What Is an Example of an Either-or Fallacy?

An either-or fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone presents a limited number of options and ignores other viable alternatives. Usually, the speaker wants the audience to believe one of the options.

Faulty Logic A logical fallacy is a reasoning error that ultimately weakens an argument. In some cases, the statement is legitimate but lacks evidence to support it. Sometimes the point is irrelevant to the argument or makes too many assumptions about the situation. In an either-or fallacy, also called a false dilemma or false dichotomy, the audience must select one of two choices. This type of fallacy usually takes one of three forms.

Morton’s Fork Named for the John Morton, a 15th-century archbishop, Morton’s Fork refers to a scenario in which someone must choose between two equally unpleasant choices that both lead to the same conclusion. Morton believed that rich and poor people could pay their taxes, arguing that those living lavish lifestyles clearly had money to spare and that the poor must have money saved since they didn’t spend much. This still appears in modern arguments. A parent who tells children that they must eat food they don’t like or starve uses a form of Morton’s Fork. From the child’s perspective, this isn’t a choice. Both options lead to the same conclusion since the child doesn’t have the opportunity to eat different food.

False Choice Another type of either-or fallacy is the false choice. This argument intentionally ignores alternatives to the ideas presented. For example, if someone says the only way to be successful in life is to go to college, that person uses a false choice by suggesting college as the only option. This argument ignores the fact that some people leave college with student loan debt that takes years to pay back. It also implies that only jobs that require college degrees pay well instead of considering the number of people working as plumbers or electricians who live comfortably.

Black-and-White Thinking The either-or fallacy also shows up in black-and-white thinking, in which someone believes options can be only all good or all bad. For example, in response to proposed cuts to a school’s budget, someone may say that people who vote for the budget cuts don’t like children. This person fails to consider other factors that lead to budget cuts, like reduced enrollment in the schools or a decrease in tax revenue. Furthermore, this line of reasoning assumes that the people making this decision do so based on personal feelings and presents them in the worst possible light.

Avoiding Fallacies Writers and speakers should avoid using fallacies in their arguments because they damage credibility in the eyes of the audience. One way to avoid fallacies is to learn how to recognize them in other works. It’s also important for people to take their time constructing their arguments. Fallacies most often appear when writers make quick judgments or draw conclusions without looking at all the available data. Instead of assuming that obvious connections are accurate, writers need to spend more time examining the evidence and exhaust available resources.