The analogical fallacy

The analogical fallacy  -How To Win Every Argument

Motivational Nano Library

The analogical fallacy  -How To Win Every Argument

The analogical fallacy consists of supposing that things which are similar in one respect must be similar in others. It draws a comparison on the basis of what is known, and proceeds to assume that the unknown parts must also be similar.  

The body politic, like any other body, works best when there is a clear brain directing it. This is why authoritarian governments are more efficient.

(None of these false analogies likening the state to a human body ever seem to say much about its liver, pancreas, or waste-disposal mechanism.)

Analogies are a useful way of conveying information. They enable us to talk about the new concept in terms which the audience already have experience of. The fallacy comes in the assumption of further similarities in the future on the basis of the ones already identified.  





Babies are like the weather in their unpredictability. 

(They are also wet and full of wind.)

It is fallacious because analogies are tools of communication more than sources of knowledge. An analogy may suggest lines of enquiry to us, but it does not provide a basis for establishing discoveries.

She had skin like a million dollars. 

(Green and crinkly?)

Analogical fallacies abound in the interpretation of history. In the attempt to make history mean something, all kinds of comparisons emerge. Past civilizations all have it in common that they are now past, once were civilizations, and before that were not. These three utterly commonplace facts lead many historians into a ‘life-cycle’ analogy. The simple sequence ‘not alive, alive, no longer alive’ irresistibly invites comparison with living organisms. Before our defences are ready, there we are with civilizations ‘blooming’ and ‘flowering’, soon to be engaged in the act of ‘withering and dying’.





As our culture ripens, it is only natural that it should, like any organism, put out seeds to reproduce itself in distant places. 

(An argument for colonialism which should be nipped in the bud.)

The fact is that civilizations are not flowers. If you fall into the analogical trap, you will soon be having them drawing strength from the soil, and perhaps even exhibiting their blooms in turn.

Hume, in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, has the earnest Cleanthes compare the universe to a delicate mechanism, like a watch. And, just as we can deduce from a watch the necessary existence of a watchmaker, so from the universe … But the sceptical Philo kills the argument at this point by saying that the universe seems to him much more like a cabbage.

The analogical fallacy is devastatingly effective when used against the person who first produced the analogy. Everyone uses analogies of sorts; all you have to do is seize upon one used by an opponent and continue it in a way more conducive to your own line of argument. With luck, your opponent will be forced into the admission that his own analogy was not a very good one and will lose points with the audience.





‘As we sail forth on our new committee, may I express the hope that we can all pull together for a smooth voyage. ‘ 

‘The chairman is right. But remember that rowers were usually put in chains and whipped. And if the ship sank, they went down with it.

You will go far in any organisation by likening it to a family. Family life evokes a pleasant glow, and the analogy will enable you in practice to argue for almost anything, including giving pocket money to the members and sending the naughty ones supper less to bed. 

The analogical fallacy  -How To Win Every Argument

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