Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fallacy Friday: False Compromise

This week's fallacy (more of a grey fallacy than a logical one) comes as a caveat to that of last week. In the attempt to avoid extremes and seek compromise, the "safe choice" can sometimes be viewed as the middle ground, as our previous fallacy suggests. But what if the middle ground isn't always the best choice? Welcome to the False Compromise.

A Little of Column A...
In simplest terms: X and Y are opposite alternatives. So there must exist some Z, a middle path, which is the best choice.

It should be clear to you that the problem with the false compromise fallacy is that it implies that both extremes are always wrong; that only the middle ground is correct. This is not always the case. Sometimes only X or Y is acceptable, with no "middle ground" even possible.

I want to live; my enemies want me dead. I suppose my being "half dead" would be the correct approach, because it is a compromise.

For obvious reasons this is wrong. You can't be "half dead" (although sometimes I think my little town is!). Here's another example where you can't choose both:

Fred wants to eat lunch; Joe doesn't want to eat lunch. Therefore we should eat half a lunch.

In these instances you just cannot compromise, but there are others in which you can. Yet you may find that your compromise is just plain wrong:

Jim wants to go north, Tim wants to go south. West or east must be the right choice.

They'll just have to pick one! Here's another:

Betty is deciding where to build her house. Her husband wants to build it on the east side of the river. Her son wants to build it on the west side of the river. The house should therefore be built on an island in the river.

That's really all there is to it, but we make these fallacies all the time, especially when arguing about religion and theism. I'll leave you with a final false compromise that those fence-sitters seem to favor...

Al Sharpton says there is a God. Christopher Hitchens says there isn't. The truth must lie somewhere in between.

Sorry folks, either there is or there isn't...ain't no middle ground there!


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