Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Biographical Fallacy and The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness

Some taken from Wiki:

Fallacy of misplaced concreteness

In the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, one commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness when one mistakes an abstract belief, opinion or concept about the way things are for a physical or "concrete" reality.

There is an error; but it is merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. It is an example of what I will call the ‘Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.’

Whitehead proposed the fallacy in a discussion of the relation of spatial and temporal location of objects. Whitehead rejects the notion that a concrete physical object in the universe can be ascribed a simple spatial or temporal extension, that is, without reference of its relations to other spatial or temporal extensions.

...among the primary elements of nature as apprehended in our immediate experience, there is no element whatever which possesses this character of simple location. ... [Instead,] I hold that by a process of constructive abstraction we can arrive at abstractions which are the simply located bits of material, and at other abstractions which are the minds included in the scientific scheme. Accordingly, the real error is an example of what I have termed: The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

A fallaciously reifying use of "nothing" is found in this joke: A man walks into a bar. The bartender asks him what he wants. "Nothing," he says. "So why did you come in here?" "Because nothing is better than a cold drink." The fallacy is manifested in the listener's interpretation of the man's answer, as, if the joke were successful, the listener is led to conflate the semantics of the two distinct but interrelated notions of emptiness and nothingness. If interpreted without this natural equivocation, the man's answer literally — if awkwardly, in the context of answering the question — means that he would prefer to drink nothing than to have a cold drink, instead of the commonly understood meaning, "There is no thing that is better than a cold drink".

Regarding a state or a society as a conscious being ("This product is known to the state of California to cause cancer") or assuming government is a being with desires ("Government wants to help/harm you"). Both of these reifications are examples of the linguistic phenomenon metonymy.

The legal recognition of corporations as "individuals" may lead to fallacious assumptions. In reality, these are just organizations of capital and labor, but have been assigned the status of legal 'persons' which gives them entitlements and liabilities, such as the ability to own property or to be sued.[8] It would be fallacious to attribute other personal qualities to corporations based on this status, e.g., "Acme Explosives is a warm-hearted company." Similar conflations are often intentionally deployed in advertising and public relations materials to distract from a corporation's actual behavior, that is, the behavior of its officers attributed to the fictional "person" of the corporation.


* "The universe will not allow the human race to die out by accident." (attributes intention to the universe)

* "Religion attempts to destroy our liberty and is therefore immoral." (attributes intention to religion)

* "Good and evil are forces ruling the universe." (attributes existence and agency to the abstract ideas of good and evil)

* "Evolution chooses the strong to survive." (attributes intention to evolution)

* "Information wants to be free" (attributes intention to information)

Similar fallacies:

Pathetic fallacy (also known as anthropomorphic fallacy or anthropomorphization) is a specific type of reification. Just as reification is the attribution of concrete characteristics to an abstract idea, a pathetic fallacy is when those characteristics are specifically human characteristics, thoughts, and feelings. Pathetic fallacy is also related to personification, which is a direct and explicit in the ascription of life and sentience to the thing in question, whereas the pathetic fallacy is much broader and more allusive.

The animistic fallacy involves attributing intention of a person to an event or situation. This is usually not reification because the "real" attributes are given to the perceived person involved, and not the event or situation. For example, "The train's conductor must have been impatient, so we missed the train." (animistic fallacy), compared to "The train was impatient." (reification).

Reification fallacy should not be confused with other fallacies of ambiguity:

* Accentus, where the ambiguity arises from the emphasis (accent) placed on a word or phrase

* Amphiboly, a verbal fallacy arising from ambiguity in the grammatical structure of a sentence

* Composition, when one assumes that a whole has a property solely because its various parts have that property

* Division, when one assumes that various parts have a property solely because the whole has that same property

* Equivocation, the misleading use of a word with more than one meaning

As a rhetorical device

Reification is commonly found in rhetorical devices such as metaphor and personification. In those cases we are usually not doing with a fallacy but with rhetorical applications of language. The distinction is that the fallacy occur during an argument that result in false conclusions. This distinction is often difficult to detect, particularly when the fallacious use is intentional.

Biographical fallacy: the belief that one can explicate the meaning of a work of literature by asserting that it is really about events in its author's life. Biographical critics retreat from the work of literature into the author's biography to try to find events or persons or places which appear similar to features of the work, and then claim the work "represents those events, persons, or places," an over-simplified guess about Neo-formalist "mimesis." New Criticism considers it "fallacious" (illogical) because it does not allow for the fact that poets use their imaginations when composing, and can create things that never were or even things that never could be.

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