Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Close your eyes, and go back . . .

Before the Internet or the Mac,
Before Uzis and crack.
Before Nike and Reebok, before the NBA.
Before Sega or Super Nintendo.
Before burglar proofing and KFC.
Before soca, dub and chutney
Before children's rights and women's lib.

Way back...way.. way back

I'm talking about hide and seek at dusk.
Looking through the window, sitting in the gallery,
Licking your lips over hops and condensed milk.
Going to Saturday afternoon confession.
Drinking chocolate tea and cocoa tea and green tea and shining bush tea.
Carrying sandwiches in a brown paper bag to school.
Eating chilibibi and press with green and red syrup, with or without milk.
Bathing in cold water from a barrel with a calabash.
Hopscotch, butterscotch, hoop, Jacks,
Police and Thief, Rounders !
Pass-out cricket in the road with a lime
Lying on the floor reading Mandrake and Katzenjammer Kids and Mutt and Jeff.
Borrowing books from the library.
Hula Hoops and jawbreakers and kaiser balls.
Bathing in the rain under the guttering.
Going for walks on Sunday afternoon.
Band Concerts. Window shopping.
Wearing old pants to the beach and collecting sea shells and pretty stones.

Wait. . .

The excitement of catching candle flies in a jar and batimamselles.
Putting the ti-marie to sleep.
Killing birds with sling shot, cooking and eating them.
Pitching marbles, running jockey in the canal.
When a calypso on the radio in Lent would have caused a scandal.
When going to town was a major outing requiring serious preparation.
Spending holidays by your grandmother and aunts.
Castor oil and senna pods at the end of August to clean you out!
Eating caimite and mammy seepote and downs and sapodilla and sugar apple and
tying up your mouth with lalay.
Climbing trees,and skipping rope and eating a bucket of long mango.
Making a Christmas tree from a Gauva branch with cotton for snow.
You thought apples and grapes only grew at Christmas time.
Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, keeping an eye out for soucouyant and
la diablesse.
Sliding down the bannister, jumping on the bed.
Pillow fights.
Having a pet chicken, duck, rabbit or goat and crying when it became a meal.
Being tickled to death.
Running till you were out of breath.
Laughing so hard that your stomach hurt!
Being tired from playing....remember that?
Going to the Chinee shop for Trebor and a penny sweet biscuit.

There's more . . .

Scratching your mother's head.
Fighting for the bowl when your mother made a cake.
Churning coconut or custard ice cream on Sunday and licking the palette.
Peeling cane with your teeth.

Remember when . . .

When there were no sneakers, only watchekongs and you washed them every
Saturday and whitened them.
When you knew nothing of Rottweilers or pit bulls, only pot hounds.
When a penny was a decent allowance, and another penny a huge bonus.
When you'd reach into a muddy gutter for a penny.
When fashionable young ladies wore crinoline and boleros.
When your mother wore stockings that came in two pieces and had garters.
When all of your male teachers wore ties and female teachers had buns.
When you had to be rich to have a car or a radio.
When there was no TV and you went to sleep at seven o'clock.
When there was no designer water.
When laundry detergent had free glasses, dishes or towels hidden inside the
When any parent could discipline any kid, or feed him or use him to carry
groceries, and nobody, not even the kid, thought a thing of it.
When it was considered a great privilege to be taken out to dinner at a real
restaurant with your parents.
When every kitchen had a safe with wire mesh.
Milk came in rum bottles and had to be boiled and the cream was a great
When they threatened to keep kids "down" if they failed...and they did!
When your mother used to say that your licks hurt her more than it hurt you.
When adults spoke in code so "little ears" wouldn't hear.
Basically, we were in fear for our lives but it wasn't because of drive-by
shootings, drugs, or gangs.
Disapproval of parents and grandparents, godparents,tanties... was a much
bigger threat!

If you can remember any of these things, Well, sir/madame, I swear you must
be my age!!!!!!


The terrible threats presented by terrorism have lead to a serious reconsideration of torture as a means of extracting information. While there is considerable debate regarding the legality of torture, this essay is focused on the morality of torture in the context of the fight against terror.

