False dilemma

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A false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, the either-or fallacy, fallacy of false choice, black and white thinking or the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses) is a type of logical fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional options.

False dilemma can arise intentionally, when fallacy is used in an attempt to force a choice ("If you are not with us, you are against us.") But the fallacy can also arise simply by accidental omission of additional options rather than by deliberate deception (e.g., "I thought we were friends, but all my friends were at my apartment last night and you weren't there."). False dichotomies may also arise when it is incorrectly assumed that, as philosopher John Searle[1] writes, "unless a distinction can be made rigorous and precise it isn't really a distinction;" to the contrary, Searle insists that "it is a condition of the adequacy of a precise theory of an indeterminate phenomenon that it should precisely characterize that phenomenon as indeterminate; and a distinction is no less a distinction for allowing for a family of related, marginal, diverging cases." Similarly, when two alternatives are presented, they are often, though not always, two extreme points on some spectrum of possibilities. This can lend credence to the larger argument by giving the impression that the options are mutually exclusive, even though they need not be. Furthermore, the options in false dichotomies are typically presented as being collectively exhaustive, in which case the fallacy can be overcome, or at least weakened, by considering other possibilities, or perhaps by considering a whole spectrum of possibilities, as in fuzzy logic.[citation needed]

Contents

Examples

Morton's Fork

Morton's Fork, a choice between two equally unpleasant options, is often a false dilemma. The phrase originates from an argument for taxing English nobles:

This is a false dilemma and a catch-22, because it fails to allow for the possibility that some members of the nobility may in fact lack liquid assets as well as the probability that those who appear poor also lack liquid assets.

False choice

The presentation of a false choice often reflects a deliberate attempt to eliminate the middle ground on an issue. Eldridge Cleaver used such a quotation during his 1968 presidential campaign: "You're either part of the solution or part of the problem." [3] Another example would be the former president Bush stating that the world had a choice to make; "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." [4]

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