Definitions

Wishful thinking

Wishful thinking

Wishful thinking is the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence or rationality.

Studies have consistently shown that holding all else equal, subjects will predict positive outcomes to be more likely than negative outcomes. See positive outcome bias.

Prominent examples of wishful thinking include:

As a logical fallacy

In addition to being a cognitive bias and a poor way of making decisions, wishful thinking is commonly held to be a specific logical fallacy in an argument when it is assumed that because we wish something to be true or false that it is actually true or false. This fallacy has the form "I wish that P is true/false, therefore P is true/false." Wishful thinking, if this were true, would underlie appeals to emotion, and would also be a red herring.

Some atheists argue that much of theology, particularly arguments for the existence of God, is based on wishful thinking because it takes the desired outcome (that a god or gods exist) and tries to prove it on the basis of a premise through reasoning which can be analysed as fallacious, but which may nevertheless be wished "true" in the mind of the believer. Some theologians argue that it is actually atheism which is the product of wishful thinking, in that atheists may not want to believe in any gods or may not want there to be any gods. Both of these arguments would better be described as confirmation bias. Since one rarely, if ever, finds an argument written or spoken as described above ("I wish it to be true, therefore it is true"), the charge of "wishful thinking" itself can be a form of circumstantial ad hominem argument, even a Bulverism.

Wishful thinking may cause blindness to unintended consequences.

Related fallacies are the Negative proof and Argument from ignorance fallacies ("It hasn't been proven false, so it must be true." and vice versa). For instance, a believer in UFOs may accept that most UFO photos are faked, but claim that the ones that haven't been debunked must be considered genuine.

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