I've spent or wasted way too much time on this, I can't quit.

What is the name of the logical fallacy or cognitive bias in the above statement.

[I'm not sure if this is actually the right forum to ask this. I'm sorry if I'm in the wrong here]

  • It's the same fallacy that's involved in continuing a bad investment; economists have a term for it -- "sunk capital" or something like, I think.. The metaphor theme involved is Time Is Money, which accounts for the spent time. Normally all we can spend is money, but the metaphor theme covers perceived duration as well. Is a metaphor theme considered a cognitive bias?
    – John Lawler
    May 22, 2017 at 16:32
  • 2
    As you say, Sunk Cost Fallacy is a formal name. In casual conversation people are more likely to talk about throwing good money after bad. May 22, 2017 at 16:40
  • 1
    It's sunk cost only if you can treat perception as cost. And cost has a rather complex meaning in English.
    – John Lawler
    May 22, 2017 at 16:44
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    No, it's not literal at all; it's a metaphor theme. Like Up Is Good/Down Is Bad, which is also implicated in Sunk. But it's not a fallacy as such; just a viewpoint. For some things, like emotions and perceived duration, we don't have anything but metaphors, because there is no "literal" reality to refer to.
    – John Lawler
    May 22, 2017 at 17:00
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    @John Lawler I'm not clear whether you meant to deny that "sunk cost" thinking is fallacious. The fallacy is not related to metaphorical language. The fallacy is in failing to see that the sunk cost is irrelevant to the real decision. In the example at the top of the question, the correct comparison is not that I've spent too much time on this to quit now; the correct comparison is whether future time spent is justified by the good it will do. We should not pursue a bad course just because we've set out on one.
    – Chaim
    May 22, 2017 at 17:25

2 Answers 2


The psychological/emotional tension surrounding the decision as to whether to keep investing time or money in an endeavour such as the one you describe is the sunk cost dilemma:

the emotional difficulty of deciding whether to proceed with or abandon a project when time and money have already been spent but the desired results have not been achieved. (Investopedia)

And the sunk cost trap is when, because of a reluctance to admit to a waste of time or money, one continues with an obviously fruitless or wasteful endeavour that will not lead to the desired or best outcome. There are some good example scenarios in this thread in the Philosophy forum.

If you fall into the trap, you are "throwing good money after bad", which is to

incur further loss in a hopeless attempt to recoup a previous loss (Oxford Dictionaries)

(See also this thread with some examples of early usage.)


The problem seems to lie in the unspoken premise: There is no amount of time too large to spend, in relation to the expected goal. The next question is the importance of the goal. Buying a new car? Saving your own life?

Depending on the goal, the statement about "too much time" might or might not be defensible.

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