The ‘Appeal to the Stone’ Fallacy: On Being Completely Dismissive in Arguments

Appeal to the Stone

 

The appeal to the stone is a logical fallacy where a person simply dismisses a claim as absurd, without actually addressing it or showing proof for its absurdity. The following article will explain to you how this fallacy works, how you can counter people who use it, and how you can use it yourself in debates.

 

Explanation of the fallacy

The appeal to the stone (argumentum ad lapidem) is an informal logical fallacy, which means that the content of the fallacious argument fails to support its proposed conclusion.

This fallacy occurs every time a person simply denounces an argument as absurd, without explaining why. For example, consider the following conversation:

Alice: Thousand of scientists just signed a document urging countries to consider the risks of global warming, and to act accordingly.

Bob: Who cares. It’s a ridiculous idea anyway.

Alice: What? How so?

Bob: I don’t know. It just sounds made up. Don’t know about you, but I don’t believe it.

Here, Alice raises a point, and Bob simply dismisses it as absurd, without explaining why. This is a typical example of someone using the appeal to the stone, whether they’re aware of it or not.

Note: The name of this fallacy originates from an incident where Dr. Samuel Johnson, a renowned English writer, was discussing why he disagrees with George Berkeley, a philosopher who researched immaterialism, which is the idea that no material things exist outside of our mind. To refute this concept, which Johnson thought was wrong, he simply walked up to a large stone, kicked it, and said: “I refute it thus”.

 

How to counter an appeal to the stone

The first step to countering this fallacy is recognizing that your opponent is using it. Once you are capable of that, your best course of action is to call the other person out, and ask that they support their stance and explain why they find your argument to be absurd. To do this, use key phrases such as “I understand that you think that, but can you explain why you think it’s absurd?”

Make sure to stay persistent, and try to get the other person to defend their unsupported stance. Defending your own stance using additional evidence often doesn’t help, since the other person isn’t engaging with logical arguments in the first place.

Keep in mind that there are two options: either the other person is unaware that they’re using the fallacy, or they’re doing it intentionally. If they’re unaware, pushing them to question their stance might actually help them see the hole in their reasoning. If they’re doing it intentionally, calling them out on it is the main way of fighting against this technique.

However, there are some situations where nothing you can do will get the other person to change their mind, regardless of whether they’re aware of this fallacy or not. Learn how to pick your battles.

In addition, always make sure to stay calm and not to let the other person get under your skin. This is one of the most crucial pieces of advice for debates in general, and it’s especially important in situations like this, which can often be frustrating.

 

Arguing in a crowd

Often, when you’re arguing about something, other people will be watching. This is important to remember for several reasons:

  • If you call the other person out on using this fallacy, the more people realize you’re right and support your argument, the better your argument will look, even if your opponent sticks to their fallacious stance.
  • Conversely, if the crowd supports your opponent’s assertion, calling it out might not help much, though it’s still the best option you have. Keep in mind that people don’t necessarily support the strongest argument; often, the appearance of confidence by the speaker can play the main role in swaying the crowd. Furthermore, people will often choose to support the side which has the simpler, more appealing argument, even if it’s incorrect, because it’s easier for them to understand. This goes back to the previous advice on knowing how to pick your battles.
  • If the crowd doesn’t provide much support for either side, the benefit of calling your opponent out is that even if they don’t change their stance, people in the crowd might still notice the fallacious reasoning and agree with your point, even if they won’t support it directly.

 

Using an appeal to the stone yourself

First of all, consider the fact that you might be using this fallacy yourself unintentionally. Ask yourself whether you sometimes dismiss claims as absurd, without actually considering their validity. If you do, and nearly all of us do this from time to time, consider adjusting the way you process information in such cases, by asking yourself why you think such claims are absurd, before dismissing them.

You can also choose to use this fallacy intentionally in arguments. Sometimes you might do it because you just don’t want to argue with the other person. Other times, you might use it because that’s the best way for you to win the argument.

If you do choose to use it intentionally, your goal is now to stick to mocking the claim as absurd, without explaining why. You can combine this attack with other techniques, such as strawman arguments, by twisting your opponent’s stance before mocking it as absurd.

It’s also possible to use this technique as an opener, by first claiming that your opponent’s views are absurd, and then attacking their actual argument only if they continue to argue.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • If you are arguing in front of other people, winning the crowd is the most important part.
  • If you’re trying to discredit your opponent’s stance, you want to get under their skin as much as possible.
  • Since your argument has no logical basis, sticking to it requires having (or faking) a lot of confidence.
  • This technique is risky, since at the end of the day you have no way to actually support your stance. Therefore, you need to consider the situation before using it; if the crowd is intelligent and actually cares about the topic of the debate, you might end up looking like an idiot if you stick with this line of “reasoning”.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • The appeal to the stone is a logical fallacy where a person claims that a certain argument is absurd, without actually explaining why.
  • For example, if person A says that “Thousands of scientists recently showed support for a law which would mitigate global warming”, person B might reply “Who cares. It’s a ridiculous concept anyway”.
  • The name of the fallacy comes from an instance where a writer argued against the philosophy of immaterialism (the idea that nothing exists outside of our minds), by walking up to a stone and kicking it, while proclaiming “I refute it thus”.
  • The key to countering this fallacy is to recognize that the other person is using it, and to call them out on it by asking them to explain why they think the argument is absurd.
  • Crowds might often support the use of this fallacy, because it offers a shallow argument that is easy to understand. This could be an advantage if you decide to use this fallacy yourself, and it’s something important to remember if you’re trying to argue with someone else who is using it.

