Arguing 101 For The Strength Community


I have spent the last few weeks working on philosophy projects. I have been focusing on arguments and debate, and started to think about the art of arguing, especially as it relates to the strength community on the Internet.

The main focus of my study was on logical fallacies. In simplest terms, a fallacy is a defect that weakens an argument. You can see all kinds of colorful fallacies by perusing the lists of comments on YouTube. Fallacies are very, very common and can be quite persuasive, especially to the casual reader or listener.

I began to notice fallacies all around me, even in my own arguments on this site. This post will outline 5 major fallacies seen in almost all arguments concerning fitness. This may help you to look critically at your own arguments and move them from the “weak” to the “strong” end of the continuum. It’s easy to criticize someone on an ellitptical, but if you don’t have any evidence to back up your criticisms, you will end up looking more ridiculous than they do.

Ad Hominem

Photo by Mark Klotz
The ad hominem (meaning “against the person”) is a fallacy because it attempts to focus our attention on the person rather than the argument. In both of these arguments, the conclusion is usually “you shouldn’t believe so-and-so’s arugment.” The reason for not believing their argument is that they are either a bad person (ad hominem) or a hypocrite (tu quoque). In an ad hominem argument, the arguer attacks his or her opponent instead of the opponent’s argument.

Example: “Greg Glassman published a paper on a superior way to increase conditioning, but Greg Glassman is overweight and unhealthy, so why should I listen to him?” Whether it is true or not, Greg Glassman’s appearance has been characterized in a less-than-desirable way, and has nothing to do with the strength of his argument, so using it as a rebuttal to his argument is fallacious.

How To Avoid It: Stay focused on the argument, rather than than the arguer’s personal character, unless the personal character is relevant. This one is the easiest to fall prey to, and I have to remind myself constantly to avoid this fallacy, but it doesn’t always work.

Hasty Generalization

Like the name suggests, a hasty generalization is an assumption that is made when there is not enough information to base a conclusion on. Stereotypes about people are a very common example of the principle underlying hasty generalization.

Example: “I talked to a bodybuilder who seemed to be full of himself. My friend also met a bodybuilder who seemed conceited. All bodybuilders must be conceited!” In this case, two people’s experiences are hardly enough to base a conclusion on.

How To Avoid It: Ask yourself what kind of “sample” size you are using: Are you relying on only your opinion or the experiences of a few people? Consider whether you need more evidence, or a less sweeping conclusion. “Some bodybuilders are conceited” would not be a hasty generalization.

Appeal to Authority

We often try to add strength to our arguments by referring to respected sources or authorities and explaining their positions on the issues we are discussing. However, if you are trying to get your audience to agree with you by simply dropping the name of a celebrity or supposed authority figure who isn’t much of an expert, you just committed the fallacy of appeal to authority.

Example: “Natalie Portman says that eating meat is not only unhealthy for our colon, it is also immoral. We shouldn’t eat meat either.”  While Natalie Portman may know how to play a schizophrenic swan in a movie, there is no particular reason why anyone should be moved by her dietary preferences. She is probably no more of an authority on this topic than the individual who quotes her in an argument.

How To Avoid It: There are two easy ways to avoid committing the appeal to authority: First, make sure the authorities you are citing are experts on the topic you are discussing. Second, rather than just saying “Natalie Portlman believes in Veganism, so we should too,” try to explain the reasoning that the authority used to arrive at their opinion. That way, your audience will have more to go on than just a reputation. Pick someone who is neutral, rather than someone who will be perceived as biased.

Post Hoc

This fallacy gets its name from the Latin phrase “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”, which translates as “after this, therefore because of this.” Assuming that since B comes after A, A has caused B. Obviously there are events  that really do cause another one that comes later—for example: If I do heavy deadlifts on Friday and my lower back is sore on Saturday, its true that the first event caused the second. However, sometimes two events that seem related in time aren’t really related as cause and event. In layman’s terms: Correlation is not the same as causation.

Example:  “I had a bite of a bagel before I worked out, and I didn’t PR in my workout. It must have been because I had a bite of bagel.” This fallacy shows up a lot in the Paleo community: A lot of negative life events somehow are attributed to the consumption of grain or sugar. While the consumption may or may not have had one factor in the bad workout, the argument doesn’t show us what actually caused it.

How To Avoid It: To avoid this fallacy, you should give more explanation of the process by which the consumption caused the bad workout. If you say that A causes B, you should have something more to say about how A caused B instead of just saying that A came first and B came later.

Ad Populum

This fallacy is a translation of the Latin title, meaning “to the people”. It takes advantage of the desire most people have to be liked and fit in with others, using that desire to try and get the audience to accept their argument. Another similar version is the bandwagon fallacy, in which the arguer tries to convince the audience to do or believe something because everyone else (supposedly) does.

Example: The Sumo Deadlift High-Pull is a safe movement, I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of people doing it in gyms all over the world!” While it’s great that there are so many people exercising, it has no bearing on whether the movement is safe or not. The arguer is attempting to convince the audience to accept the conclusion by appealing to our desire to fit in with the rest of the fitness community.

How to avoid it
: This fallacy is especially prevalent in marketing and advertising (50 million Americans can’t be wrong!). Make sure that you aren’t recommending your audience to believe your conclusion simply because everyone else does. Keep in mind that the popular opinion isn’t always the right one.

And there you have a short synopsis of 5 major logical fallacies. It may appear to have nothing to do with lifting big or eating big, but if you can’t even argue your position correctly, how can you expect anyone to accept your argument and become a believer?

3 tips for spotting your own fallacies:

1. Pretend you disagree with the conclusion you are defending to see if your point is valid.
2. List your main points, and the evidence you have for it.
3. Learn which types of fallacies you are especially prone to.

Thanks to Dr. Igrek for helping me in my understanding of logical fallacies.

  • nice post

  • Anonymous

    YES! I’ve been wanting to learn about fallacies for the longest time, to strengthen my arguing/debating skills. This is a great primer, especially in context of lifting!