A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules. The term was coined by Joseph Heller, who used it in his 1961 novel Catch-22.
An example is:
- "How am I supposed to gain experience [to find a good job] if I'm constantly turned down for not having any?"
Catch-22s often result from rules, regulations, or procedures that an individual is subject to, but has no control over, because to fight the rule is to accept it. Another example is a situation in which someone is in need of something that can only be had by not being in need of it (e.g, a bank will never issue someone a loan if they need the money). One connotation of the term is that the creators of the "catch-22" situation have created arbitrary rules in order to justify and conceal their own abuse of power.
Origin and meaning
Joseph Heller coined the term in his 1961 novel Catch-22, which describes absurd bureaucratic constraints on soldiers in World War II. The term is introduced by the character Doc Daneeka, an army psychiatrist who invokes "Catch 22" to explain why any pilot requesting mental evaluation for insanity—hoping to be found not sane enough to fly and thereby escape dangerous missions—demonstrates his own sanity in creating the request and thus cannot be declared insane. This phrase also means a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
Different formulations of "Catch-22" appear throughout the novel. The term is applied to various loopholes and quirks of the military system, always with the implication that rules are inaccessible to and slanted against those lower in the hierarchy. In chapter 6, Yossarian is told that Catch-22 requires him to do anything his commanding officer tells him to do, regardless of whether these orders contradict orders from the officer's superiors.
In a final episode, Catch-22 is described to Yossarian by an old woman recounting an act of violence by soldiers:
"Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Yossarian shouted at her in bewildered, furious protest. "How did you know it was Catch-22? Who the hell told you it was Catch-22?"
"The soldiers with the hard white hats and clubs. The girls were crying. 'Did we do anything wrong?' they said. The men said no and pushed them away out the door with the ends of their clubs. 'Then why are you chasing us out?' the girls said. 'Catch 22,' the men said. All they kept saying was 'Catch-22, Catch-22. What does it mean, Catch 22? What is Catch-22?"
"Didn't they show it to you?" Yossarian demanded, stamping about in anger and distress. "Didn't you even make them read it?"
"They don't have to show us Catch-22," the old woman answered. "The law says they don't have to."
"What law says they don't have to?"
According to literature professor Ian Gregson, the old woman's narrative defines "Catch-22" more directly as the "brutal operation of power", stripping away the "bogus sophistication" of the earlier scenarios.
Other appearances in the novel
Besides referring to an unsolvable logical dilemma, Catch-22 is invoked to explain or justify the military bureaucracy. For example, in the first chapter, it requires Yossarian to sign his name to letters that he censors while he is confined to a hospital bed. One clause mentioned in chapter 10 closes a loophole in promotions, which one private had been exploiting to reattain the attractive rank of Private First Class after any promotion. Through courts-martial for going AWOL, he would be busted in rank back to private, but Catch-22 limited the number of times he could do this before being sent to the stockade.
At another point in the book, a prostitute explains to Yossarian that she cannot marry him because he is crazy, and she will never marry a crazy man. She considers any man crazy who would marry a woman who is not a virgin. This closed logic loop clearly illustrated Catch-22 because by her logic, all men who refuse to marry her are sane and thus she would consider marriage; but as soon as a man agrees to marry her, he becomes crazy for wanting to marry a non-virgin, and is instantly rejected. Yet her belief is not actually a logical fallacy. Just because she considers all men who would marry her, a damaged woman with no virtue, insane, she does not say that all men who don't want to marry her are sane.
At one point, Captain Black attempts to press Milo into depriving Major Major of food as a consequence of not signing a loyalty oath that Major Major was never given an opportunity to sign in the first place. Captain Black asks Milo, "You're not against Catch-22, are you?"
In chapter 40, Catch-22 forces Colonels Korn and Cathcart to promote Yossarian to Major and ground him rather than simply sending him home. They fear that if they do not, others will refuse to fly, just as Yossarian did.
Significance of the number 22
Main articles: Catch-22 § Explanation of the novel's title, and Catch-22
Heller originally wanted to call the phrase (and hence, the book) by other numbers, but he and his publishers eventually settled on 22. The number has no particular significance; it was chosen more or less for euphony. The title was originally Catch-18, but Heller changed it after the popular Mila 18 was published a short time beforehand.
The term "catch-22" has filtered into common usage in the English language. In a 1975 interview, Heller said the term would not translate well into other languages.
James E. Combs and Dan D. Nimmo suggest that the idea of a "catch-22" has gained popular currency because so many people in modern society are exposed to frustrating bureaucratic logic. They write:
Everyone, then, who deals with organizations understands the bureaucratic logic of Catch-22. In high school or college, for example, students can participate in student government, a form of self-government and democracy that allows them to decide whatever they want, just so long as the principal or dean of students approves. This bogus democracy that can be overruled by arbitrary fiat is perhaps a citizen's first encounter with organizations that may profess 'open' and libertarian values, but in fact are closed and hierarchical systems. Catch-22 is an organizational assumption, an unwritten law of informal power that exempts the organization from responsibility and accountability, and puts the individual in the absurd position of being excepted for the convenience or unknown purposes of the organization.
Along with George Orwell's "doublethink", "Catch-22" has become one of the best-recognized ways to describe the predicament of being trapped by contradictory rules.
A significant type of definition of alternative medicine has been termed a catch-22. In a 1998 editorial co-authored by Marcia Angell, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, argued that:
"It is time for the scientific community to stop giving alternative medicine a free ride. There cannot be two kinds of medicine – conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work. Once a treatment has been tested rigorously, it no longer matters whether it was considered alternative at the outset. If it is found to be reasonably safe and effective, it will be accepted. But assertions, speculation, and testimonials do not substitute for evidence. Alternative treatments should be subjected to scientific testing no less rigorous than that required for conventional treatments."
This definition has been described by Robert L. Park as a logical catch-22 which ensures that any Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) method which is proven to work "would no longer be CAM, it would simply be medicine."
The archetypalcatch-22, as formulated by Heller, involves the case of John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forcesbombardier, who wishes to be grounded from combat flight. This will only happen if he is evaluated by the squadron's flight surgeon and found "unfit to fly". "Unfit" would be any pilot who is willing to fly such dangerous missions, as one would have to be mad to volunteer for possible death. However, to be evaluated, he must request the evaluation, an act that is considered sufficient proof for being declared sane. These conditions make it impossible to be declared "unfit".
The "Catch-22" is that "anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy". Hence, pilots who request a mental fitness evaluation are sane, and therefore must fly in combat. At the same time, if an evaluation is not requested by the pilot, he will never receive one and thus can never be found insane, meaning he must also fly in combat.
Therefore, Catch-22 ensures that no pilot can ever be grounded for being insane even if he is.
A logical formulation of this situation is:
The philosopher Laurence Goldstein argues that the "airman's dilemma" is logically not even a condition that is true under no circumstances; it is a "vacuous biconditional" that is ultimately meaningless. Goldstein writes:
The catch is this: what looks like a statement of the conditions under which an airman can be excused flying dangerous missions reduces not to the statement
- (i) 'An airman can be excused flying dangerous missions if and only if Cont' (where 'Cont' is a contradiction)
(which could be a mean way of disguising an unpleasant truth), but to the worthlessly empty announcement
- (ii) 'An airman can be excused flying dangerous missions if and only if it is not the case that an airman can be excused flying dangerous missions'
If the catch were (i), that would not be so bad—an airman would at least be able to discover that under no circumstances could he avoid combat duty. But Catch-22 is worse—a welter of words that amounts to nothing; it is without content, it conveys no information at all.
- ^"Catch-22". Random House Dictionary. Random House. 2012.
- ^ ab"Catch 22", Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary, accessed 16 August 2013.
- ^Smith, Jacquelyn. "When an Employer Requires Experience and You Have None". Forbes. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
- ^Beidler, Philip D. (1995). Scriptures for a Generation: What We Were Reading in the '60s. p. 162. ISBN 978-0820317878.
- ^Margot A. Henriksen, Dr. Strangelove's America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age; University of California Press, 1997; ISBN 0-520-08310-5; p. 250.
- ^"Joseph Heller", Gale Encyclopedia of Biography, accessed via Answers.com, 16 August 2013.
