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Logical Fallacies — the False Choice


FALS DAIKOTOMEE
Hey, all. This post shall deal with another common error in reasoning, the False Choice fallacy, also known as the False Dichotomy, the Bifurcation fallacy, the Either-Or fallacy, the Fallacy of Negation, the False Dilemma, and for two common variants with three or four options respectively, the False Trichotomy and False Tetrachotomy. Other variants with only slightly more options, though less commonly used, exist.

This is an informal argument, in a broader sense a Dilemma, argumentation that derives its effectiveness from its resemblance to a kind of formal reasoning called a Disjunctive Syllogism.

A Dilemma, fallacious or not, unlike a Disjunctive Syllogism, has a conclusion that follows only to a degree of probability, not with certainty.

This fallacy, at least in its most common form of an artificial dichotomy, centers around argumentation that uses black-or-white thinking, or a misleadingly simple choice of two or more, but still too few options, one of which must be selected as true to the negation, discredit or rejection of the other(s). In its variant with three or more options, a slightly higher but still falsely constrained selection of options are presented as though they were the ONLY choices, but the basic reasoning applies to all uses of this argument style.

Needless to say, such thinking can be simplified to the point of falsity, and hence it’s usual status as a fallacy, since often there is a much greater selection of options in any realistic assessment of choices to make than suit the purposes of those who like to use this argument strategy and rhetorical tool.

Unfortunately, reality is not so cut-and-dry, not so simple as we might wish. On occassion, however there are exceptions to this, when there do exist a restricted selection of options, such as when a prediction made by a scientific hypothesis is either provisionally validated or falsified. This last and similar sets of choices would not count as a commission of this fallacy…

I’ll provide a couple of examples of the False Choice in its usual form…

  • Either young-Earth creationism is true or Darwinist evolution is true. Since evolution is false, creationism must be true…
  • You either worship my particular notion of God, or you worship the Devil…

…or, redone as false trichotomies…

  • Either young-Earth creationism, Intelligent design, or Darwinism is true, and since Darwinism and Intelligent design are false, young-Earth creationism must be true… (this argument completely ignores the vast variety of theological systems and creation myths of all the world’s cultures, past and present, misleadingly presenting a 19th century straw man of modern evolutionary science, the creation myth from Genesis as interpreted by biblical literalists, and Intelligent design as the only possible options.)
  • You either worship my concept of God, the devil, or the fleshy gods of materialistic science…

The rest are simple (and of course, simplistic) dichotomies…

  • You’re either a believer and a theist, or you’re a skeptic and an atheist… (two words suffice to refute this: Martin Gardner)
  • Anyone who doesn’t support the Patriot Act supports terrorists…
  • Either the girl broke her ex-boyfriend’s jaw with that slugger, or it started flying around and fractured his jaw by itself…
  • Either your cat stole my burrito or maybe a psychic just teleported in and grabbed it?..suuure…
  • If you are not with me, you’re against me…
  • You either have to be pro-choice or pro-life. There’s no middle ground…

Note that realistically, not all imaginable options in a set of alternatives need to be considered, only those options that are somehow meaningfully testable, in accordance with the rule of thumb known as Occam’s razor.

Also, as the commenter below points out, there is at least one other reason that this form of argument is not always a fallacy, such as when it is used to further the goal of advancing a critical discussion rather than merely block further consideration and thwart attempts to move a controversy to its resolution.

(Last Update: 2014/04/03, Related Post Links Added)

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