While most people regard torture as evil, there are reasonable moral arguments in its favor. The most common argument is a utilitarian one: the harm prevented by gathering information by torture can outweigh the moral harms inflicted by the practice of torture.

A favorite example used by torture proponents, such as Harvard's Alan Dershowitz, is the 1995 case of Abdul Hakim Murad. After being tortured for over a month by Philippine police, Murad revealed various terrorist plans, including a plot to kill the Pope. Because of cases like this, one might conclude that the evil of torture can be outweighed by its good consequences-such as preventing murder.

If the evil of using torture is outweighed by its potential good consequences, then the matter of its effectiveness needs to be resolved. If torture is not an effective means of gaining reliable information, then there will be no good consequences to outweigh the evil of engaging in torture. If this is the case, then torture cannot be justified in this manner.

While there is significant debate over the general effectiveness of torture, it appears that it is not a particularly effective means of acquiring accurate information.

First, consider the American and European witch trials. During these trials a significant number of people confessed, under brutal torture, to being witches. If torture is an effective means of acquiring truthful information, then these trials provided reasonable evidence for the existence of witches, magic, the Devil and, presumably, God. However, it seems rather odd that such metaphysical matters could be settled by the application of the rack, the iron maiden and the thumb screw. As such, the effectiveness of torture is rather questionable.

Second, extensive studies of torture show that it is largely ineffective as a means of gathering correct information. For example, the Gestapo's use of torture against the French resistance in the 1940s and the French use of torture against the Algerian resistance in the 1950s both proved largely ineffective. As another example, Diederik Lohman, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, found that the torture of suspected criminals typically yields information that is not accurate. A final, and rather famous example is that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Under torture, al-Libi claimed that Al Qaeda had significant links to Iraq . However, as he himself later admitted, there were no such links. Thus, the historical record seems to count against the effectiveness of torture.

Third, as history and basic human psychology show, most people will say almost anything to end terrible suffering. For example, a former prisoner from Abu Ghraib told the New York Times that, after being tortured, he confessed to being Osama Bin Laden to put and end to his mistreatment. Similar things occur in the context of domestic law enforcement in the United States : suspects subjected to threats and mistreatments have confessed to crimes they did not commit. As such, torture seems to be a rather dubious way of acquiring reliable intelligence.

Given that torture is not effective as a means of gathering reliable information, the utilitarian argument in its favor must be rejected. This is because torturing people is not likely to yield any good consequences.

Despite its ineffectiveness as a means of extracting information directly, torture does seem to be an effective means towards another end, namely that of intimidation. History has shown that authoritarian societies successfully employed torture as a means of political control and as a means of creating informers. Ironically, while actual torture rarely yields reliable information, the culture of fear created by the threat of torture often motivates people to bring information to those in power.

Given its effectiveness as a tool of coercion and intimidation, torture and the threat of torture could be used as weapons against terror. If the threat of torture is both credible and terrible enough, then the likelihood of terrorist activity could be reduced and the number of useful informants could increase significantly.

From a moral standpoint, if torture were to prove effective as a means of reducing terrorist activity then it could be argued that the use of torture is morally acceptable. The gist of the argument is that the moral harms of threatening and utilizing torture are outweighed by the moral consequences-namely a reduction in terrorist activity.

While this argument has a certain appeal, it faces three problems. First, it seems likely that adopting torture and the threat of torture as weapons would be morally harmful to the society in question. To see that this is likely, one needs to merely consider the nature of societies that have already embraced the use of torture. Second, the use of torture as a means of coercion and intimidation certainly seems to be a form of terrorism. As such, the reduction in one type of terrorism would be, ironically, offset by the increase in another. Third, terrorism is denounced as a moral evil and its alleged opponents, such as George Bush, seem to revel in claiming the moral high ground. However, a society that accepts the use of torture cannot claim the moral high ground-they are walking the same ground as the terrorists. Thus, it would seem that the use of torture is not morally acceptable.


