Hunting for logical fallacies in the daily news is like fishing in a well-stocked pondits easy and glibly rewarding. When criticizing a politicians record, the fallacy of Tu Quoque is particularly useful; the New Atheists seem to find the Straw Man fallacy quite efficient when characterizing Christians; and when reporting on sex-abuse scandals, Selective Attention has done its part to portray the Church as morally monstrous. Poisoning the Well is, alas, alive and well when affixing political prefixes to conservatives; the Congress discourse was rife with False Dilemmas when arguing the partisan points of health-care reform; and Guilt by Association has long been a popular choice for dealing with Supreme Court nominees. We can instantly recall dozens of recent instances of Appeals to Emotion , Appeals to Ignorance , and Question-Begging .
Besides misadventures in informal logic, philosophical jargon is often co-opted for less precise purposes. Logical used to mean related to logic, but now it seems to be a synonym for reasonable. To refute an argument used to mean to defeat it decisively; now it seems only to indicate counterargument. Justifying something, if I recall, used to mean giving a sound line of reasoning to excuse an action. But in todays New York Times, a headline reads, U.S.-Born Cleric Justifies the Killing of Civilians. Does he now? Anwar al-Awlakis utilitarian argument, the Times reports, is that American civilian deaths are merely a drop in the sea compared to the plight of Arab civilians in war zones. Some justification.