So basically I came through this fallacious argument/image:

fallacious argument (image).

Which translates into:

Without stress
Without bombs
Without beggars
Without prisons
Without junk food
Without external debt
Without contamination
Without poverty
And they call me PRIMITIVE

The thing is that (without trying to be racist), this native from the Amazon could well be primitive, since none of the previous statements proves that he/she is not.

After a lot of research I came through the "argument from fallacy" as the best choice for this fallacy, but I'm not 100% sure. Am I wrong or not?

  • 1
    Welcome to Philosophy.SE! Can you give us a little more here about what might have made this problem especially urgent or interesting for you? In particular, it sounds like you are really just looking for a good introduction to logic book -- is there any chance I might be able to persuade you to reformulate this as a reference request for introductory logic texts that might contains lists of fallacies? In passing, most of the "what fallacy is this?" questions are very much general reference; see Wikipedia's list of fallacies, etc.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Mar 7, 2012 at 23:57

4 Answers 4


I believe the fallacy in your example is a specific form of a non sequitur, defined as:

An argument in which its conclusion does not follow from its premises.

Now, as pointed out by stoicfury, a non sequitur is merely an umbrella term encompassing many logical fallacies. The term you may be looking for is Ignoratio Elenchi, which is specifically:

The informal fallacy of presenting an argument that may in itself be valid, but does not address the issue in question.

Which is exactly what your example is: a long set of premises about the native people, all quite believable but irrelevant to the question of what is or is not "primitive" (which is itself only an implied argument - there is no explicit logical argument in the image). The argument in the list of "without" terms is that the native people do not have many of the problems of the industrialized world; this is true, but it only allows one to reach a conclusion along the lines of:

The native people do not have many of the problems we experience in the industrialized and modern world.

But, given the most relevant definition of primitive as:

Unaffected or little affected by civilizing influences; uncivilized; savage: primitive passions.

The premises do not allow one to argue that the natives are not primitive. The list of premises is entirely irrelevant to its conclusion, and so the argument contains the fallacy Ignoratio Elenchi. The only way the argument could avoid being fallacious is:

  1. If the definition of primitive could be the possession of all the attributes the image disowns (stress, bombs, etc.);
  2. If the natives truly do not have these attributes.

However, as you point out, 1 is not the case; those attributes are (by the general definition) irrelevant to what is or is not primitive. Thus, the argument does indeed contain a fallacy, an Ignoratio Elenchi.


I would argue that the image referenced simply cannot be classified as a argument, but is a figure of speech. (Beware, I am not implying here that arguments can't be employed as or in figures of speech; my point is that not every figure of speech gives an argument.) It is therefore a matter of rhetorical/semiotic analysis and not of logic to understand what the picture is trying to convey. Linguistics has a whole field of study devoted to such questions.

I am not an expert in the aforementioned field, but my guess is the following: the image-text plays with the meaning of the word without as "lack of something" in combination with negative and positive phenomenons, and with the implied meaning of the word primitive.

It works in the following way:

  1. The dictionary definition of (being) primitive implies the lack of certain features; e.g. in a cultural setting that might be the lack of a sophistication/development in areas of culture, economy or technology.

  2. Conversely, the antonym of primitive is modern. A modern cultural setting implies that it has those features that primitive cultures lack.

  3. The iterative list without... names a lot of social phenomenons/habits with negative connotations, particularly from a progressivist world view.

  4. The features of the child in the image (painted face, indian lineaments, green background) are used to suggest that (s)he is part of a population usually stereotyped as being primitive. The child picture works as a pictorial pars pro toto.

  5. The apposition between the items listed and the child, formally reinforced by the dictionary definition in (1), suggests that the listed lack of social phenomenons/habits applies to the primitive population which the child represents.

  6. The point being made is that the lack of certain features -- negative features according to definition (1) -- is actually a good thing from a progressivist point of view.

  7. The punchline And yet they dare to call me PRIMITIVE refers to the implicit inversion of (1) and (2), where the lack of certain negative social phenomenons/habits is what is actually sought by progressivism in modern societies and is already attained in primitive ones.

As you can see, the image-text works mostly by playing with dictionary definitions, rhetorical suggestions and expected anticipations on the part of the audience/reader. The only factual point being made seems to me (5), which is an empirical research question in anthropology.

