FANDOM


WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic
False Dichotomy: This is where you say that there are only two choices, when actually there are more. For instance, you might say that someone is either alive, or they're dead, ignoring the fact that they might be Dracula. Or you might say that if someone's not a Democrat, they must be some sort of Republican, ignoring the very real possibility that they may be Dracula.
Lore Sjoberg, "Logical Fallacies"[1]

A false dichotomy, also known as either/or reasoning, is the artificial reduction of all the choices available in a discussion to two. It's usually rigged to favor one answer, and usually in two ways:

The first is polarization, by offering two extremes hoping the target will commit to the favorable extreme option: "We nuke Russia now or you're one of them." The second is making only the wrong choice extreme: "You'll buy my cookies of course -- unless you're some kind of paedophile."

Of course, reality is rarely so simple, unforgiving or rigged. Instead of an artificial binary choice favouring an ideology, life offers a diverse landscape of choices and consequences.

This binary approach is also a common media trope. Simply put: it is a lot easier for an audience to understand a story where characters are villains or heroes. In the simpler romances, it is more straightforward if characters exhibit a transcendent love, or an excoriating hate. Contrast Golden Mean Fallacy. Necessary for someone to be able to Take a Third Option (though, of course, doing that instantly subverts this trope by revealing the falsity of the dichotomy.)

Sub Tropes:

Examples of False Dichotomy include:


Film

  • A Few Good Men: Colonel Jessup, after having been accused of killing one of his own men (admittedly by accident): "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post." (You either at war or not a soldier, used against a Military Lawyer)
  • The "Battle of Wits" from The Princess Bride presents this. Either Vizzini's cup is the poisoned one, or the Man in Black's is. Vizzini goes through dozens of justifications and possibilities for why one would poison either one, trying to stall for time. Either way, he never considers that they're both poisoned.
  • Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith: Two for one, one called out, the other unintentional.

 Anakin: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy!”

Obi-Wan: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”


Literature

  • A Sherlock Holmes sequel-by-other-hands has Holmes called upon to judge which of two violins is the one Davy Crockett played at the Alamo. He quickly identifies one as a fake, but realises that he was intended to; the owner wanted him to declare a violin as genuine, and so was presenting him with the false dichotomy of "which one's the fake?" They both are.
  • Bella believes she must either be with Edward or with Jacob. She also believes she must either become a vampire or grow ooold. Later, she believes that she must either wait until her belly is full-sized to deliver, or abort it, because no life-threatening pregnancy was ever solved by putting the babies on life-support to save the life of the mother.

Newspaper Comics

Live Action Television

  • Bill O'Reilly often acts like this is the way the world works in The O'Reilly Factor. As long as he can "prove" the other side wrong, that automatically means he is right.
  • Stephen Colbert loves this trope and takes it to the extreme, often asking questions such as "America: greatest nation in the world, or greatest nation in the universe?" When the interviewee starts to say he/she doesn't want to be quoted as saying either of those, he explains that those are the only options available: "So I'll put you down for 'world,' because that's not AS great as 'universe'..."
    • "Pick a side, we're at war."
      • "George W. Bush: Great President, or The Greatest President?"
    • He also divides the supermarket into cheese and non-cheese. Assuming that he classifies everything with cheese in it as cheese, it's a real dichotomy...but not a particularly important one.
  • On Parks and Recreation, Leslie tried to drum up public support for building a park by phrasing the question, "Wouldn't you rather have a park than a storage facility for nuclear waste?"

Tabletop Games

  • RPG game Paranoia: if you aren't a fanatic supporter of the oppressive totalitarian regime, a loyal servant of The Computer, you are a death-dealing commie mutant traitor. This one is notable because everyone in Paranoia is a commie mutant traitor at heart, so instead of there being more than two possibilities, it turns out there's only one.
    • Well, some of the commie mutant traitors do love the Computer.

