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False Dichotomy

2004-02-03

Category: philosophies

There is a fallacy defined in the study of logic called the False Dichotomy. In this fallacy, a person presents two choices as though they are the only two choices in existence. (It is possible that another number of choices is presented. The important part is that the choices presented are not all of the realistic choices for the argument in question.) The remainder of their argument probably rests on the existence of these limited number of options. By showing that there are more options available, the soundness of the argument is destroyed and the argument becomes false.

The False Dichotomy gets used a lot by people who try to manipulate others. One of the most common uses is the phrase, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." It seems to imply that persons who are not working actively to fix something are instead working actively to keep it from being fixed. This completely ignores the possibility that one is not involved in any way or that one may be working passively to fix the problem.

Young children use this approach when daring another to do something stupid. "You're not scared, are you?" asks the teasing child. In doing this he or she has established a set of rules where the only options are do the stupid thing or acknowledge fear. They have eliminated the choice of knowing better.

It is unfortunate that this practice has such a hold. Please watch for it and point it out when you see it. After describing the concept of False Dichotomy and accusing the miscreant you can follow up with a dichotomy that is not false. When they use the logical fallacy ask, "Where you knowingly using it to deceive others OR are you just stupid?"


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