Style over substance fallacy


Style over substance fallacy

Style over substance is a logical fallacy which occurs when one emphasises the "way" in which the argument is presented, while marginalising (or outright ignoring) the content of the argument. In some cases, the fallacy is employed as a form of ad hominem attack.

Here are some examples of the fallacy and how it is used.

Example One

* Person 1: Who needs a smoke detector? No one ever has a fire in their house, smoke detectors are a waste of money!
* Person 2: What?! You'd rather save a bit of money than ensure your family's safety? Don't you care whether they burn to death, you idiot?
* Person 1: I don't have to take your insults! Go away!

The fact that Person 2 insulted Person 1 does not alter the validity of Person 2's argument, nor does it excuse the hasty generalisation fallacy that Person 1 has employed.

Example Two

* Person 1: This website says that cars made by Ford get more miles to the gallon than cars made by Vauxhall.
* Person 2: That website is amateurish - look at the way it's designed! This other website is much more professional-looking, so it's probably more accurate.

The website Person 2 refers to may or may not be more accurate than the one that Person 1 was referring to. However, Person 2 is using the appearance of the first website "alone" to try and dismiss it as a reliable source of information, without properly analysing the content. This could also be considered a "Cum hoc ergo propter hoc" argument.

Example Three

Sometimes, outright non-responses or "stonewalls" are used as a part of style over substance. For example:
* Person 1: Communism by definition and practice is in direct conflict with the principles of Anarchy. How can you consider yourself to be an Anarchistic Communist?
* Person 2: "So Person 3, we should disband the government and make institutions that give money to the poor!"
* Person 3: "Yeah, no government is the best government, let's have those institutions control everything!"

Example Four

The baseless denial/unreasonable doubt is often an argumentative tool that accompanies circular reasoning, ad hominem or the no true Scotsman fallacy.

* Person 1: Candidate X has been skimming funds from the city! , I have receipts of his transactions and even photos taken of him drilling holes in the town safe!

* Person 2: Your receipts are faked! And for all what you know, he could have been cleaning the safe or that could have been a picture of his twin brother!

* Person 1: But Candidate X is the only boy in his family, and these were printed with the city's official seal!

* Person 2: That could have been planted there by Candidate X's opponents! They're known to be sneaky, because no true member of our party could do something like that!

Example Five

Stonewalling and childishly mocking an unfamiliar concept, usually a form of equivocation.

* Person 1: Reverend X, you claim the end is coming because it's mentioned in your book "Diuretics", isn't that a bit of circular reasoning?

* Reverend X: (In a confused manner) You know what's circular reasoning? When the end comes, you'll be walking in circles trying to reason how you missed out on knowing the end came!

This may also be considered as a variety of a red herring fallacy.

Exceptions

Some cases where style appears to precede substance exist. One of the few such instances is the Sokal Affair, where physicist Alan Sokal wrote a postmodern-style essay in the journal "Social Text" without really saying anything; the title of the article itself ("Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity") was nonsense. However, on closer examination, the style that Sokal uses is satirical, and therefore his logical argument is implicit; the style does not "precede" substance, it instead "is" the substance.

ee also

* Appeal to emotion
* Truthiness
* Pundit (politics)


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