We’re pretty close to the September LSAT, and I bet you’re pretty sick of thinking about it. Me too.
So rather than tackling a specific element of the test, or how you should be studying, or even talking law school applications, I want to turn your attention to one of society’s safe havens for logic flaws and faulty arguments: Hollywood.
Let’s take a look at the logical fallacies in three of the most famous lines in movie history.
1. “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” – A Few Good Men
This oft-quoted Sorkinism is one of the most well-known movie quotes ever, in part because it’s delivered by one of Hollywood’s greatest stars. However, the logical reasoning behind it is faulty at best.
If you’re unfamiliar with the scene in question, a navy colonel played by Jack Nicholson takes the witness stand for an impassioned confrontation with Tom Cruise, who portrays a hot-shot young JAG officer. If you’ve been studying for the LSAT, you should recognize the flaw right away: ad hominem (or “against the man” for those of you who didn’t waste spend six years studying Latin). Whether Tom Cruise can or cannot handle the truth isn’t germane to the point he’s trying to make. But instead of rebutting Cruise’s arguments, Hollywood Jack attacks their source and falls prey to a fundamental logical fallacy.
Tsk tsk, Jack. I expect better from you.
2. “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.” – King Kong
One of AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes also makes my own list of 100 Extraordinarily Cheesy Movie Quotes. Furthermore, it commits the pesky fallacy of confusing correlation with causation. Even if a giant monkey was in love with a human woman (a tenuous claim at best) and then he died, it doesn’t mean he died because he was in love. In fact, in this case it’s fairly obvious that bullets from the airplanes, or perhaps the resulting fall from the Empire State Building, killed the beast. Go look at a coroner’s report, Mr. Denham.
Also, I just want it to be clear that this line is from the 1933 King Kong and not from the travesty that is the Jack Black (really, Peter Jackson?) version.
3. “You can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society?” – Animal House
Rounding out our list of fallacious movie quotes is this gem delivered by the immortal Otter (no stranger to Sorkinisms himself). Interestingly, this line actually correctly identifies a flawed argument: the flaw of composition. In this case, Otter argues it’s not logical to infer something about the whole (the fraternity) on the basis of the parts (the “sick, twisted individuals”). He then shows how that reasoning could be used to argue that all of American society should be held responsible for the actions of a few members.
Unfortunately, Otter then turns around and accuses Dean Wormer of insulting America, by way of insulting Otter’s fraternity – and falls into the exact same logical trap he just outlined – before exiting while humming “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Well, he may not be a master logician, but I think we can all agree he is an American hero.
If you haven’t seen any of these movies, I would definitely recommend watching one (or all) of them the day before the LSAT—you shouldn’t be studying that day anyway, and all three are great films. And if you’re still looking for ways to hone your logical reasoning, keep an eye out for fallacies in your favorite TV shows and movies; I assure you, most screenwriters are not the meticulously trained logical bloodhounds that you’ve become while studying for the LSAT.
Just remember, Jack Black’s King Kong is terrible and not the one I’m recommending.