Category mistake

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A category mistake is a type of logical fallacy where a speaker confuses the properties of the whole with the properties of a part.

[edit] Alternate names

  • category error
  • categorical error
  • distributive fallacy

[edit] Examples

The example Ryle gives is of someone visiting Oxford who looks around and asks to see the university. His guide tells him he is at the university; "Here are the buildings, here are the professors, here are the students, etc." The visitor then tells him that he sees the buildings, the professors, and the students, but he still doesn't see the university. The point of the story is that the visitor has the expectation that the university is a physical object and not an abstraction.

Ryle makes this distinction as an argument against dualism, but the idea of the category mistake has entered common philosophical parlance. As the example demonstrates, the category mistake is often tied into the fallacies of composition and division.

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