 


The 80/20 Rule: An Effective Way to Concentrate Your Efforts

The 80-20 Rule (Pareto Principle)

 

Hard work rarely pays off if you don’t know how to work in a smart way. The Pareto principle, frequently referred to as the 80/20 rule, is one of the best guidelines you can use in order to concentrate your efforts effectively. Simply put, this principle means that roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.

In the following article you will see examples for this principle in various situations, understand the logic behind it, and learn how to take advantage of it in order to maximize your efficiency.

 

Examples for the 80/20 rule in life

This principle has been observed in numerous scenarios:

  • Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian economist after which this principle is named, first observed that 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the population.
  • A study which analyzed shopping patterns at convenience stores found that approximately 20% of the customers account for 80% of the stores’ sales.
  • A study on software engineering found that 20% of the modules cause 80% of the operational faults.

Note that in these and in other cases, there was sometimes variability regarding the exact distribution which was found, so that sometimes there was a 70/30 distribution, or a 90/10 distribution, and so on. However, the exact distribution doesn’t matter; the important thing to remember is that a small portion of the causes will generally be responsible for a large portion of the outcomes.

 

Scientific basis for the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule exists because many natural distributions follow power laws. This means that there is a functional relationship between two quantities, where a linear change in one quantity leads to an exponential change in the other quantity. For example, if you double the length of the sides of a square, its area increases by a factor of four.

 

Power Law illustration (Pareto Distribution)
An example of a power-law distribution. Note that in the case of the 80/20 rule, this is known as a Pareto distribution.

Let’s assume that this graph shows the portion of the wealth in a nation on the vertical y-axis, and the number of people who own it on the horizontal x-axis. This means that on the left of the distribution we have what Pareto referred to as the Vital Few, who are the 20% of the people that own 80% of the wealth, while on the right we have the long tail with the Trivial Many, who are the remaining 80% of the people who own only 20% of the wealth.

 

How to implement the 80/20 rule

The goal of this rule is to optimize your return on investment (ROI), or the benefits that you receive in return for the effort that you make.

First of all, this means that you should focus your efforts on the 20% of the work that leads to 80% of the positive outcomes:

  • If you’re running a business, focus on working with the 20% of the customers who generate 80% of the revenue.
  • If you’re studying for a test, focus on the 20% of the material which accounts for 80% of the questions.
  • If you’re developing a software product, focus on the 20% of the features that are important to 80% of the users.

Conversely, take care of or avoid the 20% of the factors that cause 80% of the problems:

  • Avoid working with the 20% of the customers who produce 80% of the complaints.
  • Fix the 20% of the bugs which lead to 80% of the reports.
  • Avoid the 20% of the exercises which cause 80% of the injuries.

Sometimes, there might be overlap between the few factors that provide the most benefits, and those that cause the most issues. In certain cases, what you should when this happens is relatively clear-cut. For example, if 20% of the material from the class will account for 80% of the questions on the test, you need to understand it even if this material causes 80% of your problems. On the other hand, in some cases the choice might not be so obvious. For example, if 20% of the customers generate 80% of your revenue but also 80% of your complaints, you will have to consider your priorities in this situation, and act accordingly.

 

Things to keep in mind

There are some things which you should keep in mind when implementing the 80/20 rule:

  • Even within the top 20%/bottom 80%, not everyone will be equal.
  • The 80/20 principle is a useful rule of thumb, but it’s still just a rule of thumb. It won’t always apply to your situation.
  • As with any other guiding principle, when you do apply it, do so with common sense.

 

Iterate and reevaluate

If you’re engaging in a long-term process, don’t be afraid to reevaluate your situation periodically, and to adjust according to the 80/20 principle each time. Essentially, you should be asking yourself two questions:

  • “How can I focus my efforts in a way that leads to the greatest benefits for the least amount of effort?”
  • “What I can do to avoid the greatest amount of issues for the smallest loss in benefits?”

 

Summary and conclusions

  • The 80/20 rule (also known as the ‘Pareto principle’), denotes that roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.
  • This means, for example, that 20% of the customers are responsible for generating 80% of the revenue, and that 20% of the software bugs will be responsible for 80% of the user complaints.
  • Use this principle to your advantage by focusing your efforts in the areas where they produce the most benefits, and by cutting out the things which cause the most issues.
  • Keep in mind that the distribution might not always be an exact 80/20. The important thing to focus on is finding areas where a small proportion of the input accounts for a large proportion of the output.
  • If you’re engaging in a long-term process, you should reevaluate your situation periodically, and reapply this principle accordingly each time.

