Definition

Absolutism arises when we make no exceptions for rules that have exceptions. It is similar to the fallacy of accident.

Examples

1) Bob believes you should never lie. So, he tells the Nazis where the Jews are hidden.

2) A teacher believes a student should never be late. So, she expels a late student without asking the student why she was late.

3) Bob believes it is always wrong to kill, so he lets an assassin kill dozens of defenseless citizens.

4) Politician Paul knows his city needs a tax hike, so he begins to believe that all cities need a tax hike.

5) Akin believes hard work leads to flourishing. Therefore, he thinks starving children in Africa simply do not work hard.

Discussion

We usually think absolutely when we seek simple answers for complex issues. The problem is many issues are complex and ambiguous, and the answer often depends on the situation.

For example, hard work leads to success, but there are situations where you will fail no matter how hard you work (e.g. if you live in an impoverished and war-torn country).

Of course, there may be rules that do not have exceptions. For example, the rule that “any imaginable entity either exists or does not exist” seems to be an absolute rule. Those who study formal logic may be familiar with some absolute rules, but the point is the absolutist fallacy arises when we fail to make exceptions for rules that have exceptions . . . and most rules have exceptions.

How to avoid

Identify the exceptions for any rule (see Socratic Method Section). Also, be patient when exploring complex issues. Do not jump to simplistic answers.

Exercise

  1. Create or find examples of the Absolutist Fallacy.
  2. Why are we drawn to absolutist thinking?

Answers

  1. Answers will vary.
  2. It is simple, clear, and requires less effort (in most cases).