- ^ abJames E. Combs & Dan D. Nimmo, The Comedy of Democracy; Westport, CT: Praeger (Greenwood Publishing Group), 1996; ISBN 0-275-94979-6; p. 152.
- ^Ian Gregson, Character and Satire in Post War Fiction; London: Continuum, 2006; ISBN 9781441130006; p. 38.
- ^Aldridge, John W. (1986-10-26). "The Loony Horror of it All – 'Catch-22' Turns 25". The New York Times. p. Section 7, Page 3, Column 1. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
- ^ ab"A classic by any other name", The Telegraph, 18 November 2007.
- ^Richard King, "22 Going on 50: Half a century later, the world is full of Catch-22s"; The Smart Set, 20 July 2011.
- ^Angell, M.; et al. (1998). "Alternative medicine--The risks of untested and unregulated remedies". New England Journal of Medicine. 339 (12): 839–41. doi:10.1056/NEJM199809173391210. PMID 9738094.
- ^Park, Robert L., Alternative Medicine: The Clinton Commission's Catch-22.
- ^Heller, Joseph (1999). Catch-22: A Novel. Simon and Schuster. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-684-86513-3. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
- ^Laurence Goldstein, "The Barber, Russell's paradox, catch-22, God, contradiction and more: A defence of a Wittgensteinian conception of contradiction"; in The law of non-contradiction: new philosophical essays, ed. Graham Priest, Jc Beall & Bradley Armour-Garb; Oxford University Press, 2004.
The A Priori Argument (also, Rationalization; Dogmatism, Proof Texting.): A corrupt argument from logos,starting with a given, pre-set belief, dogma, doctrine, scripture verse, "fact" or conclusion and then searching for any reasonable or reasonable-sounding argument to rationalize, defend or justify it. Certain ideologues and religious fundamentalists are proud to use this fallacy as their primary method of "reasoning" and some are even honest enough to say so. E.g., since we know there is no such thing as "evolution," a prime duty of believers is to look for ways to explain away growing evidence, such as is found in DNA, that might suggest otherwise. See also the Argument from Ignorance. The opposite of this fallacy is the Taboo.
Ableism (also, The Con Artist's Fallacy; The Dacoit's Fallacy; Shearing the Sheeple; Profiteering; "Vulture Capitalism," "Wealth is disease, and I am the cure."): A corrupt argument from ethos, arguing that because someone is intellectually slower, physically or emotionally less capable, less ambitious, less aggressive, older or less healthy (or simply more trusting or less lucky) than others, s/he "naturally" deserves less in life and may be freely victimized by those who are luckier, quicker, younger, stronger, healthier, greedier, more powerful, less moral or more gifted (or who simply have more immediate felt need for money, often involving some form of addiction). This fallacy is a "softer" argumentum ad baculum. When challenged, those who practice this fallacy seem to most often shrug their shoulders and mumble "Life is ruff and you gotta be tuff [sic]," "You gotta do what you gotta do to get ahead in this world," "It's no skin off my nose," "That's free enterprise," "That's the way life is!" or similar.
Actions have Consequences: The contemporary fallacy of a person in power falsely describing an imposed punishment or penalty as a "consequence" of another's negative act. E.g.," The consequences of your misbehavior could include suspension or expulsion." A corrupt argument from ethos, arrogating to oneself or to one's rules or laws an ethos of cosmic inevitability, i.e., the ethos of God, Fate, Karma, Destiny or Reality Itself. Illness or food poisoning are likely "consequences" of eating spoiled food, while being "grounded" is a punishment for, not a "consequence," of childhood misbehavior. Freezing to death is a natural "consequence" of going out naked in subzero weather but going to prison is a punishment for bank robbery, not a natural, inevitable or unavoidable "consequence," of robbing a bank. Not to be confused with the Argument from Consequences, which is quite different. See also Blaming the Victim. An opposite fallacy is that of Moral Licensing.
The Ad Hominem Argument (also, "Personal attack," "Poisoning the well"): The fallacy of attempting to refute an argument by attacking the opposition’s intelligence, morals, education, professional qualifications, personal character or reputation, using a corrupted negative argument from ethos. E.g., "That so-called judge;" or "He's so evil that you can't believe anything he says." See also "Guilt by Association." The opposite of this is the "Star Power" fallacy. Another obverse of Ad Hominem is the Token Endorsement Fallacy, where, in the words of scholar Lara Bhasin, "Individual A has been accused of anti-Semitism, but Individual B is Jewish and says Individual A is not anti-Semitic, and the implication of course is that we can believe Individual B because, being Jewish, he has special knowledge of anti- Semitism. Or, a presidential candidate is accused of anti-Muslim bigotry, but someone finds a testimony from a Muslim who voted for said candidate, and this is trotted out as evidence against the candidate's bigotry." The same fallacy would apply to a sports team offensively named after a marginalized ethnic group, but which has obtained the endorsement (freely given or paid) of some member, traditional leader or tribal council of that marginalized group so that the otherwise-offensive team name and logo magically become "okay" and nonracist.
The Affective Fallacy (also The Romantic Fallacy; Emotion over Reflection; "Follow Your Heart"): An extremely common modern fallacy of Pathos, that one's emotions, urges or "feelings" are innate and in every case self-validating, autonomous, and above any human intent or act of will (one's own or others'), and are thus immune to challenge or criticism. (In fact, researchers now  have robust scientific evidence that emotions are actually cognitive and not innate.) In this fallacy one argues, "I feel it, so it must be true. My feelings are valid, so you have no right to criticize what I say or do, or how I say or do it." This latter is also a fallacy of stasis, confusing a respectful and reasoned response or refutation with personal invalidation, disrespect, prejudice, bigotry, sexism, homophobia or hostility. A grossly sexist form of the Affective Fallacy is the well-known crude fallacy that the phallus "Has no conscience" (also, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do;" "Thinking with your other head."), i.e., since (male) sexuality is self-validating and beyond voluntary control what one does with it cannot be controlled either and such actions are not open to criticism, an assertion eagerly embraced and extended beyond the male gender in certain reifications of "Desire" in contemporary academic theory. See also, Playing on Emotion. Opposite to this fallacy is the Chosen Emotion Fallacy (thanks to scholar Marc Lawson for identifying this fallacy), in which one falsely claims complete, or at least reliable prior voluntary control over one's own autonomic, "gut level" affective reactions. Closely related if not identical to this last is the ancient fallacy of Angelism, falsely claiming that one is capable of "objective" reasoning and judgment without emotion, claiming for oneself a viewpoint of Olympian "disinterested objectivity" or pretending to place oneself far above all personal feelings, temptations or bias. See also, Mortification.
Alphabet Soup: A corrupt modern implicit fallacy from ethos in which a person inappropriately overuses acronyms, abbreviations, form numbers and arcane insider "shop talk" primarily to prove to an audience that s/he "speaks their language" and is "one of them" and to shut out, confuse or impress outsiders. E.g., "It's not uncommon for a K-12 with ASD to be both GT and LD;" "I had a twenty-minute DX Q-so on 15 with a Zed-S1 and a couple of LU2's even though the QR-Nancy was 10 over S9;" or "I hope I'll keep on seeing my BAQ on my LES until the day I get my DD214." See also, Name Calling. This fallacy has recently become common in media pharmaceutical advertising in the United States, where "Alphabet Soup" is used to create false identification with and to exploit patient groups suffering from specific illnesses or conditions, e.g., "If you have DPC with associated ZL you can keep your B2D under control with Luglugmena®. Ask your doctor today about Luglugmena® Helium Tetracarbide lozenges to control symptoms of ZL and to keep your B2D under that crucial 7.62 threshold. Side effects of Luglugmena® may include K4 Syndrome which may lead to lycanthropic bicephaly, BMJ and occasionally, death. Do not take Luglugmena® if you are allergic to dogbite or have type D Flinder's Garbosis..."
