Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fallacies (4) - false dichotomy (2)

False dichotomy* is the fallacy of presenting two alternatives when in fact more than two alternatives are available. If done deliberately, it is a form of rhetorical bullying. A more detailed definition is here.

Example of a false dichotomy

Rutgers University historian David Greenberg, in the New York Times, writes (requires login):

“Suddenly, after the aggressive, militaristic foreign policy of the Bush years, isolationism – a stance that rejects America’s leadership role in the world – is on the rise among Republicans.”

American author Justin Raimondo reacts:

“By posing a false choice between a hyperactive foreign policy and an ‘isolationist’ one, the War Party gets to argue as if they are the reasonable ones, and everyone else – in this case, most of the country – are marginal cranks.” (Emphasis in original.)

The Takeaway: In any formal writing or formal public speaking, be careful whenever you present an either-or choice. You may be overlooking additional alternatives, which is the fallacy of false dichotomy. False dichotomy can make you look like a fool or a bully. Your readers or listeners may call you on it.

Related: Fallacies (2) – cherry picking

See disclaimer.

*Also called false dilemma, the either-or fallacy, fallacy of false choice, black and white thinking, or the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses. More here. Dichotomy, from the Greek for cut in two, means division into two usually contradictory parts or opinions. More here.

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