Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Excluded Middle (A Fallacious Argument)

A series of comments to this post at Montana Netroots made me spend a bit of time reconsidering our old enemy 'The Excluded Middle'. Of all the fallacious arguments, this one causes me the most grief.

In this case, the OC said:

We should just ban all mining. We just don’t need coal, gold, copper, silver, and uranium.

My argument, being against only a single type of mining, says nothing of the other types of mining. The commenter has built a false dichotomy of only two possible scenarios

  1. All tops of mining should be legal.
  2. No tops of mining should be legal.
This sort of action instantly reduced the richness of possible debate and solutions to the real problem. If I and the commenter were forced to make our choice, they would not be the same ones. We would be deadlocked. That sucks.

Not excluding the middle leaves a plethora of possible solutions. Consider the true spectrum of possible solutions between 1 and 2 above. Why reduce the argument to the extremes?

If I had to choose one place where I think political discussion goes wrong in this country is at the fallacy of the excluded middle.

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