In a far away land, it was known that if you drank poison, the only way to save yourself is to drink a stronger poison, which neutralizes the weaker poison. The king that ruled the land wanted to make sure that he possessed the strongest poison in the kingdom, in order to ensure his survival, in any situation. So the king called the kingdom's pharmacist and the kingdom's treasurer, he gave each a week to make the strongest poison. Then, each would drink the other one's poison, then his own, and the one that will survive, will be the one that had the stronger poison.
The pharmacist went straight to work, but the treasurer knew he had no chance, for the pharmacist was much more experienced in this field, so instead, he made up a plan to survive and make sure the pharmacist dies. On the last day the pharmacist suddenly realized that the treasurer would know he had no chance, so he must have a plan. After a little thought, the pharmacist realized what the treasurer's plan must be, and he concocted a counter plan, to make sure he survives and the treasurer dies. When the time came, the king summoned both of them. They drank the poisons as planned, and the treasurer died, the pharmacist survived, and the king didn't get what he wanted.
What exactly happened there?


The treasurer's plan was to drink a weak poison prior to the meeting with the king, and then he would drink the pharmacist's strong poison, which would neutralize the weak poison. As his own poison he would bring water, which will have no effect on him, but the pharmacist who would drink the water, and then his poison would surely die. When the pharmacist figured out this plan, he decided to bring water as well. So the treasurer who drank poison earlier, drank the pharmacist's water, then his own water, and died of the poison he drank before. The pharmacist would drink only water, so nothing will happen to him. And because both of them brought the king water, he didn't get a strong poison like he wanted.

Fallacies - 1

Poisoning the Well


The phrase "poisoning the well" ultimately alludes to the medieval European myth that the black plague was caused by Jews poisoning town wells—a myth which was used as an excuse to persecute Jews.

The phrase was first used in its relevant sense by Cardinal John Henry Newman during a controversy with Charles Kingsley:

…[W]hat I insist upon here…is this unmanly attempt of his, in his concluding pages, to cut the ground from under my feet;—to poison by anticipation the public mind against me, John Henry Newman, and to infuse into the imaginations of my readers, suspicion and mistrust of every thing that I may say in reply to him. This I call poisoning the wells.

"I am henceforth in doubt and fear," he says, "as much as any honest man can be, concerning every word Dr. Newman may write. How can I tell that I shall not be the dupe of some cunning equivocation?" …

Well, I can only say, that, if his taunt is to take effect, I am but wasting my time in saying a word in answer to his foul calumnies… We all know how our imagination runs away with us, how suddenly and at what a pace;—the saying, "Caesar's wife should not be suspected," is an instance of what I mean. The habitual prejudice, the humour of the moment, is the turning-point which leads us to read a defence in a good sense or a bad. We interpret it by our antecedent impressions. The very same sentiments, according as our jealousy is or is not awake, or our aversion stimulated, are tokens of truth or of dissimulation and pretence. There is a story of a sane person being by mistake shut up in the wards of a Lunatic Asylum, and that, when he pleaded his cause to some strangers visiting the establishment, the only remark he elicited in answer was, "How naturally he talks! you would think he was in his senses." Controversies should be decided by the reason; is it legitimate warfare to appeal to the misgivings of the public mind and to its dislikings? Any how, if Mr. Kingsley is able thus to practise upon my readers, the more I succeed, the less will be my success. … The more triumphant are my statements, the more certain will be my defeat.

Source: John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Type: Argumentum ad Hominem


I wish it were possible for men to get really emotionally involved in this question [abortion]. It is really impossible for the man, for whom it is impossible to be in this situation, to really see it from the woman's point of view. That is why I am concerned that there are not more women in this House available to speak about this from the woman's point of view.

Source: House of Commons Debates of Canada, Volume 2, November 30, 1979, p. 1920



To poison the well is to commit a pre-emptive ad hominem strike against an argumentative opponent. As with regular ad hominems, the well may be poisoned in either an abusive or circumstantial way. For instance:

  1. "Only an ignoramus would disagree with fluoridating water." (Abusive)
  2. "My opponent is a dentist, so of course he will oppose the fluoridating of water, since he will lose business." (Circumstantial)

Anyone bold enough to enter a debate which begins with a well-poisoning either steps into an insult, or an attack upon one's personal integrity. As with standard ad hominems, the debate is likely to cease to be about its nominal topic and become a debate about the arguer. However, what sets Poisoning the Well apart from the standard Ad Hominem is the fact that the poisoning is done before the opponent has a chance to make a case.


