Tag Archives: Fallacy of Composition

Baseball fallacies

18 Nov

NY Mets Terry Collins

Before the recent World Series debuted, I read about veteran baseball manager Terry Collins.  I’m not a sports follower, so it was both fascinating and educational to learn about the character of this 66-year-old man.  Apparently he was fired 19 years ago as manager from the Houston Astros and then resigned from the Anaheim Angels due to overly grumbly players.  But instead of growing bitter, he sifted through the criticisms and changed his style to implement the valid suggestions.

But I’m not using this post to talk about baseball.  What interests me is the reference to a typical sports fallacy that came up in the newspaper account of Terry Collins.  In talking about his failure with the Anaheim Angels, the general manager of that baseball club observed:

“The crew we had individually was great, but collectively they were a mess.  It was toxic.  He (Collins) took way too much of the blame for something like that.”

This quote provides a classic example of the Fallacy of Composition.  Simply put, this faulty thinking stems from attributing the attributes of individuals to the collective whole.

Fallacy of Composition

Here’s an easy example – if one feather is light and I assemble a ton of feathers, that collective will also be light.  Wrong!

So with individual talented athletes, the mistake is in assuming that when you bring them together, the whole will be just as good as each single player.  In reality, the qualities of a winning team are more than the individual players’ skills.  There’s team work and respect for each other and teachability.  We haven’t even mentioned the problem of clashing egos!

Poor Terry Collins, he had his hands full apparently.  And as painful as that experience must have been, he took his lumps and grew.  That humility and a recognition of what it takes to mold gifted basketball players into a winning team took all of them to a World Series.

Spotting the Fallacy of Composition

27 Sep

Just because one member of an organization acts a certain way, it does not follow that the whole organization shares that same attribute.

This is called the Fallacy of Composition.

A recent letter to the editor in the Asheville, NC paper gave evidence that the writer does not understand this faulty thinking.  When people resort to using fallacies (inaccurate assumptions), they undermine the persuasiveness of their point.

Understanding fallacies can be a useful tool for policing up OUR own positions, whether verbal or written.

The way the letter preceded was thus:

The author wanted to attack an organization, so he brought up a fact (which I am going to take as true, for the sake of this explanation) that a past director of that group had been arrested and charged with aiding & abetting prostitution.   We actually don’t know the outcome of the charge.  But if it were found out to be true, no one would deny that the guy had done something bad.     

BUT, it does not follow that others associated with that organization engages in illegal exploitation of women.  The attributes of individual members of a set do not translate into a group attribute or even mean that other members share the same attribute.

Here are some other common examples:

  • a few Catholics supporting abortion rights does not mean the Catholic Church is in favor of this policy
  • mom & dad liking okra doesn’t mean the whole Jones family likes okra

  • Westboro Baptist Church engaging in hateful practices at the funerals of fallen servicemen should not be taken to be the way ALL Christian churches are

The next time someone hits you with an argument based on the Fallacy of Composition, respond with that useful 2-letter word:

So??????

 

 

They don’t make peaches like they used to!

23 Aug

Summer peaches – sweet juice running down your chin, a mouthful of flavor!

Hold on, if you’re like me, you’ve often been disappointed.

But before you pass judgment on the quality of peaches or any other fruit and vegetable, let’s look at a potential fallacy.  Yes, welcome to Fallacy Friday.

Today’s false argument is called the Fallacy of Composition and some of us often commit it at the grocery store!

Here’s what it looks like: (let’s imagine a shopper in the produce department at a local New England grocery store)  

The peaches are NEVER good, the tomatoes have no flavor, I’ve tried the Chinese pea pods and they’re tough & stringy …

“ Let’s face it, grocery store produce is not fresh!”

What this unhappy customer has done is assume that because of the lack of freshness in several items of the category ‘New England Grocery Store Produce’, every other member of that category also lacks freshness.  However, operating on that assumption might mean: missing out on the fresh and juicy blueberries that happen to be locally grown and sold to the big grocery store.  

If we assume that because one or more things in a category has a certain quality, then all things in that category are that way, then we have committed the Fallacy of Composition.

The quality or attributes of a whole are not necessarily the same as some members of that group or even ALL the members of the group.

I’ve heard this fallacy used in arguments about gods and religions.

  • Because Thor and Zeus are false gods then every member of the  ‘god’ category is false.
  • Because some people who claim to be Christian have acted in a hypocritical way, then the Christian Church is hypocritical.

Here are some other examples:

  • Each of these ingredients tastes yucky.  Therefore, when put together the finished product must be disgusting!

 

  • If we assemble an all-star team of high-scoring basketball players, then we’ll have a high-scoring team.

 

  • These little paint dots don’t seem to have any sense to them, that guy Van Gogh is just fooling us into thinking he is a real painter.    

So how do we ward off committing this fallacy?  Being aware of the possibility of an incorrect conclusion is probably enough to stop and make us think.  For example, being able to make baskets consistently does NOT necessarily make for a winning team.

What other examples of the Fallacy of Composition have you encountered?