It’s not uncommon on Social Media to be met with some strange takes on subjects that are pretty well grounded, like the False Dichotomy. Folks can make mistakes, but instead of realising that and learning from that they often double down.
Today we are going to be discussing the False Dichotomy. What it is, how it ought to be used, and an example of someone dancing around the fact that they don’t know what they are talking about.
For those that Prefer Video, I have created a version of this too:
- Good Ol’ Fashioned False Dichotomy
- What is a False Dichotomy?
- Was the Poll a False Dichotomy?
- What is a False Dilemma and its Variations?
- Was the Poll a False Quadrillemma?
- Explanation Denied
As this is the first in my new article/video series, I thought it best to provide some of the background which first inspired it.
In December 2022 I ran a poll in a few debate groups on Facebook and a couple of other places on social media. The results were surprising but what was amusing was a lot of the conversations held in the comments under the polls, and subsequent posts from that.
Some of the takes were outright nutty, and others were just incredibly wrong. I posted a few of the conversations on Twitter and my friend, Per, said:
‘I love how this saga of “Joe debating absolute teaspoons on FB” is equal measures of hilarious, grey hair inducing, and infuriating xD’.Per ⚛ on Twitter
With some of these bad takes, I felt it important to try and cover them off in as bite-sized information as possible.
However, I never got around to doing it until the other day when someone in the comments on our channel earned the rank of an absolute teaspoon, and it inspired me to address these bad points and thus the article series and video playlist of Absolute Teaspoons was born.
The poll isn’t going to be relevant to all in this series, however, the first few do relate to it. As such, I felt I would share an example of one of the posts and explain my intent.
Whilst the lack of belief definition of atheism might not be the most common outside of social media and certain circles involved in atheistic or secular activism, it does seem to be the one most commonly used in the debate groups.
Some go so far as to claim it is the only definition of atheism and ignore any evidence to the contrary.
Regardless of preference of definition, my poll was set to find out about those who identify as atheists and what their actual position on theism was. In fact, I also included “the theistic aspects of theistic religions” which I hoped folks would infer miracles and other things attributed to gods.
The poll had some problems – one of which being that some social media outlets only allow for 4 or 5 options – so to make it fair I limited the atheist choices as such.
The next was the length of text in the choices. Unfortunately, character limits pose some problems in actually being able to describe what you mean. Under the polls, I did create posts describing the positions in more detail and responded to any queries from folks about them.
I didn’t include all the information in the OP (original post) as when you have a long OP people just tend to ignore it, and it was already quite long as it was.
- All Are False: This option implies the voter believes no gods exist
- Mostly False, Rest Unsure: This option implies the voter believes most gods do not exist, but there is at least one deity they haven’t concluded most likely does not exist, yet.
- Christianity False, Rest Unsure: The implication here, is that the voter has concluded Christianity is definitely false, but has not concluded as such on the other religions. It might also imply other Abrahamic faiths as well.
- Unsure About All: This option implies the voter has not concluded whether any gods do or do not exist. This position is usually one of “suspense of judgement” but could be for other reasons such as ignosticism or apatheism.
The request was to vote on which “best represents your position” – in other words, what is the closest approximation to what you think about gods.
Good Ol’ Fashioned False Dichotomy
When someone starts a conversation like this, it is often the case that nothing positive will come from it. However, I try not to be biased and address concerns.
Unfortunately, my question about what the false dichotomy was and how it relates to 4 options just got met with him implying that I didn’t know what a false dichotomy was.
As you can see, there were others that realised his err as well.
So let’s have a quick look at what a false dichotomy actually is shall we?
What Is a False Dichotomy?
To start, let’s separate what is meant by those words.
False relates to that which is untrue. In most forms of logic and objective reality outside of some man-made systems, this is completely binary. That means something is true or false. If true is ‘what is’ then false is ‘what isn’t’.
A dichotomy is simply that of two choices/actions/dividing parts etc. Your light switch may have a dimmer but it is either on or off. It is either raining outside your house right now or it is not. You either own at least one dog or you own no dogs. God either exists or does not exist.
A false dichotomy is an informal fallacy where two options are presented as if they are the only options. This limitation of options does not have to be done intentionally, the person presenting them might not be aware of other options, however, the limitation does lead to a faulty premise.