Poisoning the Well is not, strictly speaking, a logical fallacy since it is not a type of argument. Rather, it is a logical boobytrap set by the poisoner to tempt the unwary audience into committing an ad hominem fallacy. As with all forms of the ad hominem, one should keep in mind that an argument can and must stand or fall on its own, regardless of who makes it.

Analysis of the Example:

This is a common type of circumstantial poisoning of the well, which claims that men should either not make a judgment about abortion, or should keep it to themselves if they do. This illustrates the effect that poisoning the well tends to have, which is to forestall opposition in debate. It also shows the mistake underlying all poisoning of the well, since the sex of the arguer is irrelevant to the merits of the argument. No doubt one could always find a woman to advance the argument, whatever it is.


Fallacies - 2

Alias: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Translation: After this, therefore because of this, Latin

Type: Non Causa Pro Causa


Event C happened immediately prior to event E.
Therefore, C caused E.

Events of type C happen immediately prior to events of type E.
Therefore, events of type C cause events of type E.


The only policy that effectively reduces public shootings is right-to-carry laws. Allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns reduces violent crime. In the 31 states that have passed right-to-carry laws since the mid-1980s, the number of multiple-victim public shootings and other violent crimes has dropped dramatically. Murders fell by 7.65%, rapes by 5.2%, aggravated assaults by 7%, and robberies by 3%.

…[E]vidence shows that even state and local handgun control laws work. For example, in 1974 Massachusetts passed the Bartley-Fox Law, which requires a special license to carry a handgun outside the home or business. The law is supported by a mandatory prison sentence. Studies by Glenn Pierce and William Bowers of Northeastern University documented that after the law was passed handgun homicides in Massachusetts fell 50% and the number of armed robberies dropped 35%.

Source: "The Media Campaign Against Gun Ownership", The Phyllis Schlafly Report, Vol. 33, No. 11, June 2000.

Source: "Fact Card", Handgun Control, Inc.

Analysis of the Examples


Roosters crow just before the sun rises.
Therefore, roosters crowing cause the sun to rise.


The Post Hoc Fallacy is committed whenever one reasons to a causal conclusion based solely on the supposed cause preceding its "effect". Of course, it is a necessary condition of causation that the cause precede the effect, but it is not a sufficient condition. Thus, post hoc evidence may suggest the hypothesis of a causal relationship, which then requires further testing, but it is never sufficient evidence on its own.


Post Hoc also manifests itself as a bias towards jumping to conclusions based upon coincidences. Superstition and magical thinking include Post Hoc thinking; for instance, when a sick person is treated by a witch doctor, or a faith healer, and becomes better afterward, superstitious people conclude that the spell or prayer was effective. Since most illnesses will go away on their own eventually, any treatment will seem effective by Post Hoc thinking. This is why it is so important to test proposed remedies carefully, rather than jumping to conclusions based upon anecdotal evidence.

Sibling Fallacy: Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc


T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments (Third Edition) (Wadsworth, 1995), pp. 131-132.


Fallacy - 3

Weak Analogy


  • False Analogy
  • Faulty Analogy
  • Questionable Analogy

Type: Informal Fallacy


A is like B.
B has property P.
Therefore, A has property P.
(Where the analogy between A and B is weak.)


Efforts to ban chlordane assailed

WASHINGTON (AP)--The only exterminator in Congress told his colleagues Wednesday that it would be a short-sighted move to ban use of chlordane and related termiticides that cause cancer in laboratory animals.

Supporters of the bill, however, claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency was "dragging its feet" on a chemical that could cause 300,000 cancers in the American population in 70 years.

"This bill reminds me of legislation that ought to be introduced to outlaw automobiles" on the grounds that cars kill people, said Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who owns an exterminating business.

EPA banned use of the chemicals on crops in 1974, but permitted use against termites because the agency did not believe humans were exposed. Chlordane does not kill termites but rather drives them away.

Source: Associated Press, June 25th, 1987



This is a very common fallacy, but "False Analogy", its common name, is very misleading. Analogies are neither true nor false, instead they come in degrees from near identity to extreme dissimilarity. Here are two important points about analogy:

  1. No analogy is perfect, that is, there is always some difference between analogs. Otherwise, they would not be two analogous objects, but only one, and the relation would be one of identity, not analogy.
  2. There is always some similarity between any two objects, no matter how different. For example, Lewis Carroll once posed the following nonsense riddle:

How is a raven like a writing desk?