Alternative Truth (also, Alt Facts; Counterknowledge; Disinformation; Information Pollution):A newly-famous contemporary fallacy of logos rooted in postmodernism, denying the resilience of facts or truth as such. Writer Hannah Arendt, in her The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) warned that "The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists." Journalist Leslie Grass (2017) writes in her Blog Reachoutrecovery.com, "Is there someone in your life who insists things happened that didn’t happen, or has a completely different version of events in which you have the facts? It’s a form of mind control and is very common among families dealing with substance and behavior problems." She suggests that such "Alternate Facts" work to "put you off balance," "control the story," and "make you think you're crazy," and she notes that "presenting alternate facts is the hallmark of untrustworthy people." The Alternative Truth fallacy is related to the Big Lie Technique. See also Gaslighting, Blind Loyalty, The Big Brain/Little Brain Fallacy, and Two Truths
The Appeal to Closure: The contemporary fallacy that an argument, standpoint, action or conclusion no matter how questionable must be accepted as final or else the point will remain unsettled, which is unthinkable because those affected will be denied "closure." This fallacy falsely reifies a specialized term (closure) from Gestalt Psychology while refusing to recognize the undeniable truth that some points will indeed remain open and unsettled, perhaps forever. E.g., "Society would be protected, real punishment would be inflicted, crime would be deterred and justice served if we sentenced you to life without parole, but we need to execute you in order to provide some closure." See also, Argument from Ignorance, and Argument from Consequences. The opposite of this fallacy is the Paralysis of Analysis.
The Appeal to Heaven: (also, Argumentum ad Coelum, Deus Vult, Gott mit Uns, Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism, or the Special Covenant): An ancient, extremely dangerous fallacy (a deluded argument from ethos) that of claiming to know the mind of God (or History, or a higher power), who has allegedly ordered or anointed, supports or approves of one's own country, standpoint or actions so no further justification is required and no serious challenge is possible. (E.g., "God ordered me to kill my children," or "We need to take away your land, since God [or Scripture, or Manifest Destiny, or Fate, or Heaven] has given it to us as our own.") A private individual who seriously asserts this fallacy risks ending up in a psychiatric ward, but groups or nations who do it are far too often taken seriously. Practiced by those who will not or cannot tell God's will from their own, this vicious (and blasphemous) fallacy has been the cause of endless bloodshed over history. See also, Moral Superiority, and Magical Thinking. Also applies to deluded negative Appeals to Heaven, e.g., "You say that famine and ecological collapse due to climate change are real dangers during the coming century, but I know God wouldn't ever let that happen to us!" The opposite of the Appeal to Heaven is the Job's Comforter fallacy.
The Appeal to Nature (also, Biologizing; The Green Fallacy): The contemporary romantic fallacy of ethos (that of "Mother Nature") that if something is "natural" it has to be good, healthy and beneficial. E.g., "Our premium herb tea is lovingly brewed from the finest freshly-picked and delicately dried natural T. Radicans leaves. Those who dismiss it as mere 'Poison Ivy' don't understand that it's 100% organic, with no additives, GMO's or artificial ingredients It's time to Go Green and lay back in Mother's arms." One who employs or falls for this fallacy forgets the old truism that left to itself, nature is indeed "red in tooth and claw." This fallacy also applies to arguments alleging that something is "unnatural," or "against nature" and thus evil (The Argument from Natural Law) e.g. "Homosexuality should be outlawed because it's against nature," arrogating to oneself the authority to define what is "natural" and what is unnatural or perverted. E.g., during the American Revolution British sources widely condemned rebellion against King George III as "unnatural," and American revolutionaries as "perverts," because the Divine Right of Kings represented Natural Law, and according to 1 Samuel 15:23 in the Bible, rebellion is like unto witchcraft.
The Appeal to Pity: (also, "Argumentum ad Miserecordiam"): The fallacy of urging an audience to “root for the underdog” regardless of the issues at hand. A classic example is, “Those poor, cute little squeaky mice are being gobbled up by mean, nasty cats ten times their size!” A contemporary example might be America's uncritical popular support for the Arab Spring movement of 2010-2012 in which The People ("The underdogs") were seen to be heroically overthrowing cruel dictatorships, a movement that has resulted in retrospect in chaos, impoverishment, anarchy, mass suffering, civil war, the regional collapse of civilization and rise of extremism, and the largest refugee crisis since World War II. A corrupt argument from pathos. See also, Playing to Emotions. The opposite of the Appeal to Pity is the Appeal to Rigor, an argument (often based on machismo or on manipulating an audience's fear) based on mercilessness. E.g., "I'm a real man, not like those bleeding hearts, and I'll be tough on [fill in the name of the enemy or bogeyman of the hour]." In academia this latter fallacy applies to politically-motivated or elitist calls for "Academic Rigor," and rage against university developmental / remedial classes, open admissions, "dumbing down" and "grade inflation."
The Appeal to Tradition: (also, Conservative Bias; Back in Those Good Times, "The Good Old Days"): The ancient fallacy that a standpoint, situation or action is right, proper and correct simply because it has "always" been that way, because people have "always" thought that way, or because it was that way long ago (most often meaning in the audience members' youth or childhood, not before) and still continues to serve one particular group very well. A corrupted argument from ethos (that of past generations). E.g., "In America, women have always been paid less, so let's not mess with long-standing tradition." See also Argument from Inertia, and Default Bias. The opposite of this fallacy is The Appeal to Novelty (also, "Pro-Innovation bias," "Recency Bias," and "The Bad Old Days;" The Early Adopter's Fallacy), e.g., "It's NEW, and [therefore it must be] improved!" or "This is the very latest discovery--it has to be better."
Appeasement (also, "Assertiveness," "The squeaky wheel gets the grease;" "I know my rights!"): This fallacy, most often popularly connected to the shameful pre-World War II appeasement of Hitler, is in fact still commonly practiced in public agencies, education and retail business today, e.g. "Customers are always right, even when they're wrong. Don't argue with them, just give'em what they want so they'll shut up and go away, and not make a stink--it's cheaper and easier than a lawsuit." Widespread unchallenged acceptance of this fallacy encourages offensive, uncivil public behavior and sometimes the development of a coarse subculture of obnoxious, "assertive" manipulators who, like "spoiled" children, leverage their knowledge of how to figuratively (or sometimes even literally!) "make a stink" into a primary coping skill in order to get what they want when they want it. The works of the late Community Organizing guru Saul Alinsky suggest practical, nonviolent ways for groups to harness the power of this fallacy to promote social change, for good or for evil.. See also Bribery.
The Argument from Consequences (also, Outcome Bias): The major fallacy of logos, arguing that something cannot be true because if it were the consequences or outcome would be unacceptable. (E.g., "Global climate change cannot be caused by human burning of fossil fuels, because if it were, switching to non-polluting energy sources would bankrupt American industry," or "Doctor, that's wrong! I can't have terminal cancer, because if I did that'd mean that I won't live to see my kids get married!") Not to be confused with Actions have Consequences.
The Argument from Ignorance (also, Argumentum ad Ignorantiam): The fallacy that since we don’t know (or can never know, or cannot prove) whether a claim is true or false, it must be false, or it must be true. E.g., “Scientists are never going to be able to positively prove their crazy theory that humans evolved from other creatures, because we weren't there to see it! So, that proves the Genesis six-day creation account is literally true as written!” This fallacy includes Attacking the Evidence (also, "Whataboutism"; The Missing Link fallacy), e.g. "Some or all of your key evidence is missing, incomplete, or even faked! What about that? That proves you're wrong and I'm right!" This fallacy usually includes fallacious “Either-Or Reasoning” as well: E.g., “The vet can't find any reasonable explanation for why my dog died. See! See! That proves that you poisoned him! There’s no other logical explanation!” A corrupted argument from logos, and a fallacy commonly found in American political, judicial and forensic reasoning. The recently famous "Flying Spaghetti Monster" meme is a contemporary refutation of this fallacy--simply because we cannot conclusively disprove the existence of such an absurd entity does not argue for its existence. See also A Priori Argument, Appeal to Closure, The Simpleton's Fallacy, and Argumentum ex Silentio.
The Argument from Incredulity: The popular fallacy of doubting or rejecting a novel claim or argument out of hand simply because it appears superficially "incredible," "insane" or "crazy," or because it goes against one's own personal beliefs, prior experience or ideology. This cynical fallacy falsely elevates the saying popularized by Carl Sagan, that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof," to an absolute law of logic. See also Hoyle's Fallacy. The common, popular-level form of this fallacy is dismissing surprising, extraordinary or unfamiliar arguments and evidence with a wave of the hand, a shake of the head, and a mutter of "that's crazy!"
