I have identified a fallacy of division in an old book written in Spanish and I would like you to confirm if it is indeed a logical fallacy. The underlined part of the image contains the argument that translated into English would be this:

"Santo Domingo (AKA Dominican Republic) came close to forming a sugar slave oligarchy in the first half of the sixteenth century; but Santo Domingo was part of Spain, and logically, a part (Santo Domingo) cannot be given what the whole (Spain) was not capable of assimilating."

Rewriting the argument would be this:

Premise 1: Spain did not assimilate the slave oligarchy.

Premise 2: Santo Domingo was part of Spain.

Conclusion: Santo Domingo did not assimilate the slave oligarchy.

See the fallacy? enter image description here

  • The issue is about how the interpret the pseudo-rule: "cannot be given what the whole was not capable of assimilating." Does it mean that the same law (in the sense of state law) that applies to the whole (Spain) must apply to the part (Santo Domingo)? May 4, 2022 at 13:10
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Yes. May 4, 2022 at 13:16
  • If so, IMO it is not a "logical" issue but a "legal" one: does Spanish laws apply (at that time) to S.D.? May 4, 2022 at 13:23
  • That is the problem, that he intends to logically infer that from the fact that Santo Domingo was part of Spain, it follows that Santo Domingo must have necessarily adopted the law of Spain. May 4, 2022 at 13:31
  • He could have simply said that Santo Domingo adopted the law of Spain, but he presents it as a "logical consequence" of being a Spanish colony. Isn't it clear that we are facing a fallacy of division? May 4, 2022 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


Short Answer

Depends on which domain of discourse you are asking about: philosophical logic or legal logic since they might not align. We'll examine both.

Long Answer

¡Bienvenidos! You have several domains of discourse here imposed over logical ruminations including history, political science, and law. I would rewrite the argument differently, since the argumentation is an intersection of logic and political law, and your equivalent argument has been stripped of the legal premise.

P1: Spain did not assimilate the slave oligarchy. (true historical claim)
P2: Santo Domingo was part of Spain. (true political claim)
P3: According to the logic of law, a tributary cannot entail the political systems that the suzerain does not entail. (a legal claim predicated upon the legal system)
Conclusion: Santo Domingo could not assimilate the slave oligarchy as a political system.

So, the crux of the matter is that one has to draw a distinction between philosophical logic and legal logic because the two don't always agree. While triers of fact aspire to implement logic legally, they are often constrained philosophically, such as in the case of stare decisis in Anglo-English legal traditions. Thus, the question of whether or not the argument is fallacious can be answered in two ways, philosophically and legally. So let's do each.


Absolutely, in philosophical logic both the fallacy of division and fallacy of composition are fallacies and making an argument predicated upon them is specious. To insist that something is true of a part because of it is true of a whole based on the rationale that there is a metaphysical necessity involved regarding properties is bad logic.


The law isn't strictly logical in the philosophical sense, because legal arguments generally start from positions that may be unvetted, nonsensical, contradictory, or even silly. For instance, the state of Indiana in the US once passed a law attempting to legislate the value of Pi. Under the American judicial system, a judge is generally constrained by stare decisis or by laws passed by a representational body a concept in US law known as judicial review and enshrined under constitutional law in Marbury v. Madison. So, if the US Congress passes a law that embodies the fallacy of division for political and economic law, case law is established accepting the premise, then the generally only the US Supreme Court has the power to deem the law null and void, and then within the context of the apparatus of US Constitution case law. So, it is possible to consider the argument rewritten as not only legally logical, but then binding upon the parties of the litigation.


One can see the philosophical fallacy involved, but it is important to draw the distinction between philosophical and legal reasoning. This important distinction is one drawn by the philosophy of logic itself which recognizes various distinctions in logic such as formal logic, informal logic, common sense reasoning, defeasible logic, etc.


Here's my translation as a native English speaker:

As the reader will see, Santo Domingo came close to forming a slavery-based, sugar-industrial oligarchy in the first half of the sixteenth century; but Santo Domingo was part of Spain, and logically, in one part one cannot grow or come to what the whole was not able to take in. So, the origin of our shortcomings -- that it is in the failure of that effort made in the sixteenth century -- one finds a distant deficiency whose roots were not even in Spain in 1492, but rather further back; and in the last instance they went back and are systemic shortcomings neither of Spain nor the Dominican people. Furthermore, this book limits itself to depict, and to try to interpret, the Dominican social composition, not the Spanish one, therefore its conclusions should be regarded with respect to Santo Domingo, not to Spain. From the same book, one comes away with that the Dominican people cannot have hopes of knowing a better future than the past if they don't start to change the system in which they have seen failing for nearly five hundred years. To prove that that system doesn't work in Santo Domingo, five centuries is more than enough.

So, it depends on what the author is referring to. There ARE contexts where parts and wholes relate in such a way that it is not fallacy to impute properties of the whole to the part, such as in the transitivity of space. For instance, if a whole gallon container cannot contain the milk, one quarter of a gallon cannot either. Or legally, if federal law prohibits an activity, than a state subject to the federal law also must enforce the prohibition of the activity. If the author stated that Spain passed a law outlawing such oligarchies, then Santo Domingo would be required to enforce that law same as Spain. But the word 'asimilar' seems to suggest something broader than a legal ruling, like a cultural inability, that el pueblo de Espana for some reason rejected it. In that case, there's no reason the upper class of Santo Domingo couldn't have embraced social institutions that those of Spain rejected. If you provide the prior paragraph, I might be able to confirm.

  • "One can see the philosophical fallacy involved, but it is important to draw the distinction between philosophical and legal reasoning." Thank you very much for your answer. Who is more called to make this distinction, the writer or the reader? Because the book is aimed at the general public, not especially at lawyers. The author in his argument never uses the adjective "legal" for his logic. I think your comment doesn't save the author's paragraph from being problematic. May 4, 2022 at 16:13
  • The philosopher is the most qualified to make the distinction, because philosophers are in the business of making distinctions as a part of their occupation. [Literary theory] dictates that the exact nature of the relationship between the writer and read is complex, and I believe no one can say for sure with a single passage, what those intents are. Lastly, I AGREED from a philosophically logical perspective that it is problematic, but qualified that logic-by-law is not the same. You'll get no bones from me that much legal analysis isn't logical...
    – J D
    May 4, 2022 at 18:49
  • 1
    by philosophical standards. Let me read the rest of the passage, and get back to you on my perspectives with more context. Creo que estes paciente, y puede Ud. esperar un poquito mas hasta que estoy terminando con trabajo hoy. Tal vez puedo leer el pasaje esta noche. No hablo facilmente, y tengo que usar un dicionario para unas palabras y frases. De todas maneras, necesito practicar mi espanol.
    – J D
    May 4, 2022 at 18:57
  • Added my interpretation and edit.
    – J D
    May 5, 2022 at 4:54
  • When one points out that an argument is fallacious this does not necessarily mean that the conclusion is false (this would be another fallacy, namely argumentum ad logicam). The problem with the author's argument (which pretends to be deductive) is that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Even if he had been using legal logic, as you rightly said, there is no logical necessity that guarantees the truth of the conclusion as there is under the standards of philosophical logic. May 5, 2022 at 12:20

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