Red Herring (rhetoric)

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Under a Red Herring ( . English for "Red Herring ") is understood in argumentation theory and rhetoric by the American philosopher T. Edward Damer to conceal the weakness of a position by drawing attention from the real issue on a side issue to try:

“In argument, using a red herring means steering a debate away from one issue to a different, perhaps related, issue in such a way as to make it appear that the related issue is relevant to the issue at hand, but primarily as a means of avoiding the obligation to address the main issue or criticism. "

“In arguing, the use of a Red Herring means that a debate is shifted from one topic to another, possibly related, topic in such a way that it appears that the related topic is relevant to the first, but primarily it is to avoid the need to deal with the main issue or with criticism. "

- T. Edward Damer : Attacking Faulty Reasoning, p. 208

As Damer has shown, Red Herrings are often not used consciously - and even less planned . Many speakers who throw a Red Herring into the discussion are actually convinced that they are hard on the subject.

Red Herrings as pseudo arguments

All Red Herrings are fallacies of relevance (Engl. Fallacies of Relevance ) in so far as the argument put forward alleged argument actually not substantiated to be proved thesis in discussion context is no logical relevance has.

However, many premises can easily be linked to psychological aspects, such as emotions , stereotypes or prejudices . If a Red Herring hooks on such a psychological anchor point, a (false) appearance of relevance can arise - often even for both sides - even if there is no logical relevance. In German , Red Herrings are therefore colloquially referred to as "sham arguments". Because in many cases it is easy to see that the Red Herring is supposed to put an end to the discussion completely, since around 1980 one speaks colloquially in German of "killer arguments " or "killer phrases".

The counter-term to a “pseudo-argument” or Red Herring - that is, the name for an argument with which what is claimed is actually proven - is Argumentum ad veritatem (“ proof of truth”).

Delimitation and classification of the term

A Red Herring differs from a logical fallacy insofar as a - albeit defective - syllogism is constructed in the former , while a causality is asserted in the Red Herring .

What a Red Herring has in common with Ignoratio elenchi is that it does not prove what should be proven. Unlike Ignoratio elenchi , the Red Herring focuses on the intention to distract from the original subject of the argument.

Damer classifies the Red Herring as one of four popular fallacies of diversion :

  • Straw man argument : distortion or distortion of the criticism or argument
  • Trivial complaints ( trivial objections ): Attack on only trivial points of criticism or argument
  • Red Herring : Attempting to distract panelists from a secondary topic
  • Recourse to humor or ridicule: joking or ridiculing the criticism or argument

Damer sees the main problem of the fallacies of diversion in the fact that such arguments violate the principle that a good argument effectively refutes the argument to which it refers ( rebuttal criterion ). As a result, he sees a strong relationship between the fallacies of diversion and the fallacies of counterevidence and the group of ad hominem fallacies.

List of Red Herrings

argument definition example Remarks
Argumentum a tuto The appeal to support an unproven thesis simply because one is definitely "on the safe side". “If you believe in God when He doesn't exist, you lose nothing. But if it does exist, you will secure your salvation with your faith . "
Argumentum ad antiquitatem ( traditional argument ) The claim that a statement is true, if only because it relates to a tradition . “Never in history have homosexuals had the right to marry; same-sex marriage is therefore wrong and we should not introduce it. "
Argumentum ad baculum The appeal to accept a thesis as true, because otherwise there is a risk of disadvantages. See threat . "If we surrender, we will be slaughtered."
Argumentum ad consequentiam The assertion that a thesis is true or untrue because this is associated with desirable or undesirable consequences. “You have to believe in God; otherwise life would have no meaning at all. "
Argumentum ad crumenam The claim that an assertion is true (untrue) simply because the reference person is (not) rich. "If your business idea is so good, why aren't you rich?"
Argumentum ad hominem An attack on a position or thesis of an opponent, which is justified with an aspect of his person. "You only say that because you are an old white man."
Argumentum ad iudicium The claim that a thesis is true (untrue) because it conforms (contradicts) common sense . "Every thinking person should understand that a species is constantly getting better through evolution ."
Argumentum ad lapidem Trying to prove the truth of a claim with something unsuitable for it.