The Argument from Inertia (also “Stay the Course”): The fallacy that it is necessary to continue on a mistaken course of action regardless of pain and sacrifice involved and even after discovering it is mistaken, because changing course would mean admitting that one's decision (or one's leader, or one's country, or one's faith) was wrong, and all one's effort, expense, sacrifice and even bloodshed was for nothing, and that's unthinkable. A variety of the Argument from Consequences, E for Effort, or the Appeal to Tradition. See also "Throwing Good Money After Bad."
The Argument from Motives (also Questioning Motives): The fallacy of declaring a standpoint or argument invalid solely because of the evil, corrupt or questionable motives of the one making the claim. E.g., "Bin Laden wanted us to withdraw from Afghanistan, so we have to keep up the fight!" Even evil people with the most corrupt motives sometimes say the truth (and even good people with the highest and purest motives are often wrong or mistaken). A variety of the Ad Hominem argument. The opposite side of this fallacy is falsely justifying or excusing evil or vicious actions because of the perpetrator's aparent purity of motives or lack of malice. (E.g., "Sure, she may have beaten her children bloody now and again but she was a highly educated, ambitious professional woman at the end of her rope, deprived of adult conversation and stuck between four walls for years on end with a bunch of screaming, fighting brats, doing the best she could with what little she had. How can you stand there and accuse her of child abuse?") See also Moral Licensing.
Argumentum ad Baculum ("Argument from the Club." Also, "Argumentum ad Baculam," "Argument from Strength," "Muscular Leadership," "Non-negotiable Demands," "Hard Power," Bullying, The Power-Play, Fascism, Resolution by Force of Arms, Shock and Awe.): The fallacy of "persuasion" or "proving one is right" by force, violence, brutality, terrorism, superior strength, raw military might, or threats of violence. E.g., "Gimmee your wallet or I'll knock your head off!" or "We have the perfect right to take your land, since we have the big guns and you don't." Also applies to indirect forms of threat. E.g., "Give up your foolish pride, kneel down and accept our religion today if you don't want to burn in hell forever and ever!" A mainly discursive Argumentum ad Baculum is that of forcibly silencing opponents, ruling them "out of order," blocking, censoring or jamming their message, or simply speaking over them or/speaking more loudly than they do, this last a tactic particularly attributed to men in mixed-gender discussions.
Argumentum ad Mysteriam ("Argument from Mystery;" also Mystagogy.): A darkened chamber, incense, chanting or drumming, bowing and kneeling, special robes or headgear, holy rituals and massed voices reciting sacred mysteries in an unknown tongue have a quasi-hypnotic effect and can often persuade more strongly than any logical argument. The Puritan Reformation was in large part a rejection of this fallacy. When used knowingly and deliberately this fallacy is particularly vicious and accounts for some of the fearsome persuasive power of cults. An example of an Argumentum ad Mysteriam is the "Long Ago and Far Away" fallacy, the fact that facts, evidence, practices or arguments from ancient times, distant lands and/or "exotic" cultures seem to acquire a special gravitas or ethos simply because of their antiquity, language or origin, e.g., publicly chanting Holy Scriptures in their original (most often incomprehensible) ancient languages, preferring the Greek, Latin, Assyrian or Old Slavonic Christian Liturgies over their vernacular versions, or using classic or newly invented Greek and Latin names for fallacies in order to support their validity. See also, Esoteric Knowledge. An obverse of the Argumentum ad Mysteriam is the Standard Version Fallacy.
Argumentum ex Silentio (Argument from Silence): The fallacy that if available sources remain silent or current knowledge and evidence can prove nothing about a given subject or question this fact in itself proves the truth of one's claim. E.g., "Science can tell us nothing about God. That proves God doesn't exist." Or "Science admits it can tell us nothing about God, so you can't deny that God exists!" Often misused in the American justice system, where, contrary to the 5th Amendment and the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, remaining silent or "taking the Fifth" is often falsely portrayed as proof of guilt. E.g., "Mr. Hixon can offer no alibi for his whereabouts the evening of January 15th. This proves that he was in fact in room 331 at the Smuggler's Inn, murdering his wife with a hatchet!" In today's America, choosing to remain silent in the face of a police officer's questions can make one guilty enough to be arrested or even shot. See also, Argument from Ignorance.
Availability Bias (also, Attention Bias, Anchoring Bias): A fallacy of logos stemming from the natural tendency to give undue attention and importance to information that is immediately available at hand, particularly the first or last information received, and to minimize or ignore broader data or wider evidence that clearly exists but is not as easily remembered or accessed. E.g., "We know from experience that this doesn't work," when "experience" means the most recent local attempt, ignoring overwhelming experience from other places and times where it has worked and does work. Also related is the fallacy of Hyperbole [also, Magnification, or sometimes Catastrophizing] where an immediate instance is immediately proclaimed "the most significant in all of human history," or the "worst in the whole world!" This latter fallacy works extremely well with less-educated audiences and those whose "whole world" is very small indeed, audiences who "hate history" and whose historical memory spans several weeks at best.
The Bandwagon Fallacy (also, Argument from Common Sense, Argumentum ad Populum): The fallacy of arguing that because "everyone," "the people," or "the majority" (or someone in power who has widespread backing) supposedly thinks or does something, it must therefore be true and right. E.g., "Whether there actually is large scale voter fraud in America or not, many people now think there is and that makes it so." Sometimes also includes Lying with Statistics, e.g. “Over 75% of Americans believe that crooked Bob Hodiak is a thief, a liar and a pervert. There may not be any evidence, but for anyone with half a brain that conclusively proves that Crooked Bob should go to jail! Lock him up! Lock him up!” This is sometimes combined with the "Argumentum ad Baculum," e.g., "Like it or not, it's time to choose sides: Are you going to get on board the bandwagon with everyone else, or get crushed under the wheels as it goes by?" Or in the 2017 words of former White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, ""They should either get with the program or they can go," A contemporary digital form of the Bandwagon Fallacy is the Information Cascade, "in which people echo the opinions of others, usually online, even when their own opinions or exposure to information contradicts that opinion. When information cascades form a pattern, this pattern can begin to overpower later opinions by making it seem as if a consensus already exists." (Thanks to Teaching Tolerance for this definition!) See also Wisdom of the Crowd, and The Big Lie Technique. For the opposite of this fallacy see the Romantic Rebel fallacy.
The Big Brain/Little Brain Fallacy (also, the Führerprinzip; Mad Leader Disease): A not-uncommon but extreme example of the Blind Loyalty Fallacy below, in which a tyrannical boss, military commander, or religious or cult-leader tells followers "Don't think with your little brains (the brain in your head), but with your BIG brain (mine)." This last is sometimes expressed in positive terms, i.e., "You don't have to worry and stress out about the rightness or wrongness of what you are doing since I, the Leader. am assuming all moral and legal responsibility for all your actions. So long as you are faithfully following orders without question I will defend you and gladly accept all the consequences up to and including eternal damnation if I'm wrong." The opposite of this is the fallacy of "Plausible Deniability." See also, "Just Do It!", and "Gaslighting."
The Big "But" Fallacy (also, Special Pleading): The fallacy of enunciating a generally-accepted principle and then directly negating it with a "but." Often this takes the form of the "Special Case," which is supposedly exempt from the usual rules of law, logic, morality, ethics or even credibility E.g., "As Americans we have always believed on principle that every human being has God-given, inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, including in the case of criminal accusations a fair and speedy trial before a jury of one's peers. BUT, your crime was so unspeakable and a trial would be so problematic for national security that it justifies locking you up for life in Guantanamo without trial, conviction or possibility of appeal." Or, "Yes, Honey, I still love you more than life itself, and I know that in my wedding vows I promised before God that I'd forsake all others and be faithful to you 'until death do us part,' but you have to understand, this was a special case..." See also, "Shopping Hungry," and "We Have to do Something!"
