The Verbal Cheap Shot Artist Part 11: The False Dilemma

by Ron Haynes

This is part nine of a 12 week series where I explore the tactics of verbal cheap shot artists – people who can’t, or won’t use valid arguments to present their case, but instead resort to verbal cheap shots. To make sure you don’t miss a single article, be sure and sign up for my RSS feed or subscribe by email (both are free!) so you can get the freshest new articles! Check out my other posts in the Verbal Cheap Shots category.

The False Dilemma is also known as “Black and White” reasoning. It states that there are only two options available and both can’t be right. Figure out which one isn’t and, according to False Dilemma “reasoning,” the other choice is automatically correct.

In some cases, it’s okay to use this line of reasoning, but only in isolated cases. For example:

  • My dog is either alive or dead.
  • My dog isn’t dead.
  • Therefore, my dog is alive (thank goodness!)

In cases where the only two options are the ONLY two options, this reasoning works. Where it goes wrong is when there are more than two options but all the alternatives aren’t mentioned or the original options are wrong.

Example of lack of alternatives:

  • To make a decent return, I have to invest in either stocks or gold.
  • I’m not going to invest in gold.
  • Therefore, to make a decent return, I must invest in stocks.

What about real estate, other commodities, ETF’s, mutual funds, CD’s or any one of a host of other potential investments?

Examples of wrong original options:

  • 2 + 2 = 5 or 2 + 2 = 6
  • 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 6
  • Therefore, 2 + 2 = 5

Or something a little less obvious:

  • Your friend is either lazy or a liar.
  • Your friend isn’t a liar.
  • Therefore, your friend must be lazy.

Could there be another alternative?

  • Jack: We need to raise taxes across the board.
  • Jill: Why would we do THAT?
  • Jack: We have to either raise taxes or this deficit will destroy our economy

Why don’t we cut spending or identify what our true priorities may be?

The biggest problem with the False Dilemma is that you’re left with only two choices and any decision is only as good as the choices available. Avoid creating false dilemmas in your own reasoning and learn to recognize them when they’re used.

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About the author

Ron Haynes has written 987 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.