Jim Grace

Deferring causal attribution to parts of the whole

Consider the following:

Statement 1: "Forests are important for taking carbon dioxide out of the air."

Statement 2: (counter argument) "It is not the forest that takes up carbon dioxide, it is the trees in the forest."

I dispute that the counter argument has merit because while on its own it is true, it does not negate the first Statement, which is also true.

To make the case that appealing to a lower level of organization does not negate statements at a higher level, I offer some additional statements that I believe make the same error as the counter argument:

Statement 3: "It is not the trees that take up carbon dioxide, it is the leaves on the trees."

Statement 4: "Further, it is not the leaves that take up carbon dioxide, it is the stomata (openings in the leaves) that take up carbon dioxide."

Statements 5 to many: "It is not the stomata, it is the chloroplasts, the chloroplast cell membranes, . . . etc"

My question is, What fallacy is Statement 2 making?

Perhaps the counter argument is a Regress Argument?
Perhaps Statements 3-many demonstrate that the counter argument is an example of reducto ad infinitum?
I am not sure of the best language to use to describe what I see as flawed in the counter argument.

Many thanks for consideration. I am reviewing a scientific paper making a claim similar to that presented here.
asked on Tuesday, Sep 03, 2019 08:42:23 PM by Jim Grace

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Bo Bennett, PhD

It appears to Logic Chopping . You are correct that statement 2 does not invalidate statement 1. You did not claim that the forest "takes up carbon dioxide" you said it was "important for taking carbon dioxide out of the air." You can play the game of pedantics as well :) If there is a reason for the clarification, then this would be acceptable, like if there were a forest of dead trees it is important to know that this wouldn't help much with carbon dioxide (assuming it wouldn't - not my area). So it could be unnecessary precision (logic chopping) or perhaps necessary clarification depending on the context.

answered on Wednesday, Sep 04, 2019 08:05:39 AM by Bo Bennett, PhD

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Jim Grace
Upon further thought and reading, I will suggest my own resolution of the debate.

My interpretation of the situation is that the objectionable statement (Statement 2) is using a “Theoretical Vice” by stitching together into one sentence a statement that is true, “ . . . it is the trees in the forest.” with a statement that is false, “It is not the forest that takes up the carbon dioxide.” It is simply to demonstrate that their first phrase is false by reference to an infinite regress.
answered on Wednesday, Sep 04, 2019 08:24:33 AM by Jim Grace


I would say that Statement number 2 is not a logical fallacy at all, but literally and figuratively an example of the 'Forest for the Trees'
Cognitive Bias of being so focused on the minutia one misses the larger picture.

SEE: Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Charlie Munger
answered on Wednesday, Sep 04, 2019 04:17:20 PM by mchasewalker


I think statement one suffers from ambiguity. No. 2 simply clarifies that a forest has trees and other things that make up "forest", but the trees are the active subject. Going into what part of the trees is semantics and irrelevant.
answered on Thursday, Sep 05, 2019 03:43:33 AM by skips777