The Big Lie Technique (also the Bold Faced Lie; "Staying on Message."): The contemporary fallacy of repeating a lie, fallacy, slogan, talking-point, nonsense-statement or deceptive half-truth over and over in different forms (particularly in the media) until it becomes part of daily discourse and people accept it without further proof or evidence. Sometimes the bolder and more outlandish the Big Lie becomes the more credible it seems to a willing, most often angry audience. E.g., "What about the Jewish Problem?" Note that when this particular phony debate was going on there was no "Jewish Problem," only a Nazi Problem, but hardly anybody in power recognized or wanted to talk about that, while far too many ordinary Germans were only too ready to find a convenient scapegoat to blame for their suffering during the Great Depression. Writer Miles J. Brewer expertly demolishes The Big Lie Technique in his classic (1930) short story, "The Gostak and the Doshes." However, more contemporary examples of the Big Lie fallacy might be the completely fictitious August 4, 1964 "Tonkin Gulf Incident" concocted under Lyndon Johnson as a false justification for escalating the Vietnam War, or the non-existent "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq (conveniently abbreviated "WMD's" in order to lend this Big Lie a legitimizing, military-sounding "Alphabet Soup" ethos), used in 2003 as a false justification for the Second Gulf War. The November, 2016 U.S. President-elect's statement that "millions" of ineligible votes were cast in that year's American. presidential election appears to be a classic Big Lie. See also, Alternative Truth; The Bandwagon Fallacy, the Straw Man, Alphabet Soup, and Propaganda.
Blind Loyalty (also Blind Obedience, Unthinking Obedience, the "Team Player" appeal, the Nuremberg Defense): The dangerous fallacy that an argument or action is right simply and solely because a respected leader or source (a President, expert, one’s parents, one's own "side," team or country, one’s boss or commanding officers) says it is right. This is over-reliance on authority, a gravely corrupted argument from ethos that puts loyalty above truth, above one's own reason and above conscience. In this case a person attempts to justify incorrect, stupid or criminal behavior by whining "That's what I was told to do," or “I was just following orders." See also, The Big Brain/Little Brain Fallacy, and The "Soldiers' Honor" Fallacy.
Blood is Thicker than Water (also Favoritism; Compadrismo; "For my friends, anything."): The reverse of the "Ad Hominem" fallacy, a corrupt argument from ethos where a statement, argument or action is automatically regarded as true, correct and above challenge because one is related to, knows and likes, or is on the same team or side, or belongs to the same religion, party, club or fraternity as the individual involved. (E.g., "My brother-in-law says he saw you goofing off on the job. You're a hard worker but who am I going to believe, you or him? You're fired!") See also the Identity Fallacy.
Brainwashing (also, Propaganda, "Radicalization."): The Cold War-era fantasy that an enemy can instantly win over or "radicalize" an unsuspecting audience with their vile but somehow unspeakably persuasive "propaganda," e.g., "Don't look at that website! They're trying to brainwash you with their propaganda!" Historically, "brainwashing" refers more properly to the inhuman Argumentum ad Baculum of "beating an argument into" a prisoner via a combination of pain, fear, sensory or sleep deprivation, prolonged abuse and sophisticated psychological manipulation (also, the "Stockholm Syndrome."). Such "brainwashing" can also be accomplished by pleasure ("Love Bombing,"); e.g., "Did you like that? I know you did. Well, there's lots more where that came from when you sign on with us!" (See also, "Bribery.") An unspeakably sinister form of persuasion by brainwashing involves deliberately addicting a person to drugs and then providing or withholding the substance depending on the addict's compliance. Note: Only the other side brainwashes. "We" never brainwash.
Bribery (also, Material Persuasion, Material Incentive, Financial Incentive). The fallacy of "persuasion" by bribery, gifts or favors is the reverse of the Argumentum ad Baculum. As is well known, someone who is persuaded by bribery rarely "stays persuaded" in the long term unless the bribes keep on coming in and increasing with time. See also Appeasement.
Calling "Cards": A contemporary fallacy of logos, arbitrarily and falsely dismissing familiar or easily-anticipated but valid, reasoned objections to one's standpoint with a wave of the hand, as mere "cards" in some sort of "game" of rhetoric, e.g. "Don't try to play the 'Race Card' against me," or "She's playing the 'Woman Card' again," or "That 'Hitler Card' won't score with me in this argument." See also, The Taboo, and Political Correctness.
Circular Reasoning (also, The Vicious Circle; Catch 22, Begging the Question, Circulus in Probando): A fallacy of logos where A is because of B, and B is because of A, e.g., "You can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without a job." Also refers to falsely arguing that something is true by repeating the same statement in different words. E.g., “The witchcraft problem is the most urgent spiritual crisis in the world today. Why? Because witches threaten our very eternal salvation.” A corrupt argument from logos. See also the "Big Lie technique."
The Complex Question: The contemporary fallacy of demanding a direct answer to a question that cannot be answered without first analyzing or challenging the basis of the question itself. E.g., "Just answer me 'yes' or 'no': Did you think you could get away with plagiarism and not suffer the consequences?" Or, "Why did you rob that bank?" Also applies to situations where one is forced to either accept or reject complex standpoints or propositions containing both acceptable and unacceptable parts. A corruption of the argument from logos. A counterpart of Either/Or Reasoning.
Confirmation Bias: A fallacy of logos, the common tendency to notice, search out, select and share evidence that confirms one's own standpoint and beliefs, as opposed to contrary evidence. This fallacy is how "fortune tellers" work--If I am told I will meet a "tall, dark stranger" I will be on the lookout for a tall, dark stranger, and when I meet someone even marginally meeting that description I will marvel at the correctness of the "psychic's" prediction. In contemporary times Confirmation Bias is most often seen in the tendency of various audiences to "curate their political environments, subsisting on one-sided information diets and [even] selecting into politically homogeneous neighborhoods" (Michael A. Neblo et al., 2017, Science magazine). Confirmation Bias (also, Homophily) means that people tend to seek out and follow solely those media outlets that confirm their common ideological and cultural biases, sometimes to an degree that leads a the false (implicit or even explicit) conclusion that "everyone" agrees with that bias and that anyone who doesn't is "crazy," "looney," evil or even "radicalized." See also, "Half Truth," and "Defensiveness."
Cost Bias: A fallacy of ethos (that of a product), the fact that something expensive (either in terms of money, or something that is "hard fought" or "hard won" or for which one "paid dearly") is generally valued more highly than something obtained free or cheaply, regardless of the item's real quality, utility or true value to the purchaser. E. g., "Hey, I worked hard to get this car! It may be nothing but a clunker that can't make it up a steep hill, but it's mine, and to me it's better than some millionaire's limo." Also applies to judging the quality of a consumer item (or even of its owner!) primarily by the item's brand, price, label or source, e.g., "Hey, you there in the Jay-Mart suit! Har-har!" or, "Ooh, she's driving a Mercedes!"
Default Bias: (also, Normalization of Evil, "Deal with it;" "If it ain't broke, don't fix it;" Acquiescence; "Making one's peace with the situation;" "Get used to it;" "Whatever is, is right;" "It is what it is;" "Let it be, let it be;" "This is the best of all possible worlds [or, the only possible world];" "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."): The logical fallacy of automatically favoring or accepting a situation simply because it exists right now, and arguing that any other alternative is mad, unthinkable, impossible, or at least would take too much effort, expense, stress or risk to change. The opposite of this fallacy is that of Nihilism ("Tear it all down!"), blindly rejecting what exists in favor of what could be, the adolescent fantasy of romanticizing anarchy, chaos (an ideology sometimes called political "Chaos Theory"), disorder, "permanent revolution," or change for change's sake.
Defensiveness (also, Choice-support Bias: Myside Bias): A fallacy of ethos (one's own), in which after one has taken a given decision, commitment or course of action, one automatically tends to defend that decision and to irrationally dismiss opposing options even when one's decision later on proves to be shaky or wrong. E.g., "Yeah, I voted for Snith. Sure, he turned out to be a crook and a liar and he got us into war, but I still say that at that time he was better than the available alternatives!" See also "Argument from Inertia" and "Confirmation Bias."
