Reductio Ad Consequentia - Reducing the Argument to the Consequences

April 20, 2019Categories: Logically Fallacious,

The Dr. Bo Show with Bo Bennett, PhD
The Dr. Bo Show is a critical thinking-, reason-, and science-based approach to issues that matter. It is the podcast of social psychologist Bo Bennett. As of 2020, this podcast is a collection of topics related to all of his books.

People like to make rules to justify their positions. This can be a form of rationalization, but more often it is an honest and conscious attempt to provide a good reason for one's position. The problem is, very often, the rules that one creates lead to less-than-desirable consequences. To be clear, this isn't the appeal to the consequences fallacy where the consequences are undesirable, therefore the claim is false; it the use of a rule to support a position without realizing that the same rule would require that support for other positions not supported, therefore, invalidating the rule.

Let's look at some examples.

Person #1: Abortion is not wrong because the fetus is not conscious.

Person #2: Does that mean we can terminate the lives of people who are unconscious due to dehydration or too much alcohol?

Person #1 made a "rule" as to why abortion is not wrong. Person #2 pointed out that by using the same rule we would be forced to come to an undesirable conclusion: that it is okay to terminate the lives of people who drink too much. Person #1 can clarify the rule to make it more specific, perhaps, "I meant that terminating the life is acceptable because the fetus was never conscious." What person #1 cannot do while claiming to be acting rationally, is stand by their rule and deny the consequences of applying that same rule to other situations.

Let's look at another example.

Person #1: God allows suffering and evil because it ultimately leads to the best possible world. In other words, the greater good. He can see the future positive consequences that we are unable to see.

Person #2: So everything bad that happens is ultimately a good thing?

Person #1: Yes.

Person #2: So if a gunman breaks into an elementary school and kills 100 children, that's a good thing?

Person #1: No, it is an evil act that leads to a greater good.

Person #2: Then why should attempt to stop it?

In this example, the "rule" is implied from a reason. The rule would be "allow suffering and evil in the world only when it leads to a greater good (or the best possible world)." The consequences of that rule would necessarily mean that our attempts to stop suffering or evil are futile because regardless of our action, whatever happens, will be the best possible outcome. Even if our futile attempt to stop evil will make us a better person, the fact that we don't attempt to stop it also means it is for the greater good and our indifference is required for the best possible world.

And one more example.

Person #1: You should vote for people of color. There are too many white people in office.

Person #2: Should I vote for candidate X, the woman of color who is a Trump supporter and agrees that climate change is a hoax by the Chinese?

Person #1: No, not her.

In this example, person #2 pointed out what can be an exception to the rule. It has been said that to every rule there is an exception (even that rule?), so should we never attempt to make rules? No, rules generally make useful heuristics. The point of Reductio Ad Consequentia is to demonstrate that the rule being made is problematic, and at worst, invalid. Perhaps person #1 really meant "all things being equal, you should vote for the candidate that adds more diversity to our government." This is a much more nuanced and reasonable position than the simple rule to vote for people of color. As more exceptions are added to rules, the less useful and more invalid the rule becomes.

People make rules to justify their positions, but due to the confirmation bias, they rarely put that rule to the test and attempt to falsify that rule. This is an effective strategy in argumentation and in testing one's own beliefs because it can expose an irrational justification for one's position. If one's accepted rule can no longer be used, they will attempt to come up with a replacement, which can lead to a different stance on one's position.

Read More Like This in Logically Fallacious

Available from various retailers in the following formats:

Hardcover Paperback Audiobook Ebook (.pdf) Ebook (.mobi) Ebook (.epub) Online Course