The intention of this article is to explain what the false dilemma fallacy is and give a couple examples.
Let’s say we are at an electronics store to buy a television. A sales associate comes up and asks us what we want. We proceed to tell her that we are interested in buying a TV. She tells us about the two brands they offer: Brand A and Brand B. The sales associate then asks, “So, are you going to buy Brand A?” We tell her we are not interested in Brand A. In response, the sales associate rings us up for Brand B. In this example, the sales associate has commuted the false dilemma fallacy.
In their textbook, Critical Thinking, Moore and Parker say, “the false dilemma fallacy occurs when you limit considerations to only two alternatives although other alternatives may be available.” In our example, the sales associate limited her considerations to us either buying Brand A or Brand B; however, there are many other alternatives, such as going to another electronics store with more variety or deciding we no longer want to purchase a TV.
A practical, and less pedagogical, example of a false dilemma is offered by United State politics. Today, most political analysts, politicians, and voters in the United States only recognize two parties and, generally, two points of view: Republican or Democrat. In this realm we are continually offered false dilemmas and false dichotomies. You are either a Republican or a Democrat, and with that classification you are given a specific political viewpoint and specific policies you are supposed to endorse. For example, in the 2008 Presidential Election you were either for Obama, and hope and change; or you were for McCain, and Bush, the war on terror, and the status quo. But really, there were many other options like Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Bob Barr, Brian Moore, and Chuck Baldwin. So, by only considering Obama and McCain in the 2008 Presidential Election, we were limiting our considerations when many other alternatives existed. In other words, we were guilty of creating a false dilemma: either Obama or McCain. An example of another false dilemma would be: either vote for Obama or McCain, or contribute to the spoiler effect.