Talk:Reification (fallacy)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
WikiProject Philosophy (Rated Start-class, Mid-importance)
WikiProject icon This article is within the scope of WikiProject Philosophy, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of content related to philosophy on Wikipedia. If you would like to support the project, please visit the project page, where you can get more details on how you can help, and where you can join the general discussion about philosophy content on Wikipedia.
Start-Class article Start  This article has been rated as Start-Class on the project's quality scale.
 Mid  This article has been rated as Mid-importance on the project's importance scale.

Are memes an example?[edit]

"...a meme, if it does exist, cannot seek out prey. And it certainly cannot leap from one brain to another."

Genes/viruses don't literally seek out prey or mates for their hosts (they are inert chemicals that can't move on their own). They don't literally leap from people to people either. Genes too are abstractions at some level. Are genes/viruses a fallacious reification too? Ideas are real, and their being copied is also real. Insofar as memes are a label for ideas that get copied, they exist concretely. This seems to be a controversial example at best. I think something else would serve the role better.

Also, instead of the criticism being a quote, perhaps a quote that commits the actual reification should be added so that readers can see that the criticism is not a strawman.

--Matthayichen (talk) 13:50, 5 March 2012 (UTC)

Perhaps memes aren't the best example. But they do fit the criteria. Given the widespread misunderstanding that they are indeed real, their inclusion makes the point clearly. I should also say too, though, that your comments about genes and viruses are insightful, and worth some further discussion. --JTBurman (talk) 22:25, 7 March 2012 (UTC)
Ideas that get copied are indeed real, aren't they? Isn't the relevant misunderstanding something else, ie, that viruses are actively and even consciously predatory rather than passive molecules that are copied by host cells? Thus the actual point of reification would seem to be the virus-as-active-predator metaphor rather than the meme-as-virus metaphor. In fact, many of those who criticize the meme-as-virus metaphor might be committing the virus-as-active-predator reification. --Matthayichen (talk) 03:39, 15 March 2012 (UTC)
Sure. The paper under discussion doesn't do that, though. And ideas don't get copied; they get reconstructed. --JTBurman (talk) 20:04, 18 March 2012 (UTC)
The distinction between copying and reconstruction doesn't seem to mean much here. For example, take a person who either believes that consciousness ends with death or who doesn't. There is no middle ground. How many virgins the deceased get is a different (but dependent) meme altogether. That's the whole point of memes--to recognize the irreducible building blocks of idea-complexes and to investigate how they are copied--and I say "copied" because reconstruction requires replicating more than one idea unit. --Matthayichen (talk) 06:27, 17 April 2012 (UTC)
The sentence saying that the "notion that ideas are literally "infectious," "predatory," and "selfish" is a fallacious reification of the idea-as-virus metaphor" undoubtedly exposes the author as someone who thinks that viruses are literally predatory and literally selfish. A reification of the predation/selfishness metaphor, in other words. I vote for rewriting the given example, and for quoting an actual example of reification instead of quoting a criticism. --Matthayichen (talk) 05:24, 17 April 2012 (UTC)
If memes are an example of the reification fallacy, they certainly are not a clear example. At best they are a controversial example. They should not be used as illustration in the lead. —Ben Kovitz (talk) 14:39, 26 May 2012 (UTC)
Using memes as an example of reification is one of the more blatantly POV things I have seen recently. "The concept is important because—as Arturo Rosenblueth, Norbert Wiener, and R. C. Lewontin have put it—"the price of metaphor is eternal vigilance."[2] Indeed, when that vigilance has slipped, whole new fields of study have been built on top of the resulting misunderstanding. Thus, for example, memetics." Wow. JTBurman uses an unrelated quote (the article speaks of crime, not memes) to dismiss an entire field (memetics) in the introduction to this unrelated article. Astounding. Also, as a computer scientist, the idea that reconstruction is not copying is silly. There is no other way to make a real copy of something, except to reconstruct it in a new location. Finally, the paragraph adds absolutely nothing to the understanding of Reification. I am removing it. If JTBurman wants to raise a criticism of the field of memetics, this is not the place for it.Loverevolutionary (talk) 20:41, 2 January 2013 (UTC)
Wow. Just noticed, when I did the edit, that JTBurman was citing his own paper critical of memetics in this page. Bad form, JTBurman, bad form.Loverevolutionary (talk) 20:46, 2 January 2013 (UTC)
Is it bad form? I'm sorry about that. I thought we were supposed to share peer-reviewed research, rather than making claims here in Wikipedia directly. I'm still glad for the discussion, though, because you all have helped me to clarify my understanding reification. JTBurman (talk) 13:14, 7 April 2014 (UTC)
It took me a while to understand why this was "bad form," but I got it eventually. I will be more careful in the future. (Should you see this happen again, elsewhere, the policy reference is to WP:ORIGINALSYN.) JTBurman (talk) 03:03, 9 April 2014 (UTC)

Pathetic connection[edit]

I highly doubt that the pathetic fallacy falls under reification. When you change an object (eg a geyser) into a person, you are completely doing the opposite of making it a thing. Perhaps some research or an academic authority is warranted. In fact, none of the sources you cited claim that attributing human qualities to inanimate objects falls remotely within the realm of reification. --Oreo Priest 05:47, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