Visual Novels

  • Part of a trick played on Kyousuke in G Senjou no Maou, which is especially amusing because he just saw it pulled on his idiot friend. The trick pulled on his friend was the question "Which river is the longest in the world? A. the Amazon B. the Yangtze C. the Edo?"[2] while it was never stated that it was actually a multiple choice question, and thus the answer is the Nile. The trick played on Kyousuke comes immediately after, where he gets asked, "Will you go on a date with Mizuha at a classical concert or somewhere else?" and he accidentally picks option one before realizing that 'don't go on a date at all' was also a valid choice, but is too proud to back down now.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Extremely common in a Flame War.
    • In fact you can test this yourself, go to any wikia based site and bring up a commonly held but none verifiable belief, you won't have to wait long to see this kind of argument show up.
  • The Love It or Hate It trope. There is a group of middle-of-the-road viewers/readers/players, but they are generally ignored. (However, the reason it's a trope in the first place is because that middle-of-the-road group is far smaller than for most fandoms.)
  • A popular joke on YouTube is to comment on a video by reciting the number of "dislike" ratings the video has at the time of commenting and accusing all of them of something; common examples include "[X] people missed the 'like' button," "[X] people had no childhood," "[X] people are Justin Bieber fans," or some kind of threat. Such comments tend to be found in the highest rated comments, but luckily, subversions and parodies are replacing them in that spot.

Western Animation

 Mrs. Stotch: I don't know whether to ground him or call a doctor.

Mr. Stotch: I think you should call a doctor. I'll ground him.

  • In the episode "Screwed the Pooch" from Family Guy:

 Lawyer: Mr. Griffin, which of the following two phrases best describes Brian Griffin: "problem drinker" or "African American haberdasher"?

Peter: Uh, do I-I guess problem drinker, but that's uh-

Lawyer: Thank you. Now: "sexual deviant" or "magic picture that if you stare at it long enough, you see something"?

Peter: Well, sexual deviant, but that other one's not even, eh-

Lawyer: Thank you.

 Hank: So are you Chinese or Japanese?

Khan: No, we are Laotian.

Bill: The ocean? What ocean?

Khan: From Laos, stupid! It's a landlocked country in Southeast Asia between Vietnam and Thailand, population approximately 4.7 million!

Hank: (long pause) So are you Chinese or Japanese?

Khan: D'oh!

  • When Darkwing Duck is attempting to improve his PR, Nega Duck sabotages him by asking him if he's stopped digging potholes on Main Street. Caught up in the flow of questions, Darkwing answers "yes" right before realizing the nature of the question.

Real Life

  • There's a standard joke about someone moving to Northern Ireland and being asked by the locals if they're Protestant or Catholic: when they explain that they are in fact atheist/Buddhist/Muslim/other, the locals respond "Yes, but are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist/Buddhist/Muslim/other?"
    • Similar joke: an atheist is asked "But is it the Protestant God or that Catholic God you don't believe in?"
      • Curiously enough, there actually are people who define themselves as Catholic atheists, Muslim atheists, etc. That is to say, they follow the value-system of a religion even though they don't believe in the supernatural reasoning behind it.
      • Or they come from a Catholic/Protestant/Muslim cultural background.
    • Alternate punchline to the above:

 "Actually I'm a Muslim."

"Oh dear. Then I must be the unluckiest Jew in Ireland."