Deliberate Ignorance: (also, Closed-mindedness; "I don't want to hear it!"; Motivated Ignorance; Tuning Out; Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil [The Three Monkeys' Fallacy]): As described by author and commentator Brian Resnik on Vox.com (2017), this is the fallacy of simply choosing not to listen, "tuning out" or turning off any information, evidence or arguments that challenge one's beliefs, ideology, standpoint, or peace of mind, following the popular humorous dictum: "Don't try to confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up!" This seemingly innocuous fallacy has enabled the most vicious tyrannies and abuses over history, and continues to do so today. See also Trust your Gut, Confirmation Bias, The Third Person Effect, "They're All Crooks," the Simpleton's Fallacy, and The Positive Thinking Fallacy.
Diminished Responsibility: The common contemporary fallacy of applying a specialized judicial concept (that criminal punishment should be less if one's judgment was impaired) to reality in general. E.g., "You can't count me absent on Monday--I was hung over and couldn't come to class so it's not my fault." Or, "Yeah, I was speeding on the freeway and killed a guy, but I was buzzed out of my mind and didn't know what I was doing so it didn't matter that much." In reality the death does matter very much to the victim, to his family and friends and to society in general. Whether the perpetrator was high or not does not matter at all since the material results are the same. This also includes the fallacy of Panic, a very common contemporary fallacy that one's words or actions, no matter how damaging or evil, somehow don't "count" because "I panicked!" This fallacy is rooted in the confusion of "consequences" with "punishment." See also "Venting."
Disciplinary Blinders: A very common contemporary scholarly or professional fallacy of ethos (that of one's discipline, profession or academic field), automatically disregarding, discounting or ignoring a priori otherwise-relevant research, arguments and evidence that come from outside one's own professional discipline, discourse community or academic area of study. E.g., "That might be relevant or not, but it's so not what we're doing in our field right now." See also, "Star Power" and "Two Truths." An analogous fallacy is that of Denominational Blinders, arbitrarily ignoring or waving aside without serious consideration any arguments or discussion about faith, morality, ethics, spirituality, the Divine or the afterlife that come from outside one's own specific religious denomination or faith tradition.
Dog-Whistle Politics: An extreme version of reductionism and sloganeering in the public sphere, a contemporary fallacy of logos and pathos in which a brief phrase or slogan of the hour, e.g., "Abortion," "The 1%," "9/11," "Zionism,""Chain Migration," "Islamic Terrorism," "Fascism," "Communism," "Big government," "Taco trucks!", "Tax and tax and spend and spend," "Gun violence," "Gun control," "Freedom of choice," "Lock 'em up,", "Amnesty," etc. is flung out as "red meat" or "chum in the water" that reflexively sends one's audience into a snapping, foaming-at-the-mouth feeding-frenzy. Any reasoned attempt to more clearly identify, deconstruct or challenge an opponent's "dog whistle" appeal results in puzzled confusion at best and wild, irrational fury at worst. "Dog whistles" differ widely in different places, moments and cultural milieux, and they change and lose or gain power so quickly that even recent historic texts sometimes become extraordinarily difficult to interpret. A common but sad instance of the fallacy of Dog Whistle Politics is that of candidate "debaters" of differing political shades simply blowing a succession of discursive "dog whistles" at their audience instead of addressing, refuting or even bothering to listen to each other's arguments, a situation resulting in contemporary (2017) allegations that the political Right and Left in America are speaking "different languages" when they are simply blowing different "dog whistles." See also, Reductionism..
The "Draw Your Own Conclusion" Fallacy (also the Non-argument Argument; Let the Facts Speak for Themselves). In this fallacy of logos an otherwise uninformed audience is presented with carefully selected and groomed, "shocking facts" and then prompted to immediately "draw their own conclusions." E.g., "Crime rates are more than twice as high among middle-class Patzinaks than among any other similar population group--draw your own conclusions." It is well known that those who are allowed to "come to their own conclusions" are generally much more strongly convinced than those who are given both evidence and conclusion up front. However, Dr. William Lorimer points out that "The only rational response to the non-argument is 'So what?' i.e. 'What do you think you've proved, and why/how do you think you've proved it?'" Closely related (if not identical) to this is the well-known "Leading the Witness" Fallacy, where a sham, sarcastic or biased question is asked solely in order to evoke a desired answer.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect: A cognitive bias that leads people of limited skills or knowledge to mistakenly believe their abilities are greater than they actually are. (Thanks to Teaching Tolerance for this definition!) E.g., "I know Washington was the Father of His Country and never told a lie, Pocahontas was the first Native American, Lincoln freed the slaves, Hitler murdered six million Jews, Susan B. Anthony won equal rights for women, and Martin Luther King said "I have a dream!" Moses parted the Red Sea, Caesar said "Et tu, Brute?" and the only reason America didn't win the Vietnam War hands-down like we always do was because they tied our generals' hands and the politicians cut and run. See? Why do I need to take a history course? I know everything about history!"
E" for Effort. (also Noble Effort; I'm Trying My Best; The Lost Cause): The common contemporary fallacy of ethos that something must be right, true, valuable, or worthy of respect and honor solely because one (or someone else) has put so much sincere good-faith effort or even sacrifice and bloodshed into it. (See also Appeal to Pity; Argument from Inertia; Heroes All; or Sob Story). An extreme example of this fallacy is Waving the Bloody Shirt (also, the "Blood of the Martyrs" Fallacy), the fallacy that a cause or argument, no matter how questionable or reprehensible, cannot be questioned without dishonoring the blood and sacrifice of those who died so nobly for that cause. E.g., "Defend the patriotic gore / That flecked the streets of Baltimore..." (from the official Maryland State Song). See also Cost Bias, The Soldier's Honor Fallacy, and the Argument from Inertia.
Either/Or Reasoning: (also False Dilemma, All or Nothing Thinking; False Dichotomy, Black/White Fallacy, False Binary): A fallacy of logos that falsely offers only two possible options even though a broad range of possible alternatives, variations and combinations are always readily available. E.g., "Either you are 100% Simon Straightarrow or you are as queer as a three dollar bill--it's as simple as that and there's no middle ground!" Or, “Either you’re in with us all the way or you’re a hostile and must be destroyed! What's it gonna be?" Or, if your performance is anything short of perfect, you consider yourself an abject failure. Also applies to falsely contrasting one option or case to another that is not really opposed, e.g., falsely opposing "Black Lives Matter" to "Blue Lives Matter" when in fact not a few police officers are themselves African American, and African Americans and police are not (or ought not to be!) natural enemies. Or, falsely posing a choice of either helping needy American veterans or helping needy foreign refugees, when in fact in today's United States there are ample resources available to easily do both should we care to do so. See also, Overgeneralization.
Equivocation: The fallacy of deliberately failing to define one's terms, or knowingly and deliberately using words in a different sense than the one the audience will understand. (E.g., President Bill Clinton stating that he did not have sexual relations with "that woman," meaning no sexual penetration, knowing full well that the audience will understand his statement as "I had no sexual contact of any kind with that woman.") This is a corruption of the argument from logos, and a tactic often used in American jurisprudence. Historically, this referred to a tactic used during the Reformation-era religious wars in Europe, when people were forced to swear loyalty to one or another side and did as demanded via "equivocation," i.e., "When I solemnly swore true faith and allegiance to the King I really meant to King Jesus, King of Kings, and not to the evil usurper squatting on the throne today." This latter form of fallacy is excessively rare today when the swearing of oaths has become effectively meaningless except as obscenity or as speech formally subject to perjury penalties in legal or judicial settings.
The Eschatological Fallacy: The ancient fallacy of arguing, "This world is coming to an end, so..." Popularly refuted by the observation that "Since the world is coming to an end you won't need your life savings anyhow, so why not give it all to me?"
Esoteric Knowledge (also Esoteric Wisdom; Gnosticism; Inner Truth; the Inner Sanctum; Need to Know): A fallacy from logos and ethos, that there is some knowledge reserved only for the Wise, the Holy or the Enlightened, (or those with proper Security Clearance), things that the masses cannot understand and do not deserve to know, at least not until they become wiser, more trusted or more "spiritually advanced." The counterpart of this fallacy is that of Obscurantism (also Obscurationism, or Willful Ignorance), that (almost always said in a basso profundo voice) "There are some things that we mere mortals must never seek to know!" E.g., "Scientific experiments that violate the privacy of the marital bed and expose the deep and private mysteries of human sexual behavior to the harsh light of science are obscene, sinful and morally evil. There are some things that we as humans are simply not meant to know!" For the opposite of this latter, see the "Plain Truth Fallacy." See also, Argumentum ad Mysteriam.
