The false dilemma is a logical fallacy, that presents choices as binary or mutually exclusive, often distorting reality. It simplifies complex issues, obstructing rational decision-making and debate. The false dilemma appears regularly in contexts from politics to daily discussions

Key Takeaways

  • The false dilemma is intended to steer the recipient of the message toward the option the speaker wants.
  • It is common in debates, where it’s used to present complex, nuanced issues as overly simplistic, stifling genuine, honest discussions.
  • The false dilemma may be used intentionally or subconsciously. The motive remains the same: sway the audience towards the speaker’s desired choice or outcome.

What Is a False Dilemma?

✍️ A false dilemma occurs when a limited number of choices, outcomes, or views are presented as the only possibilities when, in fact, more possibilities exist. As such, it unjustifiably puts issues into black-or-white terms.

Accordingly, it’s also known as the either-or fallacy, all-or-nothing fallacy, and black-and-white thinking.

💔 A simple example would be:

“You either love me or hate me”.

This is a false dilemma as there are other emotions people may feel for each other than just these two extremes.

Essentially, this fallacy can be committed in two ways: by suggesting that there are only two possible options when more exist, or by incorrectly presenting the choices as mutually exclusive (only one of the options can be true). Also, one of the given options is often clearly undesirable, while the other one — which the arguer may want us to choose — seems acceptable and rational.

Furthermore, it’s frequently characterized by “either-this-or-that” type of language, implying that if one of the choices is true, the other one must be false, or if you don’t accept one, the other must be accepted. In reality, however, both of the options may be false or could be accepted at the same time.

Why It Occurs

This fallacy is typically committed because one fails to take into consideration other possible options that would apply to the issue. This can be due to carelessness or, as it sometimes is, a deliberate persuasion strategy by the arguer.

As D. Q. McInerny noted in his book Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking:

The fallacy seeks to create a false sense of urgency in an audience, to force them to choose between the alternatives carefully selected by the perpetrator of the fallacy.

👉 Examples

  • America: Love it or leave it.
  • “You are either with us or against us.”
  • “If you are wrong, I must be right.”
  • “I didn’t see you at the charity fundraiser today. I guess you are not a good person after all.”
  • “We either keep euthanasia illegal and show that we value human life, or we legalize euthanasia and thus decide that human life is worthless.”
  • “Either the evolution theories are correct, or creationists are right. Those are the only options we have”
  • “If you are not Republican, then you must be a Democrat.”
  • “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”(George W. Bush, 2001)
  • “Would you rather be stuck in your boring job forever or pursue your passion?”
  • “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.”
False Dilemma - Example and definition

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