P1. I cannot find my glasses, they were either stolen or I didn’t have them today.
P2. I had them today.
C. My glasses were stolen.
We could say the same when presenting someone else a choice, like: “What is your favourite colour, red or blue?” In this, one has assume that ones favourite colour must be red or blue.
However, “Which colour do you prefer, red or blue?” whilst a dichotomy, it is not false because it is just asking for a preference between two colours.
The first colour questions is a binary and absolute based on a faulty premise. The second colour question is that of relativism. In relation to each other which is your preference, red, or blue.
Was The Poll A False Dichotomy?
The poll presented 4 options, so it was not a dichotomy, however, the False Dichotomy can also be referred to as a False Dilemma.
What is a False Dilemma & It’s Variations?
False Dilemma Fallacy
Sometimes called the “either-or” fallacy, a false dilemma is a logical fallacy that presents only two options or sides when there are many options or sides. Essentially, a false dilemma presents a “black and white” kind of thinking when there are actually many shades of grayhttps://owl.excelsior.edu/argument-and-critical-thinking/logical-fallacies/logical-fallacies-false-dilemma/#:~:text=Sometimes%20called%20the%20%E2%80%9Ceither%2Dor,actually%20many%20shades%20of%20gray.
Whilst a Dilemma typically means a choice between two equally undesirable outcomes, it can sometimes colloquially be used more broadly. e.g. Instead of separating Dilemma, Trilemma, Quadrilemma and so on, they may refer to them all as the same thing.
So, if we address this as charitable as possible and rephrase this as “Was The Poll A False Quadrilemma?” do we get a different outcome?
Was The Poll A False Quadrilemma?
The poll does not say these are the only options, in fact, it just asks what best represents your position. If I asked you which country was closer to the one you live in, Australia, Austria, Antarctica, or Afghanistan, this is not false quadrilemma as again it is not saying that one of those is where you live or next to the country you live in, just that of relative distance.
So, just like the relative distance between the countries and your location, or the relative preference between red and blue, the poll asked out of these options which is the closest to where you sit.
It also explained the reason for the limitation in choices, so, whilst someone might think about their position differently from how it has been written, they can find something that is a close approximation.
So to summarise: No, it was not a false quadrilemma. It did not say these were the only options, just to pick the one closest to your position.
Unfortunately, explaining this to them didn’t go down too well at all.
In response to his “I’d like to think you know what a false dichotomy is” I first tried explaining how I used 4 options, not 2, and I used the colour example above.
And he responded by stating that it doesn’t matter how many options for a dichotomy (which it does) and that even if you use approximations it’s still false (which it isn’t). He then says, “Joe, don’t let this sort of thing get you upset…” and I asked him what he thought a dichotomy was.
Even to the end of the conversation, he failed to answer what a dichotomy was.
Further Attempts at Explaining
I tried to explain the locations:
But he failed to give a rational response saying “You’re not going to save this yourself with this shit”
And still not having any answer on what a dichotomy was or any other answer, Dave chimed in:
He didn’t come back after that.
I’ll admit that perhaps my OP could have been worded better, in fact, In future posts on FB (though I didn’t have the same sort of issues on YT) I tried altering the way I said things slightly in the hope to avoid some of the objections I got.
Whether you watched the video or read the article, I am sure you agree that I could have probably just explained what a false dichotomy was and how it is sometimes used incorrectly, so why the conversation recap?
I’ve blanked out the name, so there is no “name and shame” even if I do refer to them as an absolute teaspoon, so what is the purpose?
Well, I find real-world examples useful, even if names are altered to protect the idiots. What I’ve offered here is someone jumping in arms swinging wildly and even when pointed out to them they were perhaps using the terminology wrong they doubled down. So we have two lessons here. The first is what a False Dichotomy is, the second is how not to act like an absolute teaspoon.
However, if you would just like a 60-second or less overview then there are the Absolute Teaspoon Shorts which I will try and keep updated with minimalistic versions.
(If you notice any I missed, please let me know)
Whilst putting this one together, Dave happened to release a series about fallacies on his channel. One of which was on the false dichotomy:
I’m Joe. I write under the name Davidian, not only because it is a Machine Head song I enjoy but because it was a game character I used to role-play that was always looking to better himself.
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