A false dilemma
is a type of logical fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional options (sometimes shades of grey between the extremes). For example, "It wasn't medicine that cured Ms. X, so it must have been a miracle."
A dilemma |proposition]]") is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable. One in this position has been traditionally described as "being on the horns of a dilemma", neither horn being comfortable...
can arise intentionally, when fallacy is used in an attempt to force a choice ("If you are not with us, you are against us
The phrase "you're either with us, or against us" and similar variations are used to depict situations as being polarized and to force witnesses and bystanders to become allies or lose favor...
"). 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").
In the community of philosophers and scholars, many believe that "unless a distinction can be made rigorous and precise it isn't really a distinction." An exception is analytic philosopher John Searle
John Rogers Searle is an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.-Biography:...
, who called it an incorrect assumption which produces false dichotomies. 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
Fuzzy logic is a form of many-valued logic; it deals with reasoning that is approximate rather than fixed and exact. In contrast with traditional logic theory, where binary sets have two-valued logic: true or false, fuzzy logic variables may have a truth value that ranges in degree between 0 and 1...
A Morton's Fork is a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives , or two lines of reasoning that lead to the same unpleasant conclusion...
, a choice between two equally unpleasant options, is often a false dilemma. The phrase originates from an argument for taxing English nobles:
- Either the nobles of this country appear wealthy, in which case they can be taxed for good; or they appear poor, in which case they are living frugally and must have immense savings, which can be taxed for good.
This is a false dilemma and a catch-22
A Catch-22, coined by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22, is a logical paradox arising from a situation in which an individual needs something that can only be acquired with an action that will lead him to that very situation he is already in; therefore, the acquisition of this thing becomes...
, 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.
The presentation of a false choice
often reflects a deliberate attempt to eliminate the middle ground on an issue. Eldridge Cleaver
Leroy Eldridge Cleaver better known as Eldridge Cleaver, was a leading member of the Black Panther Party and a writer...
used such a quotation during his 1968 presidential campaign
The United States presidential election of 1968 was the 46th quadrennial United States presidential election. Coming four years after Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson won in a historic landslide, it saw Johnson forced out of the race and Republican Richard Nixon elected...
: "You're either part of the solution or part of the problem." Another example would be the former US president George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....
stating that the world had a choice to make; "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
A common argument against noise pollution
Noise pollution is excessive, displeasing human, animal or machine-created environmental noise that disrupts the activity or balance of human or animal life...
laws involves a false choice. It might be argued that in New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...
noise should not be regulated, because if it were, the city would drastically change in a negative way. This argument involves assuming that, for example, a bar must be shut down for it to not cause disturbing levels of noise after midnight. This ignores the fact that the bar could simply lower its noise levels, and/or install more soundproof structural elements to keep the noise from excessively transmitting onto others' properties.
In psychology, a related phenomenon to the false dilemma is black-and-white thinking
. Many people routinely engage in black-and-white thinking, an example of which is feeling boundless optimism when things are going well and suddenly switching to total despair at the first setback. Another example is someone who labels other people as all good or all bad.
Falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus
The Latin phrase falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus
which, roughly translated, means "false in one thing, false in everything", is fallacious in so far as someone found to be wrong about one thing, is presumed to be wrong about some other thing entirely. Arising in Roman courts, this principle meant that if a witness was proved false in some parts of his testimony, any further statements were also regarded as false unless they were independently corroborated. Falsus
is thus a fallacy of logic. The description that an initial false statement is a prelude to the making of more false statements is false, however, even one false premise will suffice to disprove an argument. This is a special case of the associatory fallacy.
It must be noted that falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus
status as a logical fallacy is independent of whether it is wise or unwise to use as a legal rule, with witnesses testifying in courts being held for perjury if part of their statements are false.