A: "Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms."
B: "What a ridiculous idea!"
A: "Why?"
B: "It is obviously ridiculous."

The phrase (literally: "Argument to the stone") goes back to a dispute that Samuel Johnson and James Boswell had in 1763 about George Berkeley's thesis that only our perception makes things appear "real" to us. Johnson made the (unsuitable) attempt to refute Berkeley by kicking a stone.
Argumentum ad lazarum The claim that an assertion is true (untrue) simply because the reference person is (not) poor. “Everyone in their village is poor; if she promises to share the generator that we are giving her with everyone, she must tell the truth. "
Argumentum ad naturam The assertion that a thing is good (bad) just because it is (un) natural . “Bottled milk is bad for your child; you should breastfeed, because that is the only natural thing. "
Argumentum ad novitatem The claim that something is good just because it's new and modern. “If you want to lose weight, you should follow the current diet trends. They always work best. "
Argumentum ad oculos The assertion that a thesis was because this is evident to everyone. "You just have to look at the schoolyards to see how violence has increased among children too."
Argumentum ad passiones ( appeal for emotions ) An argument that appeals to the listener's feelings rather than providing a factual justification. "If we don't support the banks, the economy will collapse, with devastating consequences for everyone." Shapes (selection):
Argumentum ad populum Claiming that a thesis is true because it corresponds to public opinion . “So many people buy luggage insurance. You can see that it is really important. "
Argumentum ad temperantiam The claim that a thing is good simply because it marks the “ golden mean ”. "A woman should n't overdo it with emancipation either."
Argumentum ad verecundiam Claiming that a thesis is true because an authority (e.g. an expert ) supports it as well. "Four out of five dentists recommend this brand of toothpaste."
Argumentum e consentium gentium /
argumentum e consensu
The assertion that a thesis is true, because it corresponds to a consensus gentium , i.e. a view in which all people are agreed. “All cultures have some form of creation story. So the world is not just there, it was created. "
Association Fallacy The attempt to discredit an argument by pointing out a person or institution with a poor reputation who also represented (is supposed to have represented) the argument. “The communist Cambodian dictator Pol Pot was against religion; he was a very bad person. Frankie is against religion. So he must be a bad person. " The Nazi comparison or the Reductio ad Hitlerum are also among the Association Fallacies .
Bulverism The attempt to discredit an argument of the opponent in the discussion by assigning hidden motives to it (" psychologizing "). It is assumed that a partisan mind cannot produce a true statement.

A: “For the reasons xyz, socialism does not work as well as capitalism.”
B: “You only believe that because you are rich. Basically, you do n't want socialism because you would lose money and privileges. "

The British writer CS Lewis coined the expression "Bulverism" .

Bulverism overlaps with both ad hominem arguments and genetic fallacies.

