Or are they the same thing? Personally I fail to see the difference between these two, but I want to be sure.

EDIT Narrative fallacy

"Metaphors and stories are far more potent (alas) than ideas; they are also easier to remember and more fun to read." -- Taleb 2007 PROLOGUE p.xxvii

Taleb call this human tendency the narrative fallacy: "we seem to enjoy stories, and we seem to want to remember stories for their own sake".

Wikipedia, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Swan:_The_Impact_of_the_Highly_Improbable#The_narrative_fallacy

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    Post hoc rationalization is not even a fallacy, a rational explanation for what the gut instinct suggests may well be valid on its own terms. I may rationalize my feeling that someone looks different today by realizing later that they had a haircut, for example. And it hardly amounts to a "narrative".
    – Conifold
    Oct 23, 2019 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


The narrative fallacy

The narrative fallacy involves selecting a sequence of events, say in a person's life or in the history of a nation, and reading cause and effect between events in the earlier part of the sequence and events in the later. One might, for instance, produce a narrative in which I grew up in the countryside, my parents were farmers, my siblings joined and stayed in the agricultural business. But I left. This was not the life for me. I wanted to be an electrical engineer. So I went to college, got my qualifications, and spent the next twenty years as useful and satisfied engineer. I have remained single but fall in love with a person I met while driving in the countryside. This person belongs to a farming family. Head over heels, I ditch my engineering job, we marry and I become a farmer.

In the grip of the narrative fallacy one might say that my early life on the farm explains my (otherwise rather surprising) readiness to return to a life I had repudiated. But that early life might be totally irrelevant. Meeting my new love, I would have joined them as an accountant, a dentist or virtually anything else. I became a farmer against because I loved X and would have become a farmer even if I had never stepped foot in a farm before in my life.

The narrative fallacy is rife in politics. Y is brought up in a rich household, inherits a huge portfolio of property, and ... votes Republican (USA) or Conservative (UK). But the correlation may not have been causal. Maybe Y became a serious student of politics and genuinely came to adopt his/ her political beliefs independently of their background.

Post hoc rationalization

A wide variety of rationalizations can occur under this heading. For instance, I might be thinking about taking a holiday. I vaguely have Italy in mind, I don't know why. Friends tell me that this would be a good choice - so much art, culture, warmth and beauty. In the event I get drunk one night, and for no clear reason other than being hung up on Italy I ring the travel agent and book my holiday. It so happens that a friend has offered me a free holiday in the south of France. I knew this when I rang the travel agent. Asked later why I passed over the free holiday, I offer an explanation in terms of Italy's art, culture, warmth and beauty which I may indeed greatly have enjoyed. But this was rationalization after the event - post hoc. The 'explanation' may have sounded plausible but it explained in fact nothing at all about my booking the Italian holiday. It identified good reasons for going to Italy - art, culture, warmth and beauty and when I was in Italy I came to value all these things. But they were not my reasons. I did something - booked a holiday on impulse - and contrived an explanation afterwards.


Given Nassim Taleb's passage from The Black Swan via Wikipedia's article, he recognizes that people often reason from unreliable narratives to reach conclusions. This is evident, for instance, in current politics, where two sides often rely on different conceptual metaphors to establish and argue political philosophy. The problem is discussed here also, and if it has been empirically or rationally verified, then it would represent some confluence of cognitive biases. It seems very much related to the empirically verified bias of Leveling and Sharpening which is the tendency of the human mind construct and recall narrative in a selective fashion. This is often seen in courts of law where eyewitness testimony has been found to be a somewhat unreliable source of evidence and requires improvement through particular techniques like using a cognitive interview.

Post-hoc rationalization is also related to recalling and dealing with historical, subjective account, but differs in the nature of the activity. They are related, but different. Narrative is essentially a story about the interrelation of agency over time and space, where as facts are propositions which are affirmed as real and consistent with evidence, which in the simplest case is that which is epistemologically self-evident.

An example will help to disambiguate:

Narrative Fallacy:

Bob was a practicing, fundamental Christian who relied on the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, to make decisions. When asked if Bob believed in global warming, Bob scoffed and said that if it the world had only been around for several thousand years, then any claims to establish climate change over a history of the last ten thousand years was ridiculous to him.

In this example, Bob is relying on a religious text with a narrative whose claim to supremacy of is established through divine revelation, and not justification. As Bob takes the narrative to be indisputable fact, all of his reasoning which clashes with scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old will ultimately lead to a specious conclusion if one accepts science instead of those of fundamental Christianity. Of course, Bob could argue that scientists suffer from narrative fallacy on the basis that the narrative of the Big Bang is erroneous and therefore their conclusions are wrong.

For Post-Hoc Rationalization, let us refer to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink which tackles the notion of intuition's relation to reasoning. His concept of "thin slices" is the idea that one can on very little information using a hunch construct and argument to defends one's position after an event occurs to explain it which is an act of abduction.

Bob happened to be a fireman, and while leading a crew through a blazing building, he ordered everyone out. Minutes later the building collapsed and everyone affirmed the wisdom of Bob's decision. When pressed on how he knew, Bob claimed that he noticed on the way to the second floor that wooden posts holding up the floor looked old, and that while he was hesitant to take a risk, he thought they'd hold awhile, but then realized the way the floor was moving, that they were about to give. When the fire inspector reviewed the plans of the building, he discovered that the second floor was held up with massive laminated girders of wood, and that there were no posts.

Notice how in the first story, Bob reasoned his way to his position based on a narrative that modern science rejects, but in the second example Bob attributed his reasons to events that didn't happen retrospectively. In both cases, a scientist would reject Bob's reasoning since in both cases his claims to support his argument are flawed. The difference between the former and the latter is one is reasoning to a conclusion based on a narrative of past events to make a prediction, whereas the latter is a reasoning process which explains a past prediction based on events prior to it. Both reason from narrative, but one to a prediction about current or future state, the other to explain a past event.

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