Monday, July 5, 2010

Reflections on the Fallacy of Bifurcation

There is an unfortunately common fallacy out there which is known as the fallacy of bifurcation.  Essentially, this fallacy demands a choice between two options (Either [A] or [B]) but fails to consider that more options than these can exist.  So long as any other option could exist, one can't accept this premise as valid.  So long as the premise lists fewer options than actually exist, it is a fallacy to claim choices are limited to the ones limited.

Contraries and Contradictaries

With Contradictory positions, if one is true, the other must necessarily be false.  With contrary positions, both can be false in the sense that there can be an option not considered.

Now of course, some premises are mutually exclusive: "Either some sort of divine [Exists] or [Does not exist]," for example is mutually exclusive, and thus the statement is concerning two contradictory positions.  If there is some sort of divine, the claim there is none is false.  "The unborn is either [a person] or is [not a person]," is another sort of mutually exclusive proposition.  If it is not a person, then what is it?

A Contrary position can have two statements which disagree, but other options exist, such as, "Either the [Muslim concept of Allah] is true or [there is no God]" (if God exists and is not what Muslims believe about Him, this is an alternate to atheism)

Violating the Law of Non-Contradiction

Thus an Either-Or argument can only be accurate if it involves contradictory statements which allows no other possibility.  A thing cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same way.  So if a thing is a triangle, it cannot be a circle, because a circle has no sides and no angles, while a triangle has both.  However, if I say "all shapes are either triangles or circles," I overlook the possibility of squares, rectangles, ovals, parallelograms, blobs and many other options.


Thus, when we see those sorts of challenges where a person says "Either [A] or [B]" we need to remember that it is only true if [A] and [B] are the only options.  If Option [C] is available, this "Either-or" ignores reality.  Therefore before accepting the choice, one has to ask whether other options exist.

Thus arguments like "If [you are good], God will [Reward you with prosperity]" or "If [God exists], let Him [Strike me down for insulting Him]" or "If the Church [Doesn't support Traditionalists] it [supports Modernists]" are all guilty of the fallacy of bifurcation.  All of them ignore the potential of another option which would make the argument invalid.

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