 


The Halo Effect: Why We Often Judge a Book by its Cover

Halo effect

 

The halo effect causes our impression of someone in one area to influence our opinion of that person in other areas. For example, if we think that someone is physically attractive, we often assume that they have a more interesting personality, compared to what we would assume if they were unattractive.

The following article will give you examples of how the halo effect influences us, explain the cognitive mechanism behind it, and show you how you can benefit from understanding this effect.

 

Examples of the halo effect

The halo effect influences how we look at other people in various ways:

  • What people think about a woman’s personality is influenced by how much she weighs. In one study, participants saw a picture of a woman, together with background information about her life and hobbies. One group received the original picture, while the other group received a picture where the woman wore padding, to make her look 50 pounds heavier. The participants rated the thinner woman as more attractive, as having a better personality, and as more likely to be successful at her career.
  • When engaging with political discussion partners, people viewed attractive individuals as more knowledgeable and persuasive, and as better sources for political information.
  • Men gave a higher rating to an essay when they thought that it was written by an attractive female author, compared to when they thought that it was written by an unattractive one.

Furthermore, the halo effect isn’t limited to the way we look at people. It can also, for example, affect the way we look at products and brands, making it a key effect in marketing, especially when it comes to assessing brand equity. Specifically, this means that if you have a positive impression of a certain brand, you’re more likely to buy products from that brand, even if the positive impression is not directly related to the product at hand.

 

Why the halo effect influences us

The halo effect is essentially a type of confirmation bias, which is a cognitive bias that causes us to search for and interpret information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs.

Specifically in this case, being exposed to a single positive trait of an individual sometimes causes us to immediately form a positive impression of that person, even when we don’t know anything else about them. Then, in order to confirm our initial impression, we interpret other traits that that person has as positive too.

 

The horns effect

The horns effect is a similar bias, where encountering someone’s negative trait causes us to assume negative things about other aspects of that person.

For example, a study on classroom behavior found that when young kids behaved in a defiant manner, teachers were more likely to rate them as hyperactive and as having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), even when that was not the case.

In the context of marketing, this means that if you have a negative impression of a certain brand, you’re less likely to buy its products, even when the negative impression is not directly related to them.

Note: In terms of terminology, the halo effect technically encompasses both positive and negative influence. However, sometimes the halo effect is used to refer to positive influence, while the horns effect is used to refer to negative influence. This is why the horns effect is occasionally called a “reverse halo effect”, even though in practice both refer to the same type of confirmation bias.

 

What the halo effect means for you

The halo effect influences how you see others. Remember this, and account for it both in terms of positive as well as negative influence. That is, just because someone has a single positive trait (e.g. physical attractiveness), doesn’t mean that you should immediately put them on a pedestal. Similarly, just because someone has a single negative trait, doesn’t mean you should immediately disregard them.

The halo effect also influences how others see you. You can take advantage of this, by realizing that your traits and behaviors in one area influence how other people perceive you in other areas.

For example, one study let students listen to an interview with a college professor who spoke English with a European accent. There were two groups of students, each of which saw a slightly different version of the interview. In one version the instructor was warm and friendly, while in the other version he was cold and distant. Students who saw the warm instructor rated his appearance, mannerisms, and accent as appealing, while students who saw the cold instructor rated the exact same attributes as irritating.

This is an example of how, by taking advantage of the halo effect, you can make simple changes in your behavior that completely change the way people perceive you.

 

Variability in the halo effect

Keep in mind that the halo effect is not a clear-cut, all-encompassing effect that always influences our thoughts in the same way.

For example, in the case of people rating essays based on the attractiveness of the purported author, the effect only appeared when a man thought that he was rating an essay written by a woman. In the case of women rating an essay by a woman, and men/women rating an essay by a man, the physical attractiveness of the author did not play a role in their rating.

This, and similar forms of variability, also appeared in other studies on the topic.

This is just a reminder that human psychology is complex, and that while cognitive biases certainly play a role in how we think, not every decision that we make can be clearly attributed to them.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • The halo effect causes our impression of someone in one area to influence our opinion of that person in other areas.
  • For example, if we think that someone is physically attractive, we often also assume that they have a more interesting personality, compared to what we would assume if they were unattractive.
  • This is a type of confirmation bias, which causes us to interpret information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs. Specifically, it means that once we form an initial impression of someone, we try to interpret their traits in a way that matches that impression.
  • The halo effect influences how you see other people, which you can account for by not immediately deifying or vilifying someone based on a single trait.
  • The halo effect also influences how others see you, which you can take advantage of by understanding that your behavior in one area will influence people’s perception of you overall.