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Question of the Day

Philosophers are usually not the right people to ask for fallacy names. Most of us don't remember many of them, and aside from a handful (begging the question, for instance) seldom mention them by name. You mention the red herring fallacy here. That's probably good enough, but it's not any better than just noting that the response misses the point. If A says that taxing would be more effective than philanthropy and B says that philanthropy does some good, all A need say is "I agree: philanthropy does some good, but my point is that it's less effective than simply taxing people." A might be right or might be wrong, but what B says is irrelevant to the claim at issue, since A's claim is entirely consistent with B's reply.

I notice this a lot on Quora. There's a whole sub-genre of questions in which people people describe a bit of reasoning gone wrong, and then ask for the name of the fallacy. Often the person has already done a good job of saying what's wrong. Sometimes they haven't, but in those cases a fallacy name won't help unless it's accompanied by an explanation.

Back in the day, I taught informal logic regularly. The standard texts always included sections on the fallacies and I dutifully taught them. But every year I had to review the names myself. Looking back on it, I hope that the students got better at spotting errors in reasoning and being able to describe the errors in a way that would be useful to someone who didn't know the fallacy name. But my guess is that, like me, most of the students didn't remember many of the names.

In any case, your "using a nugget of truth to distract from a larger issue" is a perfectly good way of summarizing what's wrong here. And I dare say one could collect lots of examples of this sort of move. But far as I know, it hasn't generated a sub-literature of its own, because bad move though it is, understanding why it's a bad move is pretty straightforward—as you've nicely shown.