Dam break argument The reinforcement of the criticism of a small matter not by factual justification, but by the prognosis that the matter will have large and inexorably escalating undesirable consequences despite its insignificance . "If you offer your guests a glass of wine today, they will want whole bottles tomorrow."
Genetic fallacy The claim that a thing is good (bad) because its (actual or assumed) historical origin was good (bad). “You won't want to wear a wedding ring after you get married! Don't you know that this custom goes back to women being held in chains by their husbands? "
I'm entitled to my opinion Rejecting an opposing argument only on the grounds: "I have a right to my own opinion." "I have a right to my opinion, so any contradiction you raise here is wrong."
Moralistic fallacy The assertion that a statement is only true (untrue) because the thing it describes is morally good (bad). “To stalk adultery and women is wrong. That is why we naturally have no desire for multiple sexual partners. "
Pooh-pooh Trying to discredit an argument as ridiculous and not worthy of serious attention by condescending neglect or trivializing it . “We shouldn't waste our time listening to the women's representative on this question. She'll just give us her usual feminist garb. " Engl. Poo poo or pooh pooh corresponds in German to the word “ Aa ” and as a verb also means mocking a thing.
Straw man argument The wrong assumption or assumption that a statement by the interlocutor is an expression of an extreme position and therefore requires a correspondingly pointed criticism. Person A: "Our school will also include some songs in the winter concert that are not Christmas carols." Person B: "You will not rest until Christmas carols are no longer allowed to be played on the radio!"
Whataboutism The attempt to discredit a criticism made by the opponent of a discussion by making the same accusation against another issue that the opponent is (declared or presumably) dear to the discussion. Person A: "In Russia human rights are violated again and again." Person B: "And what about Guantanamo ? The American government lets torture them . "


  • Robert Scott Ross: Popularization of 'red herring' by English political agitator William Cobbett. In: Comments on Etymology 38: 1-2, 2008, pp. 62-69.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b T. Edward Damer: Attacking Faulty Reasoning. A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments . 6th edition. Wadsworth, Belmont, CA 2009, ISBN 978-0-495-09506-4 , pp. 208 ( [1] [PDF]).
  2. ^ Patrick J. Hurley: A Concise Introduction to Logic . 11th edition. Wadsworth, Boston 2012, ISBN 978-0-8400-3417-5 , pp. 122 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  3. ^ T. Edward Damer: Attacking Faulty Reasoning. A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments . 6th edition. Wadsworth, Belmont, CA 2009, ISBN 978-0-495-09506-4 , pp. 204 ( [2] [PDF]).
  4. ^ T. Edward Damer: Attacking Faulty Reasoning. A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments . 6th edition. Wadsworth, Belmont, CA 2009, ISBN 978-0-495-09506-4 , pp. 193 ( [3] [PDF]).
  5. ^ Tuto (argument a). In: Zedler-Lexikon, p. 2089. Retrieved on July 24, 2020 .
  6. ^ Appeal to Consequences. Retrieved July 22, 2020 .
  7. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer: Read Christian books critically. A textbook and workbook for training your own judgment based on excerpts from conservative Protestant non-fiction books. VKW, Bonn 2008, pp. 70–73: “Pragmatism: what is of use is true”.
  8. ^ Argument to the Purse. Retrieved July 22, 2020 .
  9. ^ William Stanley Jevons: Elementary Lessons in Logic: Deductive and Inductive; with Copious Questions and Examples, and a Vocabulary of Logical Terms . Macmillan and Co., London, New York 1877, p. 332 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  10. Ziya Tong: The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions . Allen Lane, 2019, ISBN 978-0-7352-3556-4 , pp. 51 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  11. ^ Argument from Poverty. Retrieved July 22, 2020 .
  12. Appeal to Nature. Retrieved July 22, 2020 .
  13. ^ Appeal to Novelty. Retrieved July 22, 2020 .
  14. ^ Forms of argumentation. Retrieved July 24, 2020 .
  15. ^ Argument to moderation. Retrieved July 24, 2020 .
  16. argument. Retrieved July 25, 2020 .
  17. ^ Ad hominem (Guilt by Association). Retrieved July 25, 2020 .
  18. Bulverism. Retrieved July 25, 2020 .
  19. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer: Read Christian books critically. A textbook and workbook for training your own judgment based on excerpts from conservative Protestant non-fiction books. VKW, Bonn 2008, pp. 36–38: “Research into causes or psychologizing”.
  20. Clive Staples Lewis: Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics . Ed .: Walter Hooper. Geoffrey Bles, London 1971.
  21. No, you're not entitled to your opinion. Retrieved July 23, 2020 .
  22. Pooh-pooh fallacy example. Retrieved July 25, 2020 .