False Dichotomy

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A false dilemma, also referred to as false dichotomy, is an informal fallacy based on a premise that erroneously limits what options are available. The source of the fallacy lies not in an invalid form of inference but in a false premise. This premise has the form of a disjunctive claim: it asserts that one among a number of alternatives must be true. This disjunction is problematic because it oversimplifies the choice by excluding viable alternatives. For example, a false dilemma is committed when it is claimed that, "Stacey spoke out against capitalism; therefore, she must be a communist". One of the options excluded is that Stacey may be neither communist nor capitalist. False dilemmas often have the form of treating two contraries, which may both be false, as contradictories, of which one is necessarily true. Various inferential schemes are associated with false dilemmas, for example, the constructive dilemma, the destructive dilemma or the disjunctive syllogism. False dilemmas are usually discussed in terms of deductive arguments. But they can also occur as defeasible arguments. Our liability to commit false dilemmas may be due to the tendency to simplify reality by ordering it through either-or-statements, which is to some extent already built into our language. This may also be connected to the tendency to insist on clear distinction while denying the vagueness of many common expressions.

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