False dichotomy

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The logical fallacy of false dichotomy or false choice occurs when one provides only two (or a few) answers to a question, giving the illusion that these choices exhaust all possibilities, when in fact they don't. Some examples include:

In fact, both may be wrong. (Also, don't forget that evolution doesn't explain how life arose!)
This ignores other possibilities, such as "legend" or that he never made such claims that were attributed to him.
  • You're either with us or against us.
I might not stand in your way, but cannot actively support your course of action.

It's worth noting that not all logical dichotomies are false. Consider the etymological definitions of Theism and Atheism.

  • Theism = Belief in one or more gods
  • Atheism = "A" + "Theism" = Lacking + (Belief in one or more gods)

As one cannot simultaneously lack belief and believe, this is an example of a valid dichotomy.

"None of the above"

One way of spotting a false dichotomy is to add "none of the above" to the list of possibilities. If it can be eliminated, then the dichotomy is true. For instance:

Either

  • This glass is empty
  • This glass is full
  • None of the above

If a glass is neither full nor empty, it might be half-full, or 18% full, or nearly full, all of which fall under the category of "none of the above". "Empty or full" is a false dichotomy.

Either

  • This glass is empty
  • This glass isn't empty
  • None of the above

"Empty" and "not empty" cover all of the possibilities, so "none of the above" can be eliminated. "Empty or not empty" is a true dichotomy.

Note that it isn't necessary to be able to say what "none of the above" is. For instance, let's say someone says, "Either flying saucers exist, or a lot of intelligent, well-respected people are lying." You may not be able to think of an alternate explanation, but it is not clear that "flying saucers" and "good people lying" cover all the bases. There might be a third explanation that you haven't thought of yet. Thus, "none of the above" cannot be eliminated.

As a rule, any time a list of possibilities is presented as "A or B", rather than "A or not-A", be on the lookout for a false dichotomy.


v · d Logical fallacies
v · d Formal fallacies
Propositional logic   Affirming a disjunct · Affirming the consequent · Argument from fallacy · False dilemma · Denying the antecedent
Quantificational logic   Existential fallacy · Illicit conversion · Proof by example · Quantifier shift
Syllogistic   Affirmative conclusion from a negative premise · Exclusive premises · Necessity · Four-term Fallacy · Illicit major · Illicit minor · Undistributed middle
v · d Faulty generalisations
General   Begging the question · Gambler's fallacy · Slippery slope · Equivocation · argumentum verbosium
Distribution fallacies   Fallacy of composition · Fallacy of division
Data mining   Cherry picking · Accident fallacy · Spotlight fallacy · Hasty generalization · Special pleading
Causation fallacies   Post hoc ergo propter hoc · Retrospective determinism · Suppressed correlative · Wrong direction
Ontological fallacies   Fallacy of reification · Pathetic fallacy · Loki's Wager
v · d False relevance
Appeals   Appeal to authority · Appeal to consequences · Appeal to emotion · Appeal to motive · Appeal to novelty · Appeal to tradition · Appeal to pity · Appeal to popularity · Appeal to poverty · Appeal to spite · Appeal to wealth · Sentimental fallacy · Argumentum ad baculum
Ad hominem   Ad hominem abusive · Reductio ad Hitlerum · Judgmental language · Straw man · Tu quoque · Poisoning the well
Genetic Fallacies   Genetic fallacy · Association fallacy · Appeal to tradition · Texas sharpshooter fallacy
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