The point of the riddle was that they're not; alike, that is. However, to Carroll's surprise, some of his readers came up with clever solutions to the supposedly unsolvable riddle, for instance:

Because Poe wrote on both.

Some arguments from analogy are based on analogies that are so weak that the argument is too weak for the purpose to which it is put. How strong an argument needs to be depends upon the context in which it occurs, and the use that it is intended to serve. Thus, in the absence of other evidence, and as a guide to further research, even a very weak analogical argument may be strong enough. Therefore, while the strength of an argument from analogy depends upon the strength of the analogy in its premisses, it is not solely determined by that strength.


Analysis of the Example:

Representative DeLay attempts to argue against a bill banning chlordane by comparing it to a bill banning automobiles, but this analogy is very weak. Here are some of the relevant differences:

  • Banning automobiles would be economically and socially disruptive in a way that banning a single pesticide would not.
  • There are many alternative pesticides available to replace a banned one, but there are few modes of transportation available which could replace cars.
  • Automobiles play a significant role in our society, whereas chlordane was used only to prevent termite damage to houses, which is of comparatively minor importance.

Fallacy - 4

Contradictory Premises (also known as a logical paradox): Establishing a premise in such a way that it contradicts another, earlier premise. For instance, "If God can do anything, he can make a stone so heavy that he can't lift it." The first premise establishes a deity that has the irresistible capacity to move other objects. The second premise establishes an immovable object impervious to any movement. If the first object capable of moving anything exists, by definition, the immovable object cannot exist, and vice-versa.

The Liar Paradox

The Liar Paradox is among the simplest of paradoxes. It can be traced back at least as far as Eubulides of Miletus, a fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher.

Eubulides’ version of the paradox is this: A man says that he is lying; is what he says true or false?

However we answer this question, difficulties arise.

If we suggest that what the man says is true, then we end in contradiction: if the man’s claim that he is lying is true, then he is lying, in which case what he says is false.

If we suggest that what the man says is false, then we are no better off: if the man’s claim that he is lying is false, then he is not lying, in which case what he says is true.

Both answers give rise to logical contradictions; it cannot be the case either that what the man says is true or that what the man says is false.

The Liar Paradox is sometimes referred to as “Epimenides’ Paradox”, after the sixth-century B.C. Cretan who asserted that all Cretans are liars. The apostle Paul makes reference to Epimenides in Titus 1:12, writing, “It was one of them, their very own prophet who said, ‘Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’”

Epimenides’ statement alone does not give rise to a paradox. What he says can’t be true, for if Cretans are always liars, and he is a Cretan, then he must be lying, in which case his statement is false. His statement could be false however; it could be that Epimenides is dishonest but that not all Cretans are liars.

Paul, though, excludes this dissolution of the paradox, proceeding to say in the following verse, “This testimony is true.” This leaves Paul asserting that Epimenides truly said that he (and all other Cretans) are liars, which takes us back to Eubulides’ paradox above; Paul cannot be right.

Fallacy - 5

I. Argumentum ad Misericordiam (argument from pity or misery) the fallacy committed when pity or a related emotion such as sympathy or compassion is appealed to for the sake of getting a conclusion accepted.

  1. Hence, assent or dissent to a statement or an argument is sought on the basis of an irrelevant appeal to pity. In other words, pity, or the related emotion is not the subject or the conclusion of the argument.

  1. The informal structure of the ad misericordiam usually is something like this:

Person L argues statement p or argument A.
L deserves pity because of circumstance y.
Circumstance y is irrelevant to p or A.
Statement p is true or argument A is good.

II. Some typical ad misericordiam fallacy examples follow.

Georgia Banker Bert Lance should be excused from conflict of interest divestiture problems, former President Jimmy Carter asserted, because Lance's promise to sell his stock so that he can serve his government has depressed its market value.

Oh, Officer, There's no reason to give me a traffic ticket for going too fast because I was just on my way to the hospital to see my wife who is in serious condition to tell her I just lost my job and the car will be repossessed.

