Black or White? A Manifesto against False Dichotomy

A black and white checkerboard

Vikings believe the universe is dominated by the great cosmic battle between the Gods and the Frost Giants, and naturally place their support behind the Gods. I don’t follow Thor or Odin, but it would be unfair to describe me as pro-Frost Giant. I simply reject the Gods vs. Frost Giants dichotomy as one around which I want to shape my life.

– Scott Alexander Siskind

In the modern day, the study of philosophy has been increasingly regarded as esoteric, incomprehensible, or even useless. The pursuit of wisdom remains quite a noble ideal, but it is increasingly seen that philosophers, among others, often use sound, logical language to confront nonsensical dilemmas.

Free Will vs. Determinism

The wealth of debate surrounding this topic is simply out of proportion to the silliness of the question. When prompted, the vast majority of laypersons would respond in the affirmative to both the questions “Are there universal laws governing everything?” and “Have you ever chosen to do something?”. There is no reason why these positions should be contradictory. Just because something is consciously chosen does not mean it breaks universal laws, and just because an action is governed by laws does not make it somehow not a choice.

Human Nature: Good vs. Evil

The number of assumptions surrounding this seemingly simple problem is staggering. First of all, the very question assumes the existence of an absolute morality. Then, this moral framework must specifically address whether actions are “good” or “evil”, a nontrivial postulate in itself. Finally, the implicit statement is made that “good” and “evil” preclude one another.

Even if such assumptions are made, the question is still one of human nature as a whole. What reason is there to believe that “human nature” falls into one of those two categories? Again, most people who adhere to absolute moralities believe that some people are good and some people are evil, otherwise there would be no point in making the distinction. Then how can either side be completely true?

The Individual vs. the State

The aforementioned Scott Alexander Siskind adresses this much better than I can.

Nature vs. Nurture in Human Development

This is a completely nonsensical argument. There is absolutely NO REASON why assuming one side precludes the other, or denying one side proves the other. Even the most ardent naturalists will admit that care does have an effect on development, as the phenomenon of feral children shows. Likewise, the most fervent proponents of the tabula rasa theory will admit that genetics at least have some effect, as evidenced by studies of separated identical twins. Therefore, each of the statements “Nature has an effect on child development” and “Nurture has an effect on child development” are correct. Nature or nurture? Both. #



5 responses to “Black or White? A Manifesto against False Dichotomy

  1. While, with the exception of Free Will Vs. Determinism, I agree with you on the above points, I must ask, what do you believe are true dichotomies?

  2. Perhaps more specific or factual topics, like “the DREAM act should be passed vs. it should not be passed”, seem to me to be “true” dichotomies. However, “the DREAM act should be passed vs. I should eat cheese right now” is a false dichotomy, as both or neither can be true.

  3. You’re right in the sense that philosophy is incredibly esoteric; your wrong in the assumption that these questions are the ones being addressed by modern day analytical philosophers. A lot of analytic philosophy is technical to the point where a layman can’t meaningfully contribute.

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