Fallacy of Composition
Fallacy of composition comes up when one infers that something is true of the whole based on the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. For instance, one can say that just because a given fragment of metal cannot be fractured using a hammer, a machine of which it is part cannot be fractured by a hammer. This is termed fallacious since several machines can be broken apart, without any of their parts being able to get fractured. The fallacy of composition is a reverse of the fallacy of division.
The first kind of fallacy of composition arises when a person reasons from the traits of individual members of a group or class to a conclusion on the characteristics of the whole class or group. In a formal way, the reasoning would be like:
- Individual K things have traits A, B, C among others
- Thus, the whole class of K things has traits A, B, C and several others.
This kind of reasoning can be termed as fallacious in that, the fact that individuals have certain traits does not guarantee that the whole class also possesses those traits.
It should be noted that drawing an inference about the characteristics of a class based on those of individuals that belong to it is not always fallacious. In certain cases, sufficient justification can be given to warrant the conclusion. For instance, it is true that an individual wealthy person has more riches compared to an individual poor person. In countries that the United States, it is true that the class of wealthy people has got more wealth as a whole, compared to a class of poor people.
The other kind of fallacy of composition is committed when it is concluded that, what is true of the parts of a whole must be true of the whole without there being adequate justification for the allegation. In a more formal way, the reasoning would look like:
- The parts of the whole Y have characteristics A, B, C among others
- Thus, the whole Y must have characteristics of A, B and C
This kind of reasoning is fallacious in that it cannot be inferred that simply since the parts of a complex whole have (or do not have), certain properties that the whole of which they are parts of, possess those properties. This can be clearly illustrated in math; the numbers 1 and 3 are both odd. 1 and 3 are parts of 4, thus, the number 4 is odd.
There are quite a number of additional examples that can be used to illustrate the fallacy of composition. Below are some of them:
- A tiger eats more food compared to a human being, thus, tigers, as a group, eat more food than do all the humans on earth.
- If a person stands up out of his seat at a baseball match, he can see well. Therefore, if everyone stands up, they can all see well.
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