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Accident Fallacy

a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid

(also known as: destroying the exception, dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter, dicto simpliciter, converse accident, reverse accident, fallacy of the general rule, sweeping generalization)

Description: When an attempt is made to apply a general rule to all situations when clearly there are exceptions to the rule. Simplistic rules or laws rarely take into consideration legitimate exceptions, and to ignore these exceptions is to bypass reason to preserve the illusion of a perfect law.  People like simplicity and would often rather keep simplicity at the cost of rationality.

Logical Form:

X is a common and accepted rule.

Therefore, there are no exceptions to X.

Example #1:

I believe one should never deliberately hurt another person, that’s why I can never be a surgeon.

Explanation: Classifying surgery under “hurting” someone, is to ignore the obvious benefits that go with surgery.  These kinds of extreme views are rarely built on reason.

Example #2:

The Bible clearly says, “Thou shall not bear false witness.” Therefore, as a Christian, you better answer the door and tell our drunk neighbor with the shotgun, that his wife, whom he is looking to kill, is hiding in our basement. Otherwise, you are defying God himself!

Explanation: To assume any law, even divine, applies to every person, in every time, in every situation, even though not explicitly stated, is an assumption not grounded in evidence, and fallacious reasoning.

Exception: Stating the general rule when a good argument can be made that the action in question is a violation of the rule, would not be considered fallacious.

The Bible says, “Thou shall not murder,” therefore, as a Christian, you better put that chainsaw down and untie that little kid.

Tip: It is your right to question laws you don’t understand or laws with which you don’t agree. 

References:

Bile, J. (1988). Propositional justification: another view. Contemporary Argumentation & Debate, 9, 54–62.



Registered User Comments

Jacob
Thursday, November 01, 2018 - 08:02:52 PM
I have been reading a book called "The Trivium" by Sister Miriam Joseph. She lists more types of accident fallacies. The first definition she gives is the same as on this website. The next kind has to do with shifts in imposition.

There are three impositions of a word

First imposition
"Jane married a man."
This is how a word is normally used. "Man" refers to the dictionary definition of man.

Second imposition
"Man is a noun."
Man is referred to as a word.

Zeroth Imposition
"Man is a monosyllable."
Man is referred to as a grammatical entity.

Then there are two intentions.

First Intention
"I sat on the chair."

Second intention
"Chair is a concept."

This book says that shifts in imposition or intention can cause the accident fallacy.

The book gives an example

Feathers are light
Light is an adjective
Therefore feathers are adjectives

In the major premise "Feathers" is in first imposition and in the minor premise in the second imposition.

Here is another one

Carry is a verb
Verb is a Noun
Carry is a Noun

Verb is first in first imposition, and later in second imposition.

Hippo is a noun
Noun is a monosyllable
Hippo is a monosyllable

Noun is first in first imposition, then later in zeroth imposition

Here is one which shifts in intention

A lion is an animal
Animal is a Genus
A lion is a genus

Animal is first in first intention, then second intention. In these examples the syllogism is valid, the premises are true, but the conclusion is false because of the shifts in imposition and intention.

The book says these look like fallacies of equivocation but they are not. The fallacy of equivocation involves the shifting of terms and the fallacy of accident involves the shifting of usage of the same term. In the fallacy of equivocation "gay" could mean happy or homosexual. In the fallacy of accident, using only the definition of gay as homosexual, gay could mean

First Imposition
He is gay

Second imposition
Gay is a noun

Zeroth
Gay is a monosyllable

So my question is... Have you ever heard of this? I looked up the fallacy of accident in the wiki and the rational wiki and neither one mentioned impositions or intentions.

The book lists another definition of the accident fallacy. This one is interesting because the book says this is how the fallacy is so named.

"I sat on a white chair." This one makes sense because "chair" is referred to as a substance (something which does not require the existence of anything else to exist).

"I sat on a white". This is wrong because "white" is an accidental feature of the chair. Here accidental refers to any feature of the chair which depends on the chair existing in the first place. It would also be wrong to say, "I sat on soft."

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Kay
Sunday, February 26, 2017 - 03:10:06 AM
Hello Professor,
I think your Ex1 is a fallacy of Oversimplification, not Accident.
For me, Accident means treating as permanent a condition that may only be temporary.
I really confuse about your definition, please explain more!!!
Thanks so much.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Sunday, February 26, 2017 - 06:04:06 AM
The two fallacies are similar. Ignoring exceptions is, in a sense, oversimplification. This could be seen as a more specific form of that fallacy where an exception to a rule is ignored or overlooked.

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skips777
Saturday, December 17, 2016 - 02:21:09 PM
Example 2 isn't even remotely a correct example of what thou shalt not bear false witness entails. If a neighbor asks you a question or makes an assertion in which there is a truthful answer the commandment is not violated if an individual decides to not answer the question in the affirmative or a denial. This seems to be fallacious reasoning by implying the commandment only has two choices a person can make, that's a false dichotomy. Not answering or telling the neighbor "it is none of their business" or etc is also a viable response that is involved. You imply "thou shalt answer everything your neighbor asks you" is included in the definition of the commandment. It is not.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, December 17, 2016 - 02:28:37 PM
Example 2 isn't even remotely a correct example of what thou shalt not bear false witness entails.
If this were Sunday school, you would have a good basis for an argument. However, the fictional characters in my fictional examples only need to make claims—they are often fallacious... thus the point of the example. Again, "I" don't imply anything... the character in the example is the one doing all the implying.

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