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An association fallacy is an inductive informal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association. The two types are sometimes referred to as guilt by association and honor by association. Association fallacies are a special case of red herring, and can be based on an appeal to emotion.
In notation of first-order logic, this type of fallacy can be expressed as (∃x ∈ S : φ(x)) → (∀x ∈ S : φ(x)), meaning "if there exists any x in the set S so that a property φ is true for x, then for all x in S the property φ must be true."
- Premise A is a B
- Premise A is also a C
- Conclusion Therefore, all Bs are Cs
The fallacy in the argument can be illustrated through the use of an Euler diagram: "A" satisfies the requirement that it is part of both sets "B" and "C", but if one represents this as an Euler diagram, it can clearly be seen that it is possible that a part of set "B" is not part of set "C", refuting the conclusion that "all Bs are Cs".
Guilt by association
Some syllogistic examples of guilt by association:
- John is a con artist. John has black hair. Therefore, all people with black hair are con artists.
- Jane is good at mathematics. Jane is dyslexic. Therefore, all dyslexic people are good at mathematics.
- Simon, Karl, Jared, and Brett are all friends of Josh, and they are all petty criminals. Jill is a friend of Josh; therefore, Jill is a petty criminal.
- All dogs have four legs; my cat has four legs. Therefore, my cat is a dog. (This argument is made by the wordplay-prone Sir Humphrey Appleby in the BBC sitcom Yes, Prime Minister).
Guilt by association as an ad hominem fallacy
Guilt by association can sometimes also be a type of ad hominem fallacy, if the argument attacks a person because of the similarity between the views of someone making an argument and other proponents of the argument.
This form of the argument is as follows:
- Source S makes claim C.
- Group G, which is currently viewed negatively by the recipient, also makes claim C.
- Therefore, source S is viewed by the recipient of the claim as associated to the group G and inherits how negatively viewed it is.
An example of this fallacy would be "My opponent for office just received an endorsement from the Puppy Haters Association. Is that the sort of person you would want to vote for?"
Honor by association
The logical inverse of "guilt by association" is honor by association, where one claims that someone or something must be reputable because of the people or organizations that are related to it or otherwise support it. For example:
- Citizens of Country X won more Nobel Prizes, gold medals, and literary awards than citizens of Country Y. Therefore, a citizen of Country X is superior to a citizen of Country Y.
- In many advertisements, businesses heavily use the principle of honor by association. For example, an attractive woman will say that a specific product is good. Her attractiveness gives the product good associations.
- Damer, T. E.; Rudinow, J.; Barry, V. E.; Munson, R.; Black, A.; Salmon, M. H.; Cederblom, J.; Paulsen, D.; Epstein, R. L.; Kernberger, C.; Others, (2009). Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments (6th ed.). Wadsworth. ISBN 978-0-495-09506-4.
- Fallacies: Classical and Contemporary Readings, edited by Hans V. Hansen and Robert C. Pinto (1995).
- Bibliography on Fallacies: http://www.ditext.com/eemeren/bib.html
- The Fallacy Files Guilt by Association
- Propagandacritic.com "Transfer technique"
- Propagandacritic.com "Testimonial"