Periodically, in discussions with friends or online associates, I run across what I call "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" questions. These are questions which are phrased as a yes/no, or either/or proposition, yet that proposition doesn't apply since the assumption underlying the question isn't necessarily correct.
Often, this is called ignoring the "excluded middle principle", or a "false dilemma". In the classic example of an excluded middle, you can take the proposition, "Joe is bald", reverse it, and end up with "Joe is bald, or Joe is not bald". A true statement.
Yet often, we misuse it. Some examples I pulled from the Wikipedia:
I hear it from the radio every day. It's the heart of strong demagoguery, and a way to really rile people up against the threatening hordes of vile "not-us" people. I hear it from the right and the left though, admittedly, far more from the right than the left. Maybe it's just an artifact of established right-wing radio.
Nevertheless, it bugs me. 50% of the U.S. does not read more than 1500 words in a given week. How can you appeal to logic adequately and try to frame a question in terms that actually make logical sense, yet not look weak compared to the guy that's good at presenting nice sound-bite-sized logical fallacies for the non-reading public?
They may not read, but the non-readers listen, watch, and vote.
What other false dilemmas do you encounter regularly?
Matthew P. Barnson
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Thought for the moment:
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them,
but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence of inhumanity.
-- G.B. Shaw