Nirvana fallacy


Nirvana fallacy

The nirvana fallacy is the logical error of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives. It can also refer to the tendency to assume that there is a perfect solution to a particular problem. A closely related concept is the perfect solution fallacy.

Example: "If we go on the Highway 95 at four in the morning we will get to our destination exactly on time because there will be NO traffic whatsoever."

By creating a false dichotomy that presents one option which is obviously advantageous—while at the same time being completely implausible—a person using the nirvana fallacy can attack any opposing idea because it is imperfect. The choice is not between real world solutions and utopia; it is, rather, a choice between one realistic possibility and another which is merely better.

Contents

History

The nirvana fallacy was given its name by economist Harold Demsetz in 1969,[1][2] who said:[3]

The view that now pervades much public policy economics implicitly presents the relevant choice as between an ideal norm and an existing 'imperfect' institutional arrangement. This nirvana approach differs considerably from a comparative institution approach in which the relevant choice is between alternative real institutional arrangements.

A related quotation from Voltaire is:

Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.

often translated as

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

though literally

The best is the enemy of the good.

from "La Bégueule" (1772).

Perfect solution fallacy

The perfect solution fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when an argument assumes that a perfect solution exists and/or that a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist after it were implemented. This is a classic example of black and white thinking, in which a person fails to see the complex interplay between multiple component elements of a situation or problem, and as a result, reduces complex problems to a pair of binary extremes.

It is common for arguments which commit this fallacy to omit any specifics about exactly how, or how badly, a proposed solution is claimed to fall short of acceptability, expressing the rejection in vague terms only. Alternatively, it may be combined with the fallacy of misleading vividness, when a specific example of a solution's failure is described in emotionally powerful detail but base rates are ignored (see availability heuristic).

The fallacy is a type of false dilemma.

Examples

Posit (fallacious)
These anti-drunk driving ad campaigns are not going to work. People are still going to drink and drive no matter what.
Rebuttal
Complete eradication of drunk driving is not the expected outcome. The goal is reduction.
Posit (fallacious)
Seat belts are a bad idea. People are still going to die in car wrecks.
Rebuttal
While seat belts could never save 100% of people involved in car accidents, the number of lives that would be saved is enough to far outweigh any negative consequences of wearing a seat belt.

See also

Buddhist interpretations

  • Dukkha, a Buddhist notion of unease
  • Wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic of imperfection

References

  1. ^ Leeson, Peter T. (2007-08-06). "Anarchy unbound, or: why self-governance works better than you think". Cato Unbound. Cato Institute. http://www.cato-unbound.org/2007/08/06/peter-t-leeson/anarchy-unbound-or-why-self-governance-works-better-than-you-think/. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  2. ^ Shapiro, Daniel (2007). Is the welfare state justified?. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 4. ISBN 0521860652. http://books.google.com/books?id=ei-1kg2TSwEC&pg=RA1-PA4&lpg=RA1-PA4&dq=nirvana+fallacy#PRA1-PA4,M1. 
  3. ^ H. Demsetz, "Information and Efficiency: Another Viewpoint," Journal of Law and Economics 12 (April 1969): 1, quoted in Kirzner, Israel M. (1978). Competition and Entrepreneurship. p. 231. ISBN 0226437760. 

Further reading

  • Browne, M Neil; Keeley, Stuart M (2004). Asking the right questions: a guide to critical thinking (7th. ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780131829930. OCLC 50813342. 



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