Overthrow these logical flaws for a more authentic and fulfilling life.
“Humans are the most rational beings on Earth,” or so we think. According to the western world, the human race was once blinkered by myth and superstition. But the Ancient Greeks freed us, and the Enlightenment Period cemented rationality as a basic human trait.
But is this narrative accurate?
We like to think that we are logical beings, but that might not be true at all. According to Philosopher Justin E.H. Smith, humans are hardly ever rational, they just like to think that they are. Not just in academia, but in every aspect of life.
When faced with daily challenges, we try our best to make rational decisions and believe that we are doing so. In reality, a lot of our thinking is completely flawed. In Smith’s words:
“The desire to impose rationality, to make people or society more rational mutates … into spectacular outbursts of irrationality.”
In our daily lives, most of us commit to logical fallacies. These are seemingly valid and logical ways of thinking, that contain fundamental flaws that go unnoticed.
Committing yourself to these, and letting them influence your decisions is making your life worse. Here are the top examples I’ve seen people commit to.
1 . The “Argumentum Ad Populum” Fallacy
Also known as the “bandwagon fallacy” or an “appeal to common belief” this fallacy takes place when we assume that, because everyone else holds a particular view or belief, that it must be true.
There are two problems with this mode of thinking:
- We typically associate ourselves with people who share similar beliefs. Facebook, for example, uses algorithms to only reveal views similar to your own. For that reason, we are only exposed to the views we want to hear; that doesn’t mean everyone holds them.
- Just because everyone believes something, doesn’t mean it’s correct. In the 16th century, the majority believed the Earth was at the center of the universe — but Galileo’s Copernican Heliocentrism completely debunked that.
According to James Freeman (as cited by Douglas Walton, 1995) this fallacy occurs when we inflate the value of perceived popularity as evidence. In truth, the popularity of a belief is never a sufficient justification for accepting it.
How It’s Making Your Life Worse
Breaking the status quo is never easy. Galileo’s discovery, for example, contradicted a lot of religious views at the time — he was charged with heresy and the church sentenced him to house arrest until his death.
Going against the grain is just as hard today. Consider the moments when you see:
- Your friend’s political views on social media.
- The self-help gurus (or “experts”) telling us how we should be living.
Do you naturally assume that, because the majority follow it, you should too? It’s certainly easier to conform than carve your own path.
From a young age, we’re told that we should go to University, get a good education, and then land a sustainable 9–5 job. Sure, that seems to work for the majority… but is that right for you?
Conforming to the bandwagon fallacy could result in you giving up on your dreams, desires, and values, all because following the path of least resistance is the easiest thing to do.
Overcoming it means rationally making decisions for yourself, rather than believing something because everyone told you to. It means affirming your own positive future, instead of following the deception and lies of the herd.
Going against the grain might not be easy. But it’s sometimes the right thing to do, and will help you live a true and authentic life.
2. The False Dilemma
Also known as “False Dichotomies,” this is a fallacy that erroneously limits the options available to you. It typically presents two choices as the only available options, when there are more available.
Consider these claims:
- “You either work a 9–5 or you won’t have financial security.” Is it not possible to have financial security and not work a 9–5?
- “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” But what about the innocent bystander?
- “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” What about the people who are neutral on a topic of discussion?
This fallacy is often used by politicians, it presents two extremes in an attempt to make their view look more persuasive. For example “either we raise taxes, or public schools go bankrupt and children suffer.”
Logically speaking, these types of arguments are invalid because they commit to a false premise — there are more options available than the disjunction presents.
How It’s Making Your Life Worse
A lot of us commit to false dichotomies, and they damage our outlook on life. Attitudes like “I either pass or fail,” often miss the bigger picture — in this instance, that even if you fail, you improve and grow.
Worse still, false dichotomies, restrict our choices on important life decisions. When encountered by them, we’re forced to choose one — even though we disagree with both. In the examples given:
- Most of us take the 9–5 job because we don’t think we can achieve financial security otherwise.
- A lot of my friends vote for a political party they don’t like, because doing so is the lesser of two evils.
In doing so, we suppress our true and authentic selves — telling ourselves that it’s not possible to live the life we want to.
Overcoming this fallacy means recognizing that, in our daily lives, there are always more choices than meets the eye. To uncover them, you just have to think independently and get creative.
Instead of working that 9–5, start a business. If you’re voting for a political party you don’t like, create or campaign for a smaller party you believe in — so the option to vote for them is available in the future.
3. The Nirvana Fallacy
This is also known as the “perfection fallacy.” It occurs when you refuse to accept anything less than perfect, so you work tirelessly to achieve something that’s impossible.
This usually occurs when we compare a realistic solution with an idealized and unattainable one. So much so, that we discount or disregard the real for some perfect higher standard.
How It’s Making Your Life Worse
Perfectionism prevents achievement. Rather than celebrating the positives, we’re constantly striving for more. It correlates with depression, anxiety, and addiction.
This hinders us in many ways. But to name a few examples:
- Teenage girls are comparing their appearance to the “perfect” models they see in the media. When a lot of the time, those “models” are just CGI and AI and don’t even exist. In comparing themselves to something this idealized standard, they lower their self-worth, and their mental health is negatively affected.
- A symptom of perfectionism is procrastination. Picture every time you’ve found something too difficult, or feared that you wouldn’t be able to complete a task perfectly — so decided to put it off instead.
- This fallacy also makes us waste our own time. Rather than completing a task, celebrating the achievement, and moving on — we get caught up in trying to attain the unattainable.
Overcoming this fallacy requires you to acknowledge that imperfections are beautiful. They’re a sign that something is real. Rather than chasing and comparing yourself to a standard that can’t be exemplified in the real world, set out a plan of your goals before you start. For example, tell yourself that after X amount of time, or when X is achieved, you will move on.
Better still, gain the perspective of a friend or colleague. They will be able to judge your work objectively, against real-life standards rather than metaphysical, non-existent ones.
In truth, you could work for forever on any task. But after a point, your time and efforts are probably better spent elsewhere.
We like to think we’re logical beings, but Justin E.H. Smith has shown that we’re hardly ever rational. Without realizing it, we commit to a number of logical fallacies that make our daily lives worse.
These fallacies disguise themselves as rational and sound modes of thinking, but they’re fundamentally flawed. The first step to overcoming them is acknowledging you commit to them:
- The “Argumentum Ad Populum” Fallacy assumes that the beliefs held by the majority are correct. Historical examples like Galileo prove that an entire civilization could be mistaken — perceived popularity of a view isn’t evidence that it’s true. To overcome this problem, stop following the crowd and start critically and logically making decisions for yourself.
- The False Dilemma tricks us into thinking we have a limited amount of choices when in reality, we can do and be anything we want. It restricts our growth and forces us to settle for the lesser of two evils. There are always more choices than first meet the eye. To overcome this dilemma; stop settling for anything less than what you want. Instead, get creative and find paths that help you achieve “the impossible.”
- The Nirvana Fallacy leaves us striving for an impossible standard of perfection that doesn’t exist — and the more we compare ourselves to perfection, the more our mental health suffers. To overcome this fallacy, set yourself deadlines and stop unnecessarily overworking when a task is complete. If you’re unsure if something is good enough, ask a friend for their objective opinion.
Overcoming these fallacies won’t be easy. For some of us, they are deeply entrenched in our daily living. But avoiding this flawed reasoning will help you live a more authentic and fulfilling life.