Does there exist a formal definition for (what I would say is) a logically fallacy that would fit to the following structure of statements:

"X has not happened (with potential time constraint Y), so Z will not happen (now or in near future)"

As an example of sentences that I have in mind:

  • "Flying cars have been predicted since I was a kid, and they still aren't here. So we will not see space tourism in our time"
  • "We can't even cure the common cold, so cancer will never be cured"
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    – J D
    Jan 18 '20 at 17:54
  • These arguments are so elliptical we can't say anything. Each suggests an argument but, don't contain it. (E.g. something like: The communal imagination tends to predict the future vaguely in order and we conceived of flying cars fairly long (i.e. in the Vedas) before we saw outer space as contiguous with our own (i.e. with Gallileo).. or Colds are like what we have solved (e.g.. smallpox) and we can't even clean up that category. A harder problem in a harder category may be beyond us entirely. But without elaboration we can't guess the argument, so we cannot check it. Jan 19 '20 at 3:15
  • @hide_in_plain_sight Can't that argument be leveled at any natural language argument on semantic grounds? I make some claims, you claim that the ambiguity of sense and meaning invalidates any interpretation?
    – J D
    Jan 19 '20 at 18:20
  • @JD Yes, we all know language is ultimately vague -- Quine... yawn... We also know that it still works, and we can still discern patterns, and that ellipsis is a very common one of those linguistic and logical patterns. It really is clear to native speakers, and in everyday arguments when something is elliptical, as opposed to being actually incomplete. It is possible to extend someone the benefit of the doubt, and ask the details later. In fact it is the default behavior, given the human bias toward positivity. That is because, as noted below, we argue mostly from intuition. Jan 19 '20 at 19:44
  • @hide_in_plain_sight Well, if you concede semantic ambiguity, all arguments are essentially elliptical by paraphrase, and your claim that elliptical arguments can't be dealt with is meaningless because your argument parallels the underdetermination of theory and the translation problem, and yet, ellipitical arguments work, theories exist and are used, and languages are translated. There is no adequate definition by necessity and sufficiency that allows the crisp category "elliptical argument" for the same reason that propositional dichotomies fail. Read Quine again.
    – J D
    Jan 19 '20 at 23:17

I do not see a fallacy in the reasoning, although the absence of a fallacy does not mean that the reasoning is correct.

The problem looks to me like an inductive conclusion (a prediction of the future) has been drawn from a database (one failed event) much too small to ever justify it. A larger bank of observations, even including the failed event, might be enough to allow an estimate of the probability that the conclusion is reliable.

  • Interesting take. If a fallacy by definition is faulty reasoning, how can the absence of correct reasoning be something other than a fallacy?
    – J D
    Jan 19 '20 at 2:51
  • @JD The reasoning is not necessarily nonexistent, it is simply absent in the sense that it has been omitted. To a large degree most people rely upon truth derived intuitively and work the logic out on-demand. If enough people happen to agree with their conclusions, they don't have to make an argument. The distinction between induction and statistical inference is wafer thin but very hard. Jan 19 '20 at 3:18
  • @hide_in_plain_sight Agreed that intuition and subconscious operations are at play, and that most if not all people are persuaded by patterns and biases below consciousness; I also don't reject the construction of social reality as Searle described. But nonetheless, if the question has been raised as to the degree of fallacy inherent in a predictive argument, one is left with the fact that some predictive arguments are more successful than others...
    – J D
    Jan 20 '20 at 18:46
  • Hence, the real question is does the (Chomskian) deep structure inherent in natural language allow us to gauge some inductive arguments as faulty and persuasive and others not, to which the obvious answer is yes. Astronomy and astrology are two generators of inductive claims, and the former is clearly successful where the latter is not. Andrews' response is good, but I feel it neglects the role of linguistic principles that are used to establish meaning. For instance, the interpretation of 50 years of failure as a single event seems dubious.
    – J D
    Jan 20 '20 at 18:53
  • 1
    @JD "If a fallacy by definition is faulty reasoning, how can the absence of correct reasoning be something other than a fallacy?" Reasoning can fail, for example, if a two premises and a conclusion violate the rules of a syllogism. Even in the absence of a fallacy, such as ad hominem, such combinations of statements remain incorrect reasoning. Jan 21 '20 at 2:20

A formal fallacy is one which is made independent of the meaning of the claims and is a function of the logic applied to the terms itself. These fallacies are syntactical. For instance, affirming the consequent:

A -> B
Therefore A.

The fallacy of which you give examples would be considered informal because the lack of warrant derives from dubious connections about the content of the propositions themselves as well as unstated premises. The art of informal fallacy is a little more difficult since it is semantic in nature, and generally requires eliciting those unstated presumptions. It therefore can be intuitionally clear that reasoning is poor, but a little more difficult to pin down why. The lazy thinker might be quick to dismiss this as non-sequitur, but the retort is simple: that the content of the antecedent and consequent aren't entirely estranged. In both examples, a case can be made that there is an analogy at play, in the first as examples of aerospace engineering, and the latter as cellular pathology. So, the first step in your examples is to ask:

What is the causal relationship between the failure of predictions about flying cars and space tourism?

It seems reasonable to expose the reasoning as such:

P1: Flying cars have been predicted since I was a kid, and they still aren't here.
P2: (Designing and implementing flying cars and space tourism is essentially the same thing by analogy).
C: So we will not see space tourism in our time (since the failure of the former is essentially the failure of the latter).


What is the causal relationship between failing to cure the common cold and curing cancer?


P1: We can't even cure the common cold.
P2: (Curing the common cold and curing cancer are essentially the same thing by analogy).
C: So cancer will never be cured (since the failure of the former is essentially the failure of the latter).

Note there seems to be two distinct fallacies at work. The first is more obvious. To presume that in each case the prima facie similarity supports the notion that they are essentially the same thing is fallacy by false analogy. That's easy to deal with by showing that the technological processes behind implementing each type of aerospace product are fundamentally different or that the common cold is different than cancer since the former is a specific class of viruses and the latter is an aggregated set of dissimilar cellular malfunctions.

The second fallacy at play here is the notion that because something hasn't happened, it won't. This seems to be a temporal-causal version of absence of proof is proof of absence which is the fallacy of evidence of absence. In this case, the failure to provide an aerospace entity or a cure for a disease is taken as proof that the process itself can't be done.

As stated before, informal fallacies are more difficult to classify, and there may be another good interpretation of the specious reasoning at play. Generally, the point of philosophical discourse is to elicit these unstated propositions that are part of an argument (sometimes cast as enthymemes) and to provide more explanation or more precise definitions.

  • @J D You are of course right, I didn't read the question precisely enough. Sorry; I deleted my comment.
    – lemontree
    Jan 18 '20 at 21:20
  • @lemontree We're all here to keep each other on our toes! I, for one, appreciate it. :D
    – J D
    Jan 19 '20 at 1:35

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