Nirvana fallacy

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The nirvana fallacy is the informal fallacy 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.

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. Under this fallacy, the choice is not between real world solutions; it is, rather, a choice between one realistic achievable possibility and another improbable solution that could in some way be better.

History[edit]

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 (literally: The best is the enemy of the good.)

from "La Bégueule" (1772).

Perfect solution fallacy[edit]

The perfect solution fallacy is an informal 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 an 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[edit]

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 crashes.
Rebuttal
While seat belts cannot make driving 100% safe, they do reduce one's likelihood of dying in a car crash.
Posit (fallacious)
The Umpire Decision Review System (in cricket) is a bad idea. It can't fix all missed calls.
Rebuttal
While not all umpiring errors are corrected under the UDRS, it does reduce the number of errors made.
Posit (fallacious)
We shouldn't do it because it can't completely solve the problem.
Rebuttal
We should do the best that we can to improve the situation.

See also[edit]

Buddhist interpretations[edit]

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ Leeson, Peter T. (2007-08-06). "Anarchy unbound, or: why self-governance works better than you think". Cato Unbound. Cato Institute. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  2. ^ Shapiro, Daniel (2007). Is the welfare state justified?. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-521-86065-2. 
  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 0-226-43776-0. 

Further reading[edit]