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Is there a name for the debating technique of trying to advance a specious argument by passing off an fallacious assumption as an accepted truth?

The context for this was in a communication that I recently received from a colleague rebutting a theoretical paper he had read regarding biomolecular interactions and networks. You do not need to understand the subject matter to follow this, which I have abbreviated and simplified, and set out in a way to make the structure clear:

  1. Smith and Jones propose that this network of interactions is an important buffer against mutations…
  2. …but it is well known that anything can interact with anything else…
  3. …therefore the original proposal is patently incorrect.

i.e.

  1. Argument to be rebutted
  2. Fallacious assumption (It is not true that “anything can interact with anything else”, at least in this context.)
  3. Erroneous conclusion

I emphasize that it is a name for the debating technique that I am after, not adjectives describing it or its components. I seem to remember there was as series in the Financial Times (London) on different techniques of rhetoric, all of which seemed to have Greek names. However none of those listed on pages such as this seem to fit the bill.

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  • Surely your research could have been more extensive than looking up "rhetorical devices" on yourdictionary.com – TRomano Feb 21 '19 at 21:51
  • @TRomano Indeed it could. If you feel strongly about it I would vote to close. – David Feb 21 '19 at 21:54
  • Why would you vote to close if I feel strongly about it? :) – TRomano Feb 21 '19 at 22:06
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I'm going to provide an answer, but I'm not sure if this shouldn't actually be asked at Philosophy.SE instead.


From the "Logical Fallacies Handlist", it seems similar to this:

Irrelevant Conclusion (Ignorantio Elenchi): This fallacy occurs when a rhetorician adapts an argument purporting to establish a particular conclusion and directs it to prove a different conclusion. For example, when a particular proposal for housing legislation is under consideration, a legislator may argue that decent housing for all people is desirable. Everyone, presumably, will agree. However, the question at hand concerns a particular measure. The question really isn't, "Is it good to have decent housing?" The question really is, "Will this particular measure actually provide it or is there a better alternative?" This type of fallacy is a common one in student papers when students use a shared assumption--such as the fact that decent housing is a desirable thing to have--and then spend the bulk of their essays focused on that fact rather than the real question at issue.

The final statement about this type of fallacy says that it's similar to begging the question, a type of fallacy that means something different than the popularized English phrase of the same words.


In this specific case:

Hypothesis:
      Smith and Jones propose a specific interaction.

Misleading Argument:
      But surely you know that anything can interact with something else.

Faulty Conclusion:
      Therefore, there's nothing unusual (important) about this interaction.


In an analogous case:

Hypothesis:
      The defendant is guilty.

Misleading Argument:
      But surely you know that everybody's guilty of something.

Faulty Conclusion:
      Therefore, the defendant is guilty.

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  • 1
    I think you are on the right lines here. The problem is the ’...’ after 2. in other words, without more detail I cannot tell whether we have been given a fair summary of the argument. It is hate to believe that the object of the critique has not given some specific grounds for the proposal - offered some feature of the interactions that justifies the proposal as worth pursuing. In which case, by ignoring it, the critic is attacking a travesty of the argument - sometimes called ‘a straw man’. But ignorantia elenchi looks possible. Certainly 2 does not justify 3 in any case. – Tuffy Feb 16 '19 at 22:43
  • @tuffy The whole point of any fallacy is that the conclusion isn't justified. ;) – Jason Bassford Feb 17 '19 at 2:41
  • @Tuffy — 2. is fair to the snake oil merchant. You have to take my word that this is literally what he said, whereas the literature is full of peer-reviewed papers presenting diagrams of specific biological networks. There is really an additional aspect of this type of argument which is less easy to catch when presented orally. This is the technique of throwing in the misleading argument in a way that does not allow the reflection that is possible when you can re-read it. However I don't suggest that has a name. – David Feb 18 '19 at 14:07
  • @David In that case, I do not think the move is clever enough to to be worthy of the name. It is far too transparent to persuade any likely scientifically educated audience. – Tuffy Feb 18 '19 at 18:01

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