Appeal to moderation

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An appeal to moderation (also false compromise, argument from middle ground or argumentum ad temperantium) is a logical fallacy that states that the answer to a problem is always between two extremes. It is effectively an inverse false dilemma, discarding the two extremes rather than the middle. It is closely related to the balance fallacy.


[edit] Form

There is a choice to make between doing X or doing Y. Therefore, the answer is somewhere between X and Y.

The problem is that it's possible that either X or Y is entirely true, meaning that only partially doing the right thing makes little sense. This argument is generally built around the idea that the middle point between two extremes is equal parts of each side and therefore equally acceptable to both sides; but as the saying goes, half a kitten is not half as cute, it's a bloody mess.

[edit] Examples

  • The Missouri compromise, which tried to find a "middle ground" between abolitionists and pro-slavery forces. Of course, the abolitionists were entirely correct to want to outlaw slavery completely but this was seen as too extreme for many at the time.
  • "Some say austerity in a depressed economy is bad. Others say austerity in a depressed economy is good. Therefore, some austerity in a depressed economy is the correct answer." This one's fairly common in America, where there is no single left-wing party to promote the idea of spending more in a depressed economy, so the debate is between centrists and right-wingers.[1]
  • "One of my friends wants me to use a pharmacists prescription to treat my illness, another one of my friends wants me to use holistic medicine. Therefore I'll take only half of my prescription and use half of the holistic's recommendations."
  • "Joe thinks the Packers will win the game. Frank thinks the Eagles will win. That means the game will probably end in a tie."
  • "Homosexuals want the right to marry. Fundamentalists don't want homosexuals to marry. Therefore we should just give homosexuals civil unions and be on our merry way."[2]
  • The "Semicontrolled Demolition" xkcd comic

[edit] In politics

In general, politics is a process of compromise between interest groups making extreme demands; for example, the gun control debate does have people on one side who want to ban kitchen knives and people on the other who think it should be lawful for civilians to own nuclear weapons. Indeed, in politics the term "extremist" has a connotation of unreasonableness attached to it. However, it is still true that extremists are not wrong simply because they are extreme; in Nazi Germany Hitler wanted to kill all the Jews, while the Jews didn't want him to kill any of them. Most would not argue the logically correct answer was to kill half the Jews.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. So says Mr. Krugman
  2. This argument in particular not only contains a fallacy but flawed premises as well. The extreme pro-gay position would be to allow only homosexuals to marry. Thus, marriage equality would be the "moderate" position. Of course, this is still a fallacy, using that argument to support equal rights is flawed as well.

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