Denying the Antecedent Fallacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 A Cold Weather Argument
  • 0:46 Conditional Statements
  • 3:30 Denying the Antecedent
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Consider one type of mistake that can be made when using conditional statements to come to a conclusion. Learn what it means to deny the antecedent and how to avoid this form of fallacy.

A Cold Weather Argument

It's negative five degrees in Washington, D.C.; a pretty rare occurrence. Greg and his friend, Alan, are walking a few blocks to get to a movie theater in their neighborhood near the capitol building. Alan complains about how frigidly cold it is. Greg, who grew up in Minneapolis, laughs at Alan and says, 'If a person grows up in Minnesota, they're familiar with below zero temperatures. You didn't grow up there, so you don't know what it's like to be in that type of cold for more than just a day.'

This lesson looks at Greg's argument about cold weather and whether his statement is logical to make. We'll consider whether Greg is using a fallacy called denying the antecedent.

Conditional Statements

Greg doesn't know where Alan grew up, but he sees his own argument as valid and logical. After all, it's true that those who grow up in Minnesota tend to be familiar with severely cold weather. Though Greg doesn't know where Alan grew up, he knows Alan isn't from Minnesota. So, using Greg's logic, that means Alan isn't familiar with subzero temperatures for more than the odd day here and there.

But is what he claims really logical? Let's look closer at the conditional statement Greg uses to tell Alan he's not familiar with cold weather.

A conditional statement is an if-then statement that includes two parts, an antecedent and a consequent. The antecedent is the 'if' part of a conditional statement. The antecedent often begins the statement. A way to remember the word 'antecedent' is by thinking of how the 'a' in 'antecedent' begins the alphabet, just like how the antecedent often begins conditional statements.

The consequent is the 'then' part of a conditional statement, like a consequence to the antecedent. The word 'then' may not always be used to denote the second part of the sentence, but when it makes sense to add that word, you probably have a conditional statement.

In our example, the conditional statement Greg uses is as follows: 'If a person grows up in Minnesota, they are familiar with below-zero temperatures.' The antecedent is the phrase, 'If a person grows up in Minnesota.' The consequent is the phrase, 'then they are familiar with below-zero temperatures.' Another, warmer weather example is a person saying, 'If I move near the ocean, then I can go swimming in the summer.'

Sometimes, conditional statements can be flipped around. In this case, you might say, 'a person is familiar with below-zero temperatures if they grow up in Minnesota.' The other statement flipped around would be, 'I can go swimming in the summer if I move near the ocean.'

Using conditional statements does not always involve faulty logic. If-then statements are used quite often and usually are an acceptable way to describe the relationship between an antecedent and a consequent. For instance, the following is a true conditional statement: 'If you grow up in Minnesota, you will be familiar with severely cold weather.' There's nothing wrong with this claim, nothing illogical. Look at the low temperatures of Minnesota for the winters, and you'll see this is a factual statement. However, a fallacy occurs when conclusions are drawn from denying the antecedent in a conditional statement.

Denying the Antecedent

Denying the antecedent means the antecedent in a conditional statement is denied, or rejected. For instance, if Greg makes the statement that Alan didn't grow up in Minnesota, this is a form of denying the antecedent.

This may be a true statement in itself. However, the act of denying the antecedent becomes a fallacy when a conclusion is made that the consequent can therefore also be denied. So, when Greg says, 'You didn't grow up in Minnesota. Therefore, you don't know what below-zero temperatures are like,' his argument uses a fallacy.

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