Teaching Students the Fallacy of Bifurcation (False Dilemma)

This article describes the false dilemma fallacy and discusses ways to teach students to recognize and analyze it.
There are a number of fallacies that will become more common as the election season gets underway. A very common fallacy students can document in a fallacy notebook is the either-or fallacy or the fallacy of bifurcation. This example of poor logical argumentation creates a false dilemma, illogically asserting there are only two possible alternatives in a given situation or argument.




False Dilemmas as Persuasive Tools


Sometimes, there is an intentional statement used but recognized as fallacious, coercive, and persuasive rather than logical like essay help.


“You’re either for workers’ rights or for exploiters’ power!”


“Are you with us or are you against us?”


“Do you choose freedom or do you choose slavery?”


These statements are logically flawed, but they’re not intended to be actual arguments, and the bifurcation is a persuasive rhetorical tool. Students should differentiate an argument represented as such and an argument intended to call to action such as those above. Both kinds should be documented in the notebook.


False Dilemmas in Political Media

In the political arena, students will find a number of false dilemmas. Because this fallacy effectively (although incorrectly) focuses attention on a single point, it can persuade listeners and readers. A quick check of today's editorials and articles provided the following example from Robert Gados, ViewsHound, Sept 2, 2011:

The thing with Bachmann is that she always has to backtrack on some dumb statement and always excuses it in an offhand manner as a meaningless misstatement or a joke. Which means she’s either dangerously clueless or—the really dangerous option—absolutely convinced that anything she believes is right and true and those who disagree with her are wrong and false.

The logic here suggests stupidity or fanaticism are the only two possible reasons for misstatement. This is a classic bifurcation when you need essay help on time. Students analyzing this fallacy could point out the various other options involved. As with any argument, it’s useful to organize the argument in terms of the Toulmin Model of Argumentation. The student will list the claim as the false dilemma and will quickly discover the nature of the fallacy in the attempt to identify the grounds and the warrant for the claim.




False Dilemmas In Relationships


There are a number of false dilemmas that occur in interpersonal relations. A common bifurcation is “If you were my friend, you’d do it.” Here a person says only two options exist, compliance with a request or proof of a lack of affection. These false dilemmas ignore the myriad reasons a particular action might not occur, reasons that might even include consideration for the arguer’s well-being.


False Dilemmas in Advertising


Advertising false dilemmas are particularly common. Most are humorous, such as travel agencies suggesting they’ll provide an excellent vacation while any other will result in a series of funny calamities. The bifurcation? “Either you use us or your car gets hit by an escaped rhinoceros—it’s your choice.” Humorous bifurcations are excellent for students because they don’t attempt to persuade with faulty logic. Instead, they point out faulty logic and use the very fact that it’s faulty to entertain. There are some commercials that don’t intend humor with the fallacy. Insurance companies, especially for the elderly, often suggest a choice between their policies and various horrible other outcomes. “It was an easy choice, I either went with Mutual or I went with pain.”

False dilemmas are easy for students to find, and teaching them can help students think critically about a given situation. Teachers can help them to recognize the word’s “either” and “or” as clues that a bifurcation has likely been committed. Better argumentation and clearer logical thinking will result.

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