follow from another.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: Look, 1 + 0 = 1 and 2 + 0 = 2 and 3 + 0 = 3 and if we do one more addition, say 0 + 0 we'd find that 0 + 0 = 4.
Ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: Everyone, A claims that everything adds to 0! A is a zero freak!! Obviously I'm correct that 0 + 0 = 16 because A's thinking is so distorted on the issue of zero.
Justifying an action by asserting another would do the same thing to you.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 4. B: You are wrong! Therefore, I am right when I say that 0 + 0 = 3.
A person rejects a claim by asserting that the claim might be true for others but is not for him/her.
A: I say 0 + 0 = 0. B: That's true for you, but for me 0 + 0 = 6. It's not that I just have a different belief. For me, 0 + 0 = 6 is my reality. The rules of what is true and right are different for each person or group.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these. There are many more logical fallacies, but the above are some important ones. Luckily, you don’t need to know the name of a fallacy to detect and reject faulty logic. You will start noticing them everywhere. (Politicians are a great source of if you want practice.)
Work on eliminating them from your own thinking and communication. Now that you have some new tools, you can use these to look at various mysteries, even complicated messy debates.
Is the Earth flat? Were Moon Landings faked?
Go forth and look at specific arguments. One place to see and take part in debates is kialo.com. On that site you will find people calling each other out for using logical fallacies and based on voting you can see which views rise to the top as the most reasonable.