The expectation that the reader might find (5) an appealing and established/evident truth points to the popular acceptance of romantic primitivism (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_savage). In fact, the whole image-text can be interpreted as an expression of romantic primitivism.

  • 2
    So in essence, what you are saying is that the picture says that the natives are actually primitives, but romantically primitive, which is actually a good thing, but denies the concept of primitiveness as something bad? Wow, this is more confusing than what I actually thought it was when I saw the picture at first.
    – Ren
    Mar 8, 2012 at 4:28
  • 1
    Yes, I think you summarized my interpretation correctly - with one caveat: The claim that romantic primitivism is "actually a good thing" is not my value judgement. I claimed that it is (probably) the view of the creator of the image and the image "works" if the audience shares this view. Sorry if this seems confusing - images are used exactly because they can convey complex (and fuzzy) messages immediately. Spelling out such messages is difficult and the original immediacy is lost in the process.
    – DBK
    Mar 8, 2012 at 4:58
  • Too bad the message of the image did not work for me. Otherwise I wouldn't have post it here ^_^ I just think that although primitivism is partly romantic (and I happen to like it), it's not absolutely romantic, therefore also having bad things. On my side preferring modernism as the one that tilts the scale. Therefore the picture making little sense to me.
    – Ren
    Mar 8, 2012 at 5:20

The "argument" presented is saying that her people are not primitive simply because they lack those things. This is a valid or invalid form depending on how you fill in the hidden premises, and potentially true if being primitive is defined by those listed items (thus, if her people are without those things, then they are not primitive). But this is silly nonetheless because it merely comes down to what people define as "primitive" and I doubt the photo was meant to be some super-serious argument.

If this is the whole argument:

  1. Being primitive implies having stress, bombs, beggars, prisons, fast food, external debt, contamination, and poverty.

  2. My people are without stress, bombs, beggars, prisons, fast food, external debt, contamination, and poverty.

  3. Therefore, my people are not primitive.

Then it is valid. Basic Modus tollens

modus tollens

If this is the whole argument (this is what it really seems to be countering):

  1. Being primitive implies not having stress, bombs, beggars, prisons, fast food, external debt, contamination, and poverty.

  2. My people are without stress, bombs, beggars, prisons, fast food, external debt, contamination, and poverty.

  3. Therefore, my people are not primitive.

Then it is invalid. The conclusion simply doesn't follow from the premises.

  • It is your second case what is happening. It appears this is called "non sequitur".
    – Ren
    Mar 7, 2012 at 4:03
  • 3
    Just so you know, "non sequitur" is a general term that simply means "it does not follow" (i.e., a statement which doesn't follow from its premises); it is not a specific type of fallacy. In other words, all fallacies (such as any of these specific fallacies) are non sequiturs.
    – stoicfury
    Mar 7, 2012 at 5:07
  • Is there somewhere where I can read about the different branches of non sequitur?
    – Ren
    Mar 7, 2012 at 18:09
  • 1
    In my comment above there is a link to a list on wikipedia. Some here as well.
    – stoicfury
    Mar 8, 2012 at 1:16

The argument you quote is not a syllogism; it hinges upon an unstated proposition, which is the definition of the word "primitive." We'd need to supply this missing bit in order to turn it into a formal argument.

Therefore, the determination of whether or not the derived argument is fallacious is going to depend on how we define the key term.

One could claim that the so-called argument is clearly rhetorical and not logical, and that it therefore relies on an appeal to emotion-- but to do requires that one has already made a determination regarding what defines a "primitive" in this context.

  • Well, how could bomb or fast food mean primitive? It might be not proper of a civilized culture, but it does not imply primitiveness.
    – Ren
    Mar 7, 2012 at 18:10
  • 2
    The case could be made that fast food and bombs fulfill more primitive, less civilized urges. In any event, the point is that determining what is proper of a civilized culture is precisely what is implicit (but not explicit) in the quasi-argument above. Mar 7, 2012 at 19:57
  • 1
    I think you are right in your assessment (although we might disagree on whether it makes much sense to reconstruct such an image as a valid argument). I developed the insight a bit more in my answer to the question.
    – DBK
    Mar 7, 2012 at 22:13
  • OP's example isn't meaningfully an "argument" at all - one might as well claim that since the smallpox virus exhibits none of the negative characteristics of modern human civilisation, we shouldn't have such a negative attitude towards it. Mar 13, 2012 at 1:07

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