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I recently encountered multiple instances of this kind of fallacy, but could not nail down its name or which group of fallacy that it belongs to. It bothers me enough to create a new account to ask this question.

The pattern goes like this: the user, intentionally or not, mistakes an ideal that we all want/agree on (e.g. "all humans are equal") as a universal fact in their argument (e.g. "since humans are equal, we should not have to create wheelchair or disabled parking lot"). This kind of fallacy can be tricky to counter since their opening point is an ideal that everyone in the room agrees on. Speaking up against it in the wrong way, you might end up appearing like an jerk who are against a common ideal.

The above example is a simplified argument to highlight the pattern. My real-life encounters were more subtle (or well-crafted) in office politics context. It usually goes like this: "since they are all JavaScript applications" -> "engineers can deal with them the same way" where JavaScript can replaced with any technology. It is wrong since, in practice, dealing with a diverse set of applications (>200 in corporations) in a unified method/framework is considered the Holy Grail of enterprise software engineering. Although all engineers can agree on that "goal", it is far from "fact". This is regularly used in office politics:

  • to dismiss someone's concerns or special requirements to some specific applications (analogous to "disabled" in the above simplified example)
  • to downplay someone's work to make it easy for everyone (analogous to saying "accessibility is expected/normal")

I already discussed with a few folks who are familiar with logical fallacies (not many in my circle). Some mentioned Laynes Law but I think it's too specific to my simplified example (e.g., definition of "equal") but not others.

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  • False Equivalence? I admit, though, that by the third paragraph, I lost the ability to follow the example, despite being a software developer. What you are describing in the third paragraph and the bullet points seems rather different from the simplified example in the second paragraph.
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 19 at 7:32
  • I also noticed it's way more subtle in real-life. That's why I need to create a simplified example to generalize the pattern. At the same time, the real-life examples can be too technical. Since you are software developer, I think this full-on technical example may help: "since they are all SpringBoot services" -> "deploying to Kubernetes would be same as Heroku". It ignored those SpringBoot services that consumes from Kafka (aka, the "disabled" services) that requires special handling ("wheelchair"). However, boss of boss can use that statement to dismiss "wheelchair" need for those.
    – C D
    Mar 19 at 7:43
  • Oh, right; I see. Yeah, making the example a bit more concrete did make it clearer to me. False Equivalence may still work, but I think a better fit is Faulty Generalization (fallacy of defective induction). I, also, see this a lot. Some people don't like to think about the details. They think at a very high level, and they pride themselves on preferring "solutions" over problems. So, when you point out technical details that get in the way of doing what they perceive, at a high level, to be a simple task, they think you are the problem, rather than accepting inherent complexity in the world.
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 19 at 7:49
  • You're right. I generally don't mind if that's a Holy Grail "solution" we all aim for (e.g., unified deployment to k8s/Heroku). However, I'm bothered by the fact that ideal "solution" is used/mistaken as a "fact" to dismiss other from approaching that "solution", similar to the simplified example.
    – C D
    Mar 19 at 7:58
  • To be fair, such fallacy is easy to refute if it comes from an engineer/a peer: by giving a counter-example (e.g., "A and B does NOT work the same way?"). However, for upper management ("boss of boss"), they don't know what are A & B's differences. I guess a fallacy name would be a succinct way to stop upper management from being dismissive while I can explain the details/complexity. It also helps in the long-run when ppl stop using that excuse to dismiss others' contribution to conversation. I'm totally open to more effective ways to deal with that.
    – C D
    Mar 19 at 8:30

1 Answer 1

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Short Answer

the user... mistakes an ideal that we all want/agree on ... as a universal fact in their argument.

It's not an informal fallacy, but a contested premise the claimant is trying to present as uncontested. A series of contested premises is the framing of the argument.

Long Answer

You have your terminology in a bit of a jumble, so we need to lay out a few facts first. An informal fallacy is an argument that is specious, and it is therefore a weak or flawed argument. But fallacies are weaknesses of inference. They involve a bad leap of reason from premises (at least one explicit) to conclusion. Informal fallacies are instances of invalid and weak conclusions drawn in informal logic. However, one can also object to the propositional content of the premises themselves of valid or strong arguments. In this case, there isn't a fallacy, but a bad presumption. Let's show a simplified example:

P1. Astrologers can read the future in the stars.
P2. Mary is an astrologer.
C. Therefore, Mary can read the future.

