Tag Archives: Either/Or

Using the either/or to argue to a conclusion

5 Aug

“Either you are pro-choice or you are anti-women” 

We ran into this statement as an example of how we need to frame an attribute/predicate as either A or non-A to determine more easily if a pair of statements were truly contradictory.

Framing a contradiction into an either/or hypothetical proposition is one way to argue. We call this a Disjunctive Proposition.

Today we are FIRST going to form a valid or correct argument and then we’ll look at the truth of the major proposition.

Consider the ‘formula’ where P and Q are different statements, called ‘disjuncts’.  On the left is the model syllogism; in the middle and on the right are two samples.

Either P or Q                   Either blue or red            Either she had a boy or a girl

Not  P                               Not blue                             She didn’t have a boy

Therefore, Q                   Tf, red                                 Tf, she had a girl

These arguments work; that is they are valid BECAUSE the major proposition that contains the disjunctive statement tells us that one of the 2 disjuncts is true. (we have to accept this as a given;  we’re NOT going to argue about the truth of that major premise YET.)   So if one disjunct (P or Q) is NOT true, then the other HAS to be true.

What happens, though, if in the 2nd premise, I AFFIRM one of the disjuncts? Can this kind of syllogism work the other way?  It would look like this:

           Either Susie travels to the UK or to France

          Susie travels to France (I’m AFFIRMING one of the 2 disjuncts)

          TF, she does not travel to the UK

No….this set up is INVALID for I have actually assumed MORE than the information given.  It could very well be that her journey takes her to BOTH France and the UK.  All we know from the major premise is that she AT LEAST travels to one of the 2 places.  It does NOT claim that if Susie travels to one, she does NOT then travel to the other.

Certainty exists ONLY if the minor premise (the proposition that denies or affirms one of the disjuncts) denies one of the disjuncts since we have as a given that ONE has to be so.

Either I had a salad for lunch or some soup.

I did not have soup

Tf, I had salad

Back to our original Disjunctive propositions:  Either you are pro-choice or you are anti-women.  Once we have determined that the syllogism is set up correctly, that it is valid, THEN we look at the truth of the major premise.

If you remember what we looked at last Friday, we talked about true dilemmas and the Fallacy of the False Dilemma.  So, is our disjunctive proposition a False Dilemma?

If you are willing, comment with your thoughts about how you would determine the truth or falsity of that proposition.  A lot is riding on your answer!

False Dilemmas – either you like this post or you don’t!

2 Aug

Welcome back to Fallacy Friday!

What would you say to these Mom-type statements?

·         You can either pick up your toys now or after dinner!

·         Either you take ‘Puppy’ out for a walk or clean up his mess!  

·         It’s either the flute or the violin those are the only instruments that won’t be too loud for this apartment complex.

Moms often frame and limit choices to channel their children in a direction suitable to the parent.  And if kids are wise, they won’t come back with, “That’s a fallacy, Mom!  You’re offering me a false dilemma.  I could pick up my toys tomorrow morning….Dad could take ‘Puppy’ out now, not me…..and what about an acoustic guitar, that wouldn’t be too loud?” 

So when presented with 2 choices, that is to say, a dilemma, we have to determine if the choice is an actual dilemma or a false one, meaning there are other possibilities. Sometimes we intentionally try to manipulate someone along a path they might not choose – creating  a false dilemma and hoping the recipient won’t notice.  But then at times, there truly are only two choices.

Here are some actual, that is to say true, ‘either/or’ situations:

·         Either Susie is pregnant or she is not.

·         Either the check is in the mail or it is not, (if we mean by ‘in the mail’ that we have given it over into custody of the postal service).

But what about the choice below – Is it a false dilemma or a true one?

  • ·         Either you’re with us or you’re against us.

Sometimes armies or political groups or other régimes try to force this black and white choice. But it can be too simplistic and successfully resisted.  Switzerland has tried to maintain neutrality through many conflicts. But it all depends on how one defines ‘against’.

If someone suggested to me that either I join the efforts to fight global warming OR if I didn’t then I would be fighting against their efforts, I would beg to differ.  I would argue that I in fact DO fight global warming but not in the way they perhaps want to dictate.  I conserve resources.  I take active measures not to pollute by choosing to walk instead of drive when feasible.  The only way we would come to any resolution is if I would agree with their vision of what ‘with them/ against them’ looks like. If they defined ‘with’ as more activist steps rather than my passive/conserving measures, then I could understand and perhaps concede their point.

Of course this is all hypothetical in that I have not had this conversation with an activist who fights to raise consciousness of a global warming problem.

In the end, we come back to TERMS.  There is often times no point in discussing someone’s assertion UNTIL there is consensus about terms.  As you can see in the discussion above, even prepositions such as the dual pair with/against must be included in the understanding of concepts.

I hope that the next time you frame a choice or have one imposed on you, that you will stop to ask if there are any other possibilities.  Either there are or there are not!  Now is that a true dilemma or a false one??

“That’s a contradiction!” – are you sure?

30 Jul

So…how does knowing the Law of Non-Contradiction help in real life?

Remember we said that according to this DISCOVERED law (it’s built into the fabric of our universe by God as opposed to invented by culture):

 A & non-A cannot both exist at the same time and in the same way.

Consider this pair of statements:

  • ·         Susie is pregnant
  • ·         Susie is not pregnant 

Now we have to be careful and not automatically ASSUME that this is a contradiction. Two propositions that LOOK contradictory could in fact be explained…….

1.    If we mean that Susie Jones is pregnant, but Susie Smith is NOT pregnant (2 different Susies)

2.    Or if we mean that Susie is pregnant with many good ideas, but Susie is NOT pregnant with child (pregnant as an analogous term – referring to different but related concepts)  

But if we are talking about the one and only Susie Smith and we understand the predicate term ‘pregnant’ to indicate about to have a baby, then….

·         They cannot both be true OR false at the same time and in the same sense.

In Christianity this law of logic helps me sort out my theology.

My favorite attribute of God is His sovereignty.  When we say that God is sovereign, we understand God to be 100 % in charge of all that happens, the good and the bad.  I’m not saying that I understand this characteristic of God, but I am comforted by it!  (If God allows suffering and evil, then He must have a good purpose for it even if I can’t see that…yet!)

Therefore, because of the Law of Non-Contradiction, when I assert that God is always sovereign I cannot say:

God is sovereign


God had no control over that deadly train accident in Spain.     

That would be saying:  God is sovereign over all/ God is NOT sovereign over all

Either God IS sovereign or He is not, if I take sovereign to mean that He controls all molecules in the universe.

What we have to do when hit with confusing statements that seem irreconcilable is to ‘translate’ them, if possible, into A and non-A forms.  Then we can evaluate them clearly.

I say, ‘if possible’ with this caveat in mind – you might run across an either/or claim –

·         God is either all-loving or He is a God of wrath.

·         You’re either pro-choice or you are anti-women.   

If you can’t ‘translate’ the 2 predicates into an A and a non-A term, then you might be facing the Fallacy of Bifurcation (aka ‘false dilemmas’).  We’ll talk about that on our next Fallacy Friday!

Back to the above assertions – If we wanted to deal with that first claim, we’d have to re-frame it and then discuss terms.

·         God is either all-loving or He is not all-loving

·         You’re either pro-women or not pro-women

 Your HW for the next few days is to keep an ear out for ‘either/or’ claims and try to determine if they are in fact contradictory or perhaps examples of the False Dilemma fallacy or actually TRUE!