  • Similar to the above, there's a story about a man who was on vacation in a foreign country when it fell into Civil War. As he's making his way to the American Embassy, a man walks up to him with a gun and says "Are you a Christian or a Muslim?" Having no idea what answer the soldier wants to hear, the man responds "I'm a tourist!"
  • Sometimes, however, a dichotomy is actually true.
  • Boxers or Briefs? Any time a guy is asked for his underwear preference it is always reduced to this. There are many choices now, you know, like boxer briefs, trunks, jock straps, panties, chastity belts, thongs, etc. Or Going Commando. Plus for many it is not exclusively either-or.
    • Or you can point out (as Newt Gingrich did) that its maybe not the first thing you need to know about candidate for the presidency. The answer isn't useful.
  • The famous Epimenides paradox (Epimenides the Cretan says "all Cretans are liars") can be interpreted such that it isn't paradox. There are several interpretations that support the original statement ("Cretans other than Epimenides always lie", "all Cretans, including Epimenides, sometimes lie", etc.) without being paradoxical. On the other hand, such an interpretation misses the point of the exercise: we're supposed to assume that "all Cretans are liars" means "all Cretans always lie", so that we can think about the consequences of such a statement.
    • It ceases to be a paradox when you consider that the opposite ("not all Cretans are liars") does allow for some Cretans to lie, including Epimenides.
      • Unfortunately, this is not true; considering the opposite of a statement does not cause the original to become logically consistent.
      • That's just a second False Dichotomy. The statement doesn't need to be logically consistent, since the situation is: namely, Epimenides is a liar. As such, we can reject what he says, and as such, there is no reason to reconcile his being a liar with him saying "all Cretans always lie".
  • Even if Evolution could be disproven, Creationism would not automatically take its place.
    • However, Creationism IS incompatible with Evolution. The true false dichotomy comes from claiming Christianity and Creationism are the same thing and therefore Christianity and Evolution are incompatible. A large majority of Christians, even in the US, think that YE Creationism is utter nonsense. The dispute isn't helped by outspoken Atheists claiming Evolution disproves religion.
  • Inverted with the current (as of July 2011) spending vs taxes debate in the US. Quick primer: raising taxes and cutting spending are the only two ways to decrease debt. Both sides want to decrease debt to avoid hitting the debt ceiling. The Republicans refuse to raise taxes but they're not saying they want to cut spending. The Democrats refuse to cut spending, but they're not saying they want to raise taxes. Both act like refusing one doesn't mean they're pushing for the other, as if a magical third parameter (or fourth, counting debt) exists.
    • There actually is an alternative- raising revenue without raising tax rates (when politicians and pundits speak of raising taxes, they mean raising tax rates), making raise taxes or cut spending into a genuine false dichotomy.
  • Porn vs. Art (YMMV)
    • Entertainment vs. Art
  • Love vs Lust
  • The "debate" on whether Tyrannosaurus Rex was a "predator or scavenger".[3] The majority of modern carnivores both hunt and scavenge, and no one nowadays suggests otherwise for Tyrannosaurus. (In fact, we even have direct fossil evidence of both behaviors in tyrannosaurids.)
  • "Homophobia" vs LGBTQ support. Either you support gay marriage because you're gay yourself, or you're against it because you hate gay people. There's quite a good deal of in-between groups that rarely get heard from, such as "unionists" who believe gay marriage is wrong, but should not be banned because marriage is an intrinsic right.
  • "All men masturbate, or else they're lying."
  • Call it, Heads or Tails? *flips coin* Whups, looks like it landed on the edge.

Looks like this fallacy but is not:

  • When two choices encompass all possibilities.
  • Normally "With Us or Against Us" is a false dichotomy but a head of state can declare that all those not declaring themselves to be allies are to be considered enemies. Since such a declaration is performative[4] it cannot be fallacious, and thus is not itself a false dichotomy, even if the reasoning that leads someone to say that is. It's not very smart under most circumstances, however.
  • The dichotomy may encompass all possibilities, but neglect to allow for belonging to more than one class. This is usually due to a linguistic quirk of English where both the inclusive or (A or B or both) and exclusive or (A or B but never both, often abbreviated xor) are just or. So the statement, "Everyone reading this page is racially tolerant or a Troper," is true for an inclusive or, but not for an exclusive or. Naturally, most statements like that are misleading in general speech. See the trope Mathematician's Answer.

Notes

  1. Episode 5
  2. He picked the Edo river. Like noted, he's an idiot.
  3. This in itself is something of a misconception, as only one recent researcher has endorsed the idea that Tyrannosaurus was an obligate scavenger and has now appeared to have abandoned this view
  4. i.e., if I declare you my enemy, you are my enemy
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.