There is no fallacy here because there is nothing wrong with the inference drawn from this argument! Most philosophers who accept a naturalized epistemology, however, would reject the first premise as unscientific. A scientific epistemology rejects seeing the future with certainty since astrology is a pseudoscience. In other words, there is no logic fallacy in this argument, though the argument would be rejected by any NAS based on a false premise.

Interestingly in law, under certain rules of evidence, certain presumptions cannot be rebutted. In rhetoric, of course, what is and isn't accepted in argumentation is more often what is persuasive than established by a canonical rule set governing debate or argumentation. In informal argumentation, which might be conducted for building consensus or in an attempt to persuade, challenging presumptions usually can be challenged, but often, folkways and mores, the manager's emotional biases or cognitive biases, or groupthink set implicit limits to what can be challenged. If you work for UNICEF, for instance, the mission's charter will essentially select for people who believe certain premises about the rights and welfare of children. If you challenge the premise your manager makes, and they argue that there premise is right by virtue of their authority, then THAT would be a fallacy, specifically an appeal to authority.

When an agent is aware that they are affecting the nature of the argument by selecting certain premises or using loaded language, this is known as framing, which is an old metaphor for deciding what is "in the picture" and what is not. Great debaters win arguments by framing an issue to make it tough to disagree with the premise. For instance, in medical abortion, those in favor of legalizing the procedure frame their arguments as freedom, a right of a woman to choose, whereas those who are against frame it as an act of murder, a crime. If in a debate one does not attack the framing itself, one tends to lose the argument because the nature of language is that the metaphors and connotations tend to operate at a level below conscious awareness in the untrained mind. Let's look at your interest.

"since they are all JavaScript applications" -> "engineers can deal with them the same way" where JavaScript can replaced with any technology. It is wrong since, in practice, dealing with a diverse set of applications (>200 in corporations) in a unified method/framework is considered the Holy Grail of enterprise software engineering, that all engineers can agree on. This is regularly used in office politics...

In legal drama on television, one often hears the objection in the trial: assumes facts not in evidence! That's exactly what is occurring here. Sometimes, the argument is even more insidious because instead of explicitly stating a false premise, it is insinuated. (See my response to this Philosophy SE question for an example of insinuation.) A debater therefore has a choice. Do they or do they not contest the premise, and if so how, without alienating those you are attempting to persuade. Often, a simple redirect by calling out the presumed premise with a quizzical look is enough to move the argument in the right direction.

Wait... why do you say that all programmers are JavaScript programmers? Don't we have many programmers that are Java programmers?

The nature of the response to the redirection will often indicate the nature of motivation for using the presumed premise. An oversight might elicit a friendly "Oh, yeah, we do have non-JavaScript programmers." If you get a bunch of verbose corporate speak like "Well, if one considers all the factors involved in select a skill set to describe the strengths of devops, and if you consider other facts like licensing since January first of this year, then probably on a go-forward basis JavaScript is the predominant programming paradigm. What we need to do is focus on how leverage our JavaScript strengths when..." Clearly your opponent is resistant to questioning the premise.

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  • It is not just a contested premise in this argument, but specifically a "false premise". Here is a link to make that point: effectiviology.com/false-premise
    – Dcleve
    Mar 19 at 16:59
  • @DcleveThx. I've gone and added your language and link to the Short Answer. Many hands!
    – J D
    Mar 19 at 17:30
  • Thanks for detailed explanations. I think "contested premise" is relevant since, as mentioned in my comment, I can easily refute with an engineer (A & B are not equal) but not with "boss of boss". You also mention "appeal to authority" which is apparently applicable in the latter case.
    – C D
    Mar 19 at 22:15
  • That would be, "presumes facts not in evidence"; you have it reversed. More generally, I am not sure that I agree with this style choosing to link every key word or phrase to a Wikipedia article. If someone wants to know more information, they can look it up themselves. I can understand doing it for things that are not well-known, but come on, "metaphor", "debate", "reason"... these are all very commonly known and understood terms. At that point, the constant hyperlinks just become noise.
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 20 at 8:29
  • @CodyGray Thanks. I made a correction. : D As for your urge to share your feelings on the elements of style, what sort of reaction on my part are you looking to elicit?
    – J D
    Mar 21 at 12:58

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