Essentializing: A fallacy of logos that proposes a person or thing “is what it is and that’s all that it is,” and at its core will always be the way it is right now (E.g., "All terrorists are monsters, and will still be terrorist monsters even if they live to be 100," or "'The poor you will always have with you,' so any effort to eliminate poverty is pointless."). Also refers to the fallacy of arguing that something is a certain way "by nature," an empty claim that no amount of proof can refute. (E.g., "Americans are cold and greedy by nature," or "Women are naturally better cooks than men.") See also "Default Bias." The opposite of this is Relativizing, the typically postmodern fallacy of blithely dismissing any and all arguments against one's standpoint by shrugging one's shoulders and responding " Whatever..., I don't feel like arguing about it;" "It all depends...;" "That's your opinion; everything's relative;" or falsely invoking Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Quantum Weirdness or the Theory of Multiple Universes in order to confuse, mystify or "refute" an opponent. See also, "Red Herring" and "Appeal to Nature."
The Etymological Fallacy: (also, "The Underlying Meaning"): A fallacy of logos, drawing false conclusions from the (most often long-forgotten) linguistic origins of a current word, or the alleged meanings or associations of that word in another language. E.g., "As used in physics, electronics and electrical engineering the term 'hysteresis' is grossly sexist since it originally came from the Greek word for 'uterus' or 'womb.'" Or, "I refuse to eat fish! Don't you know that the French word for "fish" is 'poisson,' which looks just like the English word 'poison'? And doesn't that suggest something to you?" Famously, postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida played on this fallacy at great length in his (1968) "Plato's Pharmacy."
The Excluded Middle: A corrupted argument from logos that proposes that since a little of something is good, more must be better (or that if less of something is good, none at all is even better). E.g., "If eating an apple a day is good for you, eating an all-apple diet is even better!" or "If a low fat diet prolongs your life, a no-fat diet should make you live forever!" An opposite of this fallacy is that of Excluded Outliers, where one arbitrarily discards evidence, examples or results that disprove one's standpoint by simply describing them as "Weird," "Outliers," or "Atypical." See also, "The Big 'But' Fallacy." Also opposite is the Middle of the Road Fallacy (also, Falacia ad Temperantiam; "The Politics of the Center;" Marginalization of the Adversary), where one demonstrates the "reasonableness" of one's own standpoint (no matter how extreme) not on its own merits, but solely or mainly by presenting it as the only "moderate" path among two or more obviously unacceptable extreme alternatives. E.g., anti-Communist scholar Charles Roig (1979) notes that Vladimir Lenin successfully argued for Bolshevism in Russia as the only available "moderate" middle path between bomb-throwing Nihilist terrorists on the ultra-left and a corrupt and hated Czarist autocracy on the right. As Texas politician and humorist Jim Hightower famously declares in an undated quote, "The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos."
The "F-Bomb" (also Cursing; Obscenity; Profanity). An adolescent fallacy of pathos, attempting to defend or strengthen one's argument with gratuitous, unrelated sexual, obscene, vulgar, crude or profane language when such language does nothing to make an argument stronger, other than perhaps to create a sense of identity with certain young male "urban" audiences. This fallacy also includes adding gratuitous sex scenes or "adult" language to an otherwise unrelated novel or movie, sometimes simply to avoid the dreaded "G" rating. Related to this fallacy is the Salacious Fallacy, falsely attracting attention to and thus potential agreement with one's argument by inappropriately sexualizing it, particularly connecting it to some form of sex that is perceived as deviant, perverted or prohibited (E.g., Arguing against Bill Clinton's presidential legacy by continuing to wave Monica's Blue Dress, or against Donald Trump's presidency by obsessively highlighting his past boasting about genital groping). Historically, this dangerous fallacy was deeply implicated with the crime of lynching, in which false, racist accusations against a Black or minority victim were almost always salacious in nature and the sensation involved was successfully used to whip up public emotion to a murderous pitch. See also, Red Herring.
The False Analogy: The fallacy of incorrectly comparing one thing to another in order to draw a false conclusion. E.g., "Just like an alley cat needs to prowl, a normal adult can’t be tied down to one single lover." The opposite of this fallacy is the Sui Generis Fallacy (also, Differance), a postmodern stance that rejects the validity of analogy and of inductive reasoning altogether because any given person, place, thing or idea under consideration is "sui generis" i.e., different and unique, in a class unto itself.
Finish the Job: The dangerous contemporary fallacy, often aimed at a lesser-educated or working class audience, that an action or standpoint (or the continuation of that action or standpoint) may not be questioned or discussed because there is "a job to be done" or finished, falsely assuming "jobs" are meaningless but never to be questioned. Sometimes those involved internalize ("buy into") the "job" and make the task a part of their own ethos. (E.g., "Ours is not to reason why / Ours is but to do or die.") Related to this is the "Just a Job" fallacy. (E.g., "How can torturers stand to look at themselves in the mirror? But I guess it's OK because for them it's just a job like any other, the job that they get paid to do.") See also "Blind Loyalty," "The Soldiers' Honor Fallacy" and the "Argument from Inertia."
The Free Speech Fallacy: The infantile fallacy of responding to challenges to one's statements and standpoints by whining, "It's a free country, isn't it? I can say anything I want to!" A contemporary case of this fallacy is the "Safe Space," or "Safe Place," where it is not allowed to refute, challenge or even discuss another's beliefs because that might be too uncomfortable or "triggery" for emotionally fragile individuals. E.g., "All I told him was, 'Jesus loves the little children,' but then he turned around and asked me 'But what about birth defects?' That's mean. I think I'm going to cry!" Prof. Bill Hart Davidson (2017) notes that "Ironically, the most strident calls for 'safety' come from those who want us to issue protections for discredited ideas. Things that science doesn't support AND that have destroyed lives - things like the inherent superiority of one race over another. Those ideas wither under demands for evidence. They *are* unwelcome. But let's be clear: they are unwelcome because they have not survived the challenge of scrutiny." Ironically, in contemporary America "free speech" has often become shorthand for freedom of racist, offensive or even neo-Nazi expression, ideological trends that once in power typically quash free speech. Additionally, a recent (2017) scientific study has found that, in fact, "people think harder and produce better political arguments when their views are challenged" and not artificially protected without challenge.
The Fundamental Attribution Error (also, Self Justification):A corrupt argument from ethos, this fallacy occurs as a result of observing and comparing behavior. "You assume that the bad behavior of others is caused by character flaws and foul dispositions while your behavior is explained by the environment. So, for example, I get up in the morning at 10 a.m. I say it is because my neighbors party until 2 in the morning (situation) but I say that the reason why you do it is that you are lazy. Interestingly, it is more common in individualistic societies where we value self volition. Collectivist societies tend to look at the environment more. (It happens there, too, but it is much less common.)" [Thanks to scholar Joel Sax for this!] The obverse of this fallacy is Self Deprecation (also Self Debasement), where, out of either a false humility or a genuine lack of self-esteem, one deliberately puts oneself down, most often in hopes of attracting denials, gratifying compliments and praise.
Gaslighting: A recently-prominent, vicious fallacy of logic, denying or invalidating a person's own knowledge and experiences by deliberately twisting or distorting known facts, memories, scenes, events and evidence in order to disorient a vulnerable opponent and to make him or her doubt his/her sanity. E.g., "Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?" Or, "You claim you found me in bed with her? Think again! You're crazy! You seriously need to see a shrink." A very common, though cruel instance of Gaslighting that seems to have been particularly familiar among mid-20th century generations is the fallacy of Emotional Invalidation, questioning, after the fact, thereality or "validity" of affective states, either another's or one's own. E.g., "Sure, I made it happen from beginning to end, but but it wasn't me doing it, it was just my stupid hormones betraying me." Or, "You didn't really mean it when you said you 'hate' Mommy. Now take a time-out and you'll feel better." Or, "No, you're not really in love; it's just infatuation or 'puppy love.'" The fallacy of "Gaslighting" is named after British playwright Patrick Hamilton's 1938 stage play "Gas Light," also known as "Angel Street." See also, Blind Loyalty, "The Big Brain/Little Brain Fallacy," The Affective Fallacy, and "Alternative Truth."
