False Dilemma Fallacy: Definition & Examples Video

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  • 0:03 A Skeptic's Approach
  • 1:12 The False Dilemma
  • 2:22 Examples
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson explores the false dilemma fallacy and how it can be misleading. You'll learn how to pinpoint this error in arguments from many different types of people in a variety of situations.

A Skeptic's Approach

Gavin is the leader of a paranormal activity club. He considers himself a ghost chaser, always trying to identify any clear-cut signs that invisible entities exist alongside human beings. He's definitely a skeptic, though, and so far has not found any solid evidence of ghosts. He mainly enjoys the experience of debunking myths and hoping that someday he could witness and document something truly beyond explanation. He's had a few experiences that defy logic, but no specific answers for what happened.

Some of the newer members of his group are very eager to find examples of the paranormal and say things that leap to conclusions. Following some unexplained events in a house that was recently explored by the team, one member said, 'Either this house is haunted or it has some serious energetic disturbances.' Gavin finds that most of the arguments of his newer members don't hold much weight. In this lesson, we'll talk about the false dilemma fallacy that is often used by those team members who really want to believe they have the answers about ghosts.

The False Dilemma

When a new member says to him that 'either this house is haunted or it has some serious energetic disturbances,' Gavin gets annoyed. Why is it one or the other? Is it possible there is no disturbance at all, or some other explanation for the experiences they have in the house? His member is using a type of false dilemma fallacy, or an argument that presents a few options as though one of them must be true if the others are false. In this case, his teammate is arguing that if the house isn't haunted, it at least has energetic disturbances.

One day, they hear noises in a house where they are monitoring activity, and a member says, 'If that wasn't the furnace turning on or the plumbing, that was a definite sign of paranormal activity.' It leaves no room for other possibilities, and instead states that there are only a few options: furnace, plumbing, or ghosts. Could it also be vehicles nearby? Or, other team members moving around? Or, something else entirely? If the options provided in the argument are too limited, you likely have a false dilemma fallacy in that argument.

Examples of the Fallacy

Why is this fallacy unfair? Well, it gives the impression that there are limited explanations that count. If you pay attention in many different contexts, from political speeches to advertising, you'll notice these kinds of statements are everywhere. When the choices are limited to just two, this particular type of false dilemma is known as a black or white fallacy.

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