Author Topic: Watching out against the material fallacies – 2  (Read 12415 times)

Joe Carillo

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4703
  • Karma: +212/-2
    • View Profile
    • Email
Watching out against the material fallacies – 2
« on: July 27, 2017, 10:29:42 AM »
We took up false cause last week as among the nine most common kinds of material fallacies. The fallacy of false cause wrongly assumes that one outcome is caused by another just because one happens after the other, when the two outcomes could be both caused by another event, or, could be totally unrelated. This time we’ll discuss the fallacies of hasty generalization, misapplied generalization, false dilemma, and compound question.

Hasty generalization. We fall victim to this fallacy when we make a general rule based on only a few examples, or on examples that are really exceptions. Take this statement: “His parents were great public administrators; therefore, he will be a great administrator, too.” The hasty generalization here is presuming that the traits and skills for good public administration can be passed on genetically to one’s offsprings without fail. If this were true, then all a country needs to do to be administered well perpetually is to breed a family—nay, a dynasty—of genetically excellent public administrators. We all know that this remains a pipe dream for all nations all over the world.


Misapplied generalization. When we misapply a certain generalization to a specific case that’s actually an exception to the rule, that generalization becomes materially fallacious. Look at this generalization: “Vegetables are nutritious; therefore, this piece of cabbage must be nutritious.” Cabbage is nutritious, of course, but maybe that particular cabbage you’d like to cook may already be rotten and no longer edible—hence, no longer nutritious.

Here’s an even more scalding generalization: “The graduates of X University have not worked hard and made a genuine effort in college, so they cannot keep any of their appointments and present carelessly written papers.” The fallacy here is that while the accusation may be true of certain students, it may not apply with respect to all the students of X University in general. It would have been fairer and more accurate to specifically address the accusation to—and rebuke—the students who were actually guilty of such academic transgressions.

False dilemma. Who has not been fascinated by the sensuous sell? “I allow only X [bathing soap, body lotion, intimate ointment] to touch my skin.” “I wear Y [briefs, panties, jeans] or nothing at all.” This materially fallacious argument prods us to overlook alternative possibilities, thus creating a false dilemma for us.

The false dilemma is also called the “either-or fallacy”—the choice is made to look like a dilemma when there are actually other viable alternatives. For example, someone respectable may have demonstrated an apparent skill in correctly predicting the outcome of horse races. Can the following statement then be made about that person? “Either that man’s a fraud or he’s psychic. Since it’s obvious he’s not a fraud, he must be truly psychic.” This is committing the fallacy of false dilemma, however, for it’s also possible that he’s a respectable person demonstrating psychic powers fraudulently, or he’s a fraudulent person who truly possesses psychic powers.

Compound question. Who has not yet encountered aggressive door-to-door preachers who, when politely told that you’re too busy, would tell you this in an aggrieved, mildly threatening tone: “You mean to say that you dare refuse God to enter your house?” This is the classic compound question, otherwise called the complex question or loaded question, devilishly phrased to limit the possibilities of one’s answer. Its simpler variation is the so-called persuasive definition, which deceptively fashions the terms of the argument to support the conclusion.

Also called “poisoning the well,” the compound question is designed to prevent or avoid any opposing arguments and incriminates the answerer regardless of the response he or she gives. This is because any answer would admit the preliminary conclusions built into the question.

(Next: Watching out against the material fallacies - 3)  August 3, 2017

This essay, 1050th  of a series, appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of The Manila Times, July 27, 2017 issue (print edition only), © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2020, 07:46:23 AM by Joe Carillo »