Members of Congress can surely see in their hearts that they need to vote in favor of passage of the Gun Bill allowing concealed weapons because their constituents who lobby for liberalizing firearms will be greatly saddened if they do not do so.

Public Schools, K through 12, need to have much easier exams for students because teachers don't fully realize the extent of the emotional repercussions of the sorrow and depression of the many students who could score much better on easier exams.

Richard P. Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, has been misunderstood almost all of his life. Since World War II, he came close twice to having a mental breakdown--first with the death of his wife and second with the explosion of the atomic bomb. I think that the Journal of Science should publish some of his later theoretical work out of our kind regard for his memory and from the interest of human concern for his difficult life.

III. Related emotions include sympathy, love, regard, mercy, condolence, and compassion. Occasionally, an occurrence of a fallacy can be correctly analyzed as either the ad populum or the ad misericordiam fallacy since these fallacies overlap in their appeal.

IV. Non-fallacious uses of the ad misericordiam include arguments where the appeal to pity or a related emotion is the subject of the argument or is a pertinent or germane reason for acceptance of the conclusion.

  1. Relief arguments are relevant to the problems raised by a disaster caused by a tidal wave and cholera outbreak in India.

  1. If we have the choice of buying a newspaper from a blind news vendor, ad misericordiam considerations are not necessarily irrelevant. The essential question is whether the pity or compassion is relevant to the situation at hand and is being appealed to exclusively or excessively for the acceptance of the conclusion.

Fallacy - 6

Hasty Generalization

Alias: Converse Accident

Type: Unrepresentative Sample


It's a story, say, about the New York City public schools. In the first paragraph a parent, apparently picked at random, testifies that they haven't improved. Readers are clearly expected to draw conclusions from this. But it isn't clear why the individual was picked; it isn't possible to determine whether she's representative; and there's no way of knowing whether she knows what she's talking about. Calling on the individual man or woman on the street to make conclusive judgments is beneath journalistic dignity. If polls involving hundreds of people carry a cautionary note indicating a margin of error of plus-or-minus five points, what kind of consumer warning should be glued to a reporter's ad hoc poll of three or four respondents?


Source: Daniel Okrent, "13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did", New York Times, 5/22/2005


Of course your columnist Michele Slatalla was joking when she wrote about needing to talk with her 58-year-old mother about going into a nursing home. While I admire Slatalla's concern for her parents, and agree that as one approaches 60 it is wise to make some long-term plans, I hardly think that 58 is the right age at which to talk about a retirement home unless there are some serious health concerns. In this era, when people are living to a healthy and ripe old age, Slatalla is jumping the gun. My 85-year-old mother power-walks two miles each day, drives her car (safely), climbs stairs, does crosswords, reads the daily paper and could probably beat Slatalla at almost anything.

Source: Nancy Edwards, "Letters to the Editor", Time, 6/26/00.


This is the fallacy of generalizing about a population based upon a sample which is too small to be representative. If the population is heterogeneous, then the sample needs to be large enough to represent the population's variability. With a completely homogeneous population, a sample of one is sufficiently large, so it is impossible to put an absolute lower limit on sample size. Rather, sample size depends directly upon the variability of the population: the more heterogeneous a population, the larger the sample required. For instance, people tend to be quite variable in their political opinions, so that public opinion polls need fairly large samples to be accurate.


Suppose that you are cooking a pot of spaghetti, and you fish out a single strand to test for doneness. If it is done, then you conclude that all of the spaghetti in the pot is done. Here, your sample is one strand of spaghetti, and the population is the entire potful of pasta. Have you committed the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization? No.

This is a familiar type of inference that most of us engage in whenever we cook something, for instance, when we taste a pot of soup to test whether it is sufficiently seasoned by tasting a single spoonful. We don't feel it necessary to test several spoonfuls, because we have every reason to believe that the spoonful we test is representative of the whole pot of soup. In the same way, a single strand of spaghetti can be representative of a whole pot of noodles.

The reason why these kinds of inference can work is because spaghetti is mass-produced, and every noodle from the same box is virtually identical to all the others. Moreover, if we put a whole boxful of spaghetti into a pot of boiling water, we can be pretty sure that all of them are being cooked for the same amount of time and at the same rate. It is in this way that we can know that the single noodle we test is a representative noodle, that is, it is like all the other noodles in the pot in terms of doneness.

