Difference between revisions of "False dilemma"

From Issuepedia
m (alias: false dichotomy)
(rephrasing for clarity/accuracy)
 
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* "You're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem."
 
* "You're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem."
 
===All Cretans...===
 
===All Cretans...===
One of the most popular philosophical conundrums, the [[wikipedia:Epimenides paradox|Epimenides paradox]], can be resolved by realizing that it is a false dilemma. Epimenides, a Cretan, says "All Cretans are liars." Is he telling the truth?
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One of the most popular philosophical conundrums, the [[wikipedia:Epimenides paradox|Epimenides paradox]], can be resolved by realizing that it is a false dilemma. Epimenides, known to be a Cretan, says "All Cretans are liars." Is he telling the truth?
  
 
The paradox is usually explained along these lines:
 
The paradox is usually explained along these lines:
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The resolution is that there are other possibilities:
 
The resolution is that there are other possibilities:
* Epimenides is lying – only ''some'' Cretans are liars, and he is one of them.
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* Epimenides is lying – only ''some'' (not all) Cretans are liars, though he himself is one of the liars.
* Epimenides is only ''exaggerating'', not lying; only ''some'' Cretans are liars, and he isn't one of them.
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* Epimenides is only ''exaggerating'', not lying: some Cretans are liars, though he isn't one of the liars
* People who are "liars" ''sometimes'' tell the truth, and Epimenides (although generally a liar) is doing so in this case.
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* The word "liar" does not generally mean "never makes a true statement", so Epimenides might accurately imply that he is a liar in general even though he is telling the truth in this one specific case.
  
 
Note that subtle changes in the definition of "liar" (does "exaggeration" qualify as "lying"? is someone who lies a lot but sometimes tells the truth still a "liar"?) lead to rather different conclusions. This is why it is important to remember that [[the map is not the territory]] – i.e. the [[interpretive framing|words we use to describe a situation]] may misrepresent it in subtle ways that can dramatically affect our conclusions.
 
Note that subtle changes in the definition of "liar" (does "exaggeration" qualify as "lying"? is someone who lies a lot but sometimes tells the truth still a "liar"?) lead to rather different conclusions. This is why it is important to remember that [[the map is not the territory]] – i.e. the [[interpretive framing|words we use to describe a situation]] may misrepresent it in subtle ways that can dramatically affect our conclusions.

Latest revision as of 11:57, 30 May 2019

About

A false dilemma or false dichotomy is an argument "in which two alternative points of view are held to be the only options" when in fact other reasonable options are available.

The false dilemma is often used as a manipulative tool by claiming that the "only other choice" is something which is obviously unreasonable, unpleasant, or unpalatable. The technique is usually used to persuade its audience of a viewpoint that is some distance from a reasonable, "middle ground" solution; the arguer generally wants the audience to dismiss the possibility of a "middle ground" which they might otherwise agree with.

False dilemma arguers will sometimes take steps to prevent any middle-ground choices from being feasible, thus combining the false dilemma with an argument by fiat and/or an argument by force.

Also known as: false dichotomy, all-or-nothing fallacy/all-or-nothing thinking, ignoring the moderate, ignoring the middle (fallacy of the excluded middle), choice between extremes

Examples

  • The phrase "You're either with us, or you're against us.", often used by George W. Bush and his supporters
  • "You're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem."

All Cretans...

One of the most popular philosophical conundrums, the Epimenides paradox, can be resolved by realizing that it is a false dilemma. Epimenides, known to be a Cretan, says "All Cretans are liars." Is he telling the truth?

The paradox is usually explained along these lines:

According to his own testimony, he is a liar – which, if true, must mean that whatever he says is a lie, and therefore his statement about Cretans is a lie, and Cretans are not liars – which would mean that Epimenides, a Cretan, was not a liar – which means he must be lying about Cretans being all liars (because he's one of them and he's telling the truth), which makes him a liar, in which case he's right about Cretans...

The problem is that this is being framed as having only two possible conclusions – either

  • all Cretans are liars, in which case Epimenides's claim about Cretans is also a lie, so Cretans must not be liars after all (paradox!)

or else

  • all Cretans are not liars, in which case Epimenides is telling the truth, which leads back to the conclusion that all Cretans must be liars because Epimenides says so (paradox!)

The resolution is that there are other possibilities:

  • Epimenides is lying – only some (not all) Cretans are liars, though he himself is one of the liars.
  • Epimenides is only exaggerating, not lying: some Cretans are liars, though he isn't one of the liars
  • The word "liar" does not generally mean "never makes a true statement", so Epimenides might accurately imply that he is a liar in general even though he is telling the truth in this one specific case.

Note that subtle changes in the definition of "liar" (does "exaggeration" qualify as "lying"? is someone who lies a lot but sometimes tells the truth still a "liar"?) lead to rather different conclusions. This is why it is important to remember that the map is not the territory – i.e. the words we use to describe a situation may misrepresent it in subtle ways that can dramatically affect our conclusions.

Related

  • Interpretive framing often presents situations using a false dilemma.
  • In cognitive therapy [W], the false dilemma is called "all-or-nothing thinking" or "black-and-white thinking" and is a form of cognitive distortion [W], i.e. a bad habit-of-thought to be overcome due to its ability to prevent sane, moderate choices from being made.

Reference