Monday, June 3, 2013

Parts and Wholes, Wholes and Parts Redux

I do enjoy the Facebook posts from "I fucking love science" but the following image is, alas, guilty of a fallacy. Here is the image in question:

So, what is the fallacy? To answer this, we need to first unpack the "argument" that is contained in the image above. As near as I can tell, it runs as follows:
  1. Physicists are trying to understand the nature of reality.
  2. One thing physicists study in this pursuit are a atoms.
  3. Physicists are made of atoms.
  4. Therefore, atoms (in the form of a physicist) are trying to understand themselves.
It is the move from premise three to the conclusion that is guilty of the fallacy of Division. This is a fallacy in which on makes an inference about the parts based on attributes of the whole. In this case, we are making a claim about the parts of a physicists (the atoms) based on attributes of the entire physicist (that she studies atoms). Thus, while in general a lovely statement, it is, unfortunately, fallacious. 

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