How do such inferences go wrong? Let's return to the soup example: suppose that you season the soup by sprinkling spices onto its surface, but that you forget to stir the pot. Then, if you take your test spoonful from the top of the soup, without stirring, it is unlikely that it will be representative. Instead, you are likely to get much more of the spices in that spoonful than you would get from the bottom of the pot. If you fail to notice this, and conclude from your sample that the soup is sufficiently spicy, then you will have committed the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization. You will probably be disappointed later that the soup is not flavorful enough. This is why we stir a pot of soup after seasoning it, and before tasting it, so that the spices will be evenly distributed throughout the liquid, and a single spoonful will be representative of the entire pot.

When we are dealing with populations that are more variable than soup or spaghetti, we need to be not only careful how we take the sample, but we have to take a sample that is big enough to represent the variability of the population. If we are polling people's political views, then a sample of just one person is guaranteed to be misleading, no matter what opinions that person has. A hasty generalization occurs anytime the sample is not big enough to represent the population.


S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (Fifth Edition) (St. Martin's, 1994), pp. 137-140.


Douglas Walton, "Rethinking the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization" A technical paper in PDF format.

Fallacy - 7

The Fallacy of Accident


  • A dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid
  • Dicto Simpliciter
  • Sweeping Generalization

Type: Informal Fallacy


Xs are normally Ys.
A is an X. (Where A is abnormal.)
Therefore, A is a Y.


Birds normally can fly.
Tweety the Penguin is a bird.
Therefore, Tweety can fly.


The fallacy of Accident, one of Aristotle's thirteen fallacies, has been interpreted in various ways by subsequent logicians, perhaps because of the obscurity of The Philosopher's account. I will discuss only one of these interpretations here, due to its relation to recent developments in logic.

Consider the generalization "birds can fly" from the example. Now, it isn't true that all birds can fly, since there are flightless birds. "Some birds can fly" and "many birds can fly" are too weak. "Most birds can fly" is closer to what we mean, but in this case "birds can fly" is a "rule of thumb", and the fallacy of Accident is a fallacy involving reasoning with rules of thumb.

Common sense is full of rules of thumb which do not hold universally, but which hold "generally" or "as a general rule", as is sometimes said. Logicians have tended to ignore rules of thumb, probably because of their unscientific vagueness. However, in the past couple of decades, primarily due to research in artificial intelligence, which has shown the importance of such general rules for practical reasoning, there has been growing interest in so-called "default" or "defeasible" reasoning, of which rules of thumb are a part. As a consequence, there has also been a rebirth of interest in the fallacy of Accident.

The difference between rules of thumb and universal generalizations, is that the former have exceptions. For instance, flightless birds are exceptions to the rule of thumb that birds can fly. One might hope to represent this rule of thumb by the universal generalization "all non-flightless birds can fly", but even this is not correct, for flighted birds with broken wings cannot fly. One might still hope that some lengthy list of exceptions would do the trick. However, one can imagine many different scenarios in which a bird would not be able to fly: its feet are stuck in quicksand, all of the air around it has suddenly rushed into space, it has developed a phobia about flying, etc. One might then try to sum up this diversity of cases under the rubric of "untypical", or "abnormal", and say: "All typical or normal birds can fly". This is exactly what a rule of thumb is.

Rules of thumb differ from statistical generalizations such as "90% of birds can fly" in that there is no specific proportion of flighted to flightless birds that determines normality. The rule of thumb doesn't even necessarily imply that the majority of birds can fly, though it would be unusual if this didn't hold. We can imagine, for instance, that there might be so many penguins in Antarctica that the majority of birds would be flightless. However, our notion of normality applies to the familiar, everyday birds we see in our backyards, rather than "exotics" on distant continents. Clearly, then, rules of thumb are specific to a cultural and temporal context.

The fallacy of Accident occurs when one either attempts to apply such a rule of thumb to an obviously abnormal instance, or when one treats the rule itself as if it were an exceptionless universal generalization, rather than a defeasible rule of thumb.


S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (5th Edition), (St. Martin's, 1994).