Guilt by Association: The fallacy of trying to refute or condemn someone's standpoint, arguments or actions by evoking the negative ethos of those with whom the speaker is identified or of a group, party, religion or race to which he or she belongs or was once associated with. A form of Ad Hominem Argument, e.g., "Don't listen to her. She's a Republican so you can't trust anything she says," or "Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" An extreme instance of this is the Machiavellian "For my enemies, nothing" Fallacy, where real or perceived "enemies" are by definition always wrong and must be conceded nothing, not even the time of day, e.g., "He's a Republican, so even if he said the sky is blue I wouldn't believe him."
The Half Truth (also Card Stacking, Stacking the Deck, Incomplete Information): A corrupt argument from logos, the fallacy of consciously selecting, collecting and sharing only that evidence that supports one's own standpoint, telling the strict truth but deliberately minimizing or omitting important key details in order to falsify the larger picture and support a false conclusion.(E.g. “The truth is that Bangladesh is one of the world's fastest-growing countries and can boast of a young, ambitious and hard-working population, a family-positive culture, a delightful, warm climate of tropical beaches and swaying palms where it never snows, low cost medical and dental care, a vibrant faith tradition and a multitude of places of worship, an exquisite, world-class spicy local curry cuisine and a swinging entertainment scene. Taken together, all these solid facts clearly prove that Bangladesh is one of the world’s most desirable places for young families to live, work and raise a family.”) See also, Confirmation Bias.
Hero-Busting (also, "The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good"): A postmodern fallacy of ethos under which, since nothing and nobody in this world is perfect there are not and have never been any heroes: Washington and Jefferson held slaves, Lincoln was (by our contemporary standards) a racist, Karl Marx sexually exploited his family's own young live-in domestic worker and got her pregnant, Martin Luther King Jr. had an eye for women too, Lenin condemned feminism, the Mahatma drank his own urine (ugh!), Pope Francis is wrong on abortion, capitalism, same-sex marriage and women's ordination, Mother Teresa loved suffering and was wrong on just about everything else too, etc., etc Also applies to the now near-universal political tactic of ransacking everything an opponent has said, written or done since infancy in order to find something to misinterpret or condemn (and we all have something!). An early example of this latter tactic is deftly described in Robert Penn Warren's classic (1946) novel, All the King's Men. This is the opposite of the "Heroes All" fallacy, below. The "Hero Busting" fallacy has also been selectively employed at the service of the Identity Fallacy (see below) to falsely "prove" that "you cannot trust anyone" but a member of "our" identity-group since everyone else, even the so-called "heroes" or "allies" of other groups, are all racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, or hate "us." E.g., In 1862 Abraham Lincoln said he was willing to settle the U.S. Civil War either with or without freeing the slaves if it would preserve the Union, thus "conclusively proving" that all whites are viciously racist at heart and that African Americans must do for self and never trust any of "them," not even those who claim to be allies.
Heroes All (also, "Everybody's a Winner"): The contemporary fallacy that everyone is above average or extraordinary. A corrupted argument from pathos (not wanting anyone to lose or to feel bad). Thus, every member of the Armed Services, past or present, who serves honorably is a national hero, every student who competes in the Science Fair wins a ribbon or trophy, and every racer is awarded a winner's yellow jersey. This corruption of the argument from pathos, much ridiculed by disgraced American humorist Garrison Keeler, ignores the fact that if everybody wins nobody wins, and if everyone's a hero no one's a hero. The logical result of this fallacy is that, as children's author Alice Childress writes (1973), "A hero ain't nothing but a sandwich." See also the "Soldiers' Honor Fallacy."
Hoyle's Fallacy: A fallacy of logos, falsely assuming that a possible event of low (even vanishingly low) probability can never have happened and/or would never happen in real life. E.g., "The probability of something as complex as human DNA emerging by purely random evolution in the time the earth has existed is so negligible that it is for all practical purposes impossible and must have required divine intervention." Or, "The chance of a casual, Saturday-night poker player being dealt four aces off an honest, shuffled deck is so infinitesimal that it would never occur even once in a normal lifetime! That proves you cheated!" See also, Argument from Incredulity. An obverse of Hoyle's Fallacy is "You Can't Win if You Don't Play," (also, "Someone's gonna win and it might as well be YOU!") a common and cruel contemporary fallacy used to persuade vulnerable audiences, particularly the poor, the mathematically illiterate and gambling addicts to throw their money away on lotteries, horse races, casinos and other long-shot gambling schemes.
I Wish I Had a Magic Wand: The fallacy of regretfully (and falsely) proclaiming oneself powerless to change a bad or objectionable situation over which one has power. E.g., "What can we do about gas prices? As Secretary of Energy I wish I had a magic wand, but I don't" [shrug] . Or, "No, you can't quit piano lessons. I wish I had a magic wand and could teach you piano overnight, but I don't, so like it or not, you have to keep on practicing." The parent, of course, ignores the possibility that the child may not want or need to learn piano. See also, TINA.
The Identity Fallacy (also Identity Politics; "Die away, ye old forms and logic!"): A corrupt postmodern argument from ethos, a variant on the Argumentum ad Hominem in which the validity of one's logic, evidence, experience or arguments depends not on their own strength but rather on whether the one arguing is a member of a given social class, generation, nationality, religious or ethnic group, color, gender or sexual orientation, profession, occupation or subgroup. In this fallacy, valid opposing evidence and arguments are brushed aside or "othered" without comment or consideration, as simply not worth arguing about solely because of the lack of proper background or ethos of the person making the argument, or because the one arguing does not self-identify as a member of the "in-group." E.g., "You'd understand me right away if you were Burmese but since you're not there's no way I can explain it to you," or "Nobody but another nurse can know what a nurse has to go through." Identity fallacies are reinforced by common ritual, language, and discourse. However, these fallacies are occasionally self-interested, driven by the egotistical ambitions of academics, politicians and would-be group leaders anxious to build their own careers by carving out a special identity group constituency to the exclusion of existing broader-based identities and leadership. An Identity Fallacy may lead to scorn or rejection of potentially useful allies, real or prospective, because they are not of one's own identity. The Identity Fallacy promotes an exclusivist, sometimes cultish "do for self" philosophy which in today's world virtually guarantees self-marginalization and ultimate defeat. A recent application of the Identity Fallacy is the fallacious accusation of "Cultural Appropriation," in which those who are not of the right Identity are condemned for "appropriating" the cuisine, clothing, language or music of a marginalized group, forgetting the old axiom that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Accusations of Cultural Appropriation very often stem from competing selfish economic interests (E.g., "What right do those p*nche Gringos have to set up a taco place right here on Guadalupe Drive to take away business from Doña Teresa's Taquería? They even dare to play Mexican music in their dining room! That's cultural appropriation!"). See also, Othering.
Infotainment (also Infortainment; Fake News; InfoWars); A very corrupt and dangerous modern media-driven fallacy that deliberately and knowingly stirs in facts, news, falsities and outright lies with entertainment, a mixture usually concocted for specific, base ideological and profit-making motives. Origins of this fallacy predate the current era in the form of "Yellow" or "Tabloid" Journalism. This deadly fallacy has caused endless social unrest, discontent and even shooting wars (e.g., the Spanish American War) over the course of modern history. Practitioners of this fallacy sometimes hypocritically justify its use on the basis that their readers/listeners/viewers "know beforehand" (or should know) that the content offered is not intended as real news and is offered for entertainment purposes only, but in fact this caveat is rarely observed by uncritical audiences who eagerly swallow what the purveyors put forth. See also Dog-Whistle Politics.
The Job's Comforter Fallacy (also, "Karma is a bi**h;" "What goes around comes around."):The fallacy that since there is no such thing as random chance and we (I, my group, or my country) are under special protection of heaven, any misfortune or natural disaster that we suffer must be a punishment for our own or someone else's secret sin or open wickedness. The opposite of the Appeal to Heaven, this is the fallacy employed by the Westboro Baptist Church members who protest fallen service members' funerals all around the United States. See also, Magical Thinking.
Just Do it. (also,