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Association fallacy

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This car weighs just under a thousand kilos. A Lotus Elise weighs in at just under a thousand kilos. That makes this car a Lotus Elise!
—Richard Hammond, Top Gear.

The association fallacy is an informal version of the fallacious argument known as affirming the consequent. It consists of promoting an opinion or philosophy by recounting the values a specific person or a group that held that opinion or philosophy. The Richard Hammond quote above may have been made in jest, to appeal to the stupidity of such associations, but it is an extremely common, and often easy fallacy to make. It is, to an extent, a version of a non sequitur.

This fallacy can be done in either a positive or negative (derogatory) way. In both cases, it is equally fallacious. This is best demonstrated by common examples.


[edit] Positive uses

Positive association is called honor by association.


  1. Martin Luther King was a Baptist.
  2. King was a good person.
  3. Therefore, Baptists are good.

In this case, the fallacy implies that the good things that people associate with Martin Luther King came from his being a Baptist. While this may, in part, be true, it is fallacious to state that all Baptists will be good, or that someone becoming a Baptist will become good. In politics, the association fallacy is often subtly combined a priori reasoning in a manner that is clearly nonsensical when spelled out:

  1. The Republican Party is opposed to raising the minimum wage.
  2. Abraham Lincoln was a member of the Republican Party.
  3. Abraham Lincoln was a good man.
  4. Therefore, we should not raise the minimum wage.

Although it might well be true that Abraham Lincoln was a good man, this does not reflect on the Republican Party's political ideas today, and it also misses the historical context. More importantly, such arguments take as a premise that the Republican Party ought to oppose the minimum wage and then seek to rationalize it, rather than concluding the minimum wage ought not to be raised based on empirical evidence.

[edit] Negative uses

Negative association is called guilt by association.

  1. Stalin was an atheist.
  2. Stalin had millions of people killed.
  3. Therefore, atheism is evil.

Another classic example is the thought process used by some in the anti-nuclear movement.

  1. Nuclear weapons, which can destroy civilization, utilize energy from fission.
  2. Nuclear power utilizes energy from fission.
  3. Therefore, nuclear power is bad.

Negating the positive use above

  1. Fred Phelps was a Baptist.
  2. Fred Phelps was intolerant.
  3. Therefore, Baptists are intolerant.

With most negative uses of association fallacies, it relies on fear. In the former case, many of the acts that Stalin made are inherently fearful, but it is doubtful whether he ordered them on account of his atheism[1] or in the name of communism. Even if this doubt wasn't present, to attribute the negative aspects of Stalin to these beliefs is fallacious as the beliefs themselves say nothing about mass murder. This is similar to how, in a post 9/11 world especially, moderate Muslims have been subject to unfortunate associations due to the acts of fundamentalists and Jihadists. In the latter case, the fear of nuclear weapons inspired by Cold War propaganda is used to suggest that nuclear power should be similarly feared, because it uses the same physical process, even though the process of fission itself is morally neutral.

An example of Conspiracy Theorists demonizing (no pun intended) a debunker[2]:

  1. Stanton LaVey is a LaVey Satanist
  2. Joe Ronan is friends with Stanton LaVey.
  3. Therefore Joe Ronan is a Satanist and a Shill.

[edit] Baiting

The construction "x-baiting," where x is an undesirable ideology or group of people, is often used when a speaker attempts to make an association (real or imagined) between a person or group and x. Examples include:

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. As Stalin was viewed something akin to a god on earth himself, "atheism" may not exactly be the right term...
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yakODIoUM-c
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