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“All Politicians Are the Same”: False Equivalence

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“All politicians are the same” is an oft repeated phrase. It also has a certain appeal: it is easy to think that all politicians are corrupt, power obsessed liars. But a claim should not be accepted simply because it is tempting—there should be evidence for it. One stock way to “argue” that all politicians are the same is to make use of the false equivalence. While there are many forms of false equivalences, the focus here is on the fallacy of false equivalence. In this context, the fallacy of false equivalence occurs when it is concluded, without adequate justification, that two things are the same because they have some quality or qualities in common. More formally, the fallacy has the following structure:   Premise 1: X and Y are similar in respect to qualities P, Q, R. Premise 2: X has quality Z (to degree D or quantity Q). Conclusion:  Y has quality Z (to degree D or quantity Q).   Those familiar with the inductive analogical argument will see the similarity between the forms. This is because a false equivalence can be interpreted as a type of fallacious analogical argument: an unjustified inference that because two things are alike in some ways, they must be alike in the specified way. In the case of the false equivalence, the error is that even if the two things do have qualities in common, there is not adequate evidence for the conclusion of equivalence. There are numerous reasons the inference can fail, even assuming the premises are true. One is that while the two things do share qualities, these qualities are not relevant to their being equivalent in the specified way. For example, the fact that Hitler and Ronald Reagan share the qualities of being male, being human, and being democratically elected does not suffice to show that they are both genocidal fascists. Another is that while the qualities can be relevant to the claimed equivalence, there can be a difference in the degree in which the properties are possessed. For example, consider. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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