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Affirmative Conclusion from a Negative Premise

(also known as: illicit negative, drawing an affirmative conclusion from negative premises, fallacy of negative premises)

This is our first fallacy in formal logic out of about a dozen presented in this book.  Formal fallacies can be confusing and complex and are not as common in everyday situations, so please don’t feel lost when reading through the formal fallacies—do your best to understand them as I do my best to make them understandable.

New Terminology:

Syllogism: an argument typically consisting of three parts: a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.

Categorical Term: usually expressed grammatically as a noun or noun phrase, each categorical term designates a class of things.

Categorical Proposition: joins exactly two categorical terms and asserts that some relationship holds between the classes they designate.

Categorical Syllogism: an argument consisting of exactly three categorical propositions: a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion, in which there appears a total of exactly three categorical terms, each of which is used exactly twice.

Description: The conclusion of a standard form categorical syllogism is affirmative, but at least one of the premises is negative. Any valid forms of categorical syllogisms that assert a negative premise must have a negative conclusion.

Logical Form:

Any form of categorical syllogism with an affirmative conclusion and at least one negative premise.

Example #1:

No people under the age of 66 are senior citizens.

No senior citizens are children.

Therefore, all people under the age of 66 are children.

Explanation: In this case, the conclusion is obviously counterfactual although both premises are true.  Why?  Because this is a categorical syllogism where we have one or more negative premises (i.e., “no people...” and “no senior citizens...”), and we are attempting to draw a positive (affirmative) conclusion (i.e., “all people...”). 

Example #2:

No donkeys are fish.

Some asses are donkeys.

Therefore, some asses are fish.

Explanation: This is a categorical syllogism where we have a single negative premise (i.e., “no donkeys”), and we are attempting to draw a positive (affirmative) conclusion (i.e., “some asses”).

On a somewhat related note, some lawyers are asses.

Exception: No exceptions as this is a formal fallacy.

Tip: Syllogisms and identifying formal fallacies (at least by form) are common on intelligence tests. Know this and be more intelligent (at least on paper).

References:

Schuyler, A. (1859). The principles of logic: for high schools and colleges. Wilson, Hinkle & co.

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Claims are constantly being made, many of which are confusing, ambiguous, too general to be of value, exaggerated, unfalsifiable, and suggest a dichotomy when no such dichotomy exists. Good critical thinking requires a thorough understanding of the claim before attempting to determine its veracity. Good communication requires the ability to make clear, precise, explicit claims, or “strong” claims. The rules of reason in this book provide the framework for obtaining this understanding and ability.

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