I think there is some merit to Oreo Priest's objection to the pathetic fallacy as a subset of reification, although some instances of the pathetic fallacy seem to qualify, such as cases where the concept that is personified is a high level abstraction. For example, "Nature is angry at us," seems to treat the abstraction of "nature" as if it were a concrete person. However, one sees the pathetic fallacy in speaking of concetes as well. For example "Lake Superior is angry at us." So the pathetic fallacy does not fit very neatly into the definition of the fallacy of reification, does it? —Blanchette 06:43, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
  • I'm still going to have to disagree. From one of the sources: "Treating abstractions as actual existing entities or regarding them as causally efficacious and ontologically prior and superior to their referents. Similar to hypostatization, except the kinds of abstractions involved are usually philosophical or ideological, such as "universals,"15 "existence," "good," and "justice."
Example: "Good and evil are the two forces ruling the universe." But, good and evil are qualities, not forces."
This is what I mean. Personification is the pathetic fallacy, while reification is different. Lake Superior is a thing, as is nature. I think this should stick to things like Heidegger's complaint of the reification of time and space. (see Being and Time). I know this is a little provocative, but I'm going to delete the objectionable content unless you cite your sources, so I can verify that I am, in fact, wrong. --Oreo Priest 13:35, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

That pathetic fallacy is a subset of reif/hyp fallacy is clearly mentioned here (section on 'Hypostatization fallacy': The pathetic fallacy is a subset of this fallacy. or see the section on pathetic fallacy itself) and here (When human-like qualities are attributed as well, we also have anthropomorphization.) - please read the refs before declaring they don't support the article.-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  15:50, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

Reification and hypostatization[edit]

First, I did read the references, I just did not look under hypostatization. Upon following your links, what The Autonomist says makes perfect sense to me. You'll note that it never conflates reification and hypostatization, instead it says that reification and the pathetic fallacy are subsets of hypostatization. This seems like an excellent clarification and I actually propose we somehow create two articles, one on hypostatization, and another on reification. Something worth noting is that does conflate the two, which I think is likely an error. Your thoughts? --Oreo Priest 17:18, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
This seems like a good idea, although note that some sources don't see the difference between them - and I will admit the difference is still not clear to me. I think we are dealing with a combination of two subjects and two descriptions - correct me if I am wrong: 1) abstractions and 2) real but not alive objects and descriptions a) alive b) human like / intelligence. Perhaps a matrix or a graph indicating which of the 4 resulting scenarios fall under which fallacy, and where they overlap, would help? A table can be easily adopted from Common good (economics).-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  19:00, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
For starters, I asked a philosophy professor, and she said unequivocally that there's no way personification or giving something lifelike properties falls under reification. Because she is a philosophy professor and the author of the article is only an MA, that clears up any concern I have about I'm also not terribly concerned about the distinction between humans and other lifelike qualities, I'll leave that to you. My understanding of the subjects is:
Reification personification/ pathetic fallacy/whatever
On that note, I should mention that hypostasis seems to be the more grammatically correct word.
So, my proposal: 1) add an article on the hypostatic fallacy or section in the hypostasis article, explaining what it is, including the table I made (to your taste) and mentioning that reification and living-being-ification are proper subsets of hypostasis.
2) Clean up all the bits about reifying something into a living being. Thoughts? --Oreo Priest 21:09, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
I am confused by your table. Please see if you can fill the below one for me:
Abstractions Real but non-alive objects
Assigned alive qualities
Assigned human/intelligence qualities
Also, with all due respect to your professor - who may well be right - remember that per WP:V we cannot accept 'I heard it from the authority' (or even 'authority emailed me', or 'I am the authority') over 'this is a publication'. Currently we seem to be looking at some major confusion among philsophers themselves (not that I am suprised by that... :>) as on how to define those terms and how do they differ. I think we need to dig more sources (I just skimmed a few google hits when I was writing the article) and see if we can spot a pattern with more sources (is there a most common definition, or are they several contradicting but equally distributed and reliable?).-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  04:07, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
That makes sense, we should find more sources. As for the table, yours also confuses me a great deal. Here is my understanding in set theory notation:
  • Reification ⊂ Hypostasis
  • Giving lifelike attributes ⊂ Hypostasis
  • Personification ⊂ Giving lifelike attributes
  • Giving lifelike attributes ∩ Reification  =  ∅
  • Giving lifelike attributes ∪ Reification  =  Hypostasis
--Oreo Priest 15:01, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
I am afraid I am confused - how can you say that giving lifelike attributes is not part of reification? Perhaps... can I ask you to define reification and hypostasis as you understand them?-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  02:49, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
I don't know if I can be much more clear on my concept of the relation between the term. I believe hypostasis is "the turning of something abstract into" something concrete, I think we agree there. I believe reification is the specific subset of this where no lifelike attributes are given (i.e. it is turned into a nonliving thing), and that giving lifelike attributes (I'm not sure of the specific term) to an abstract concept is the complement of reification. Personification is a subset of giving lifelike attributes. Let me know what you think of this, or if my use of set theory notation confuses you. --Oreo Priest 17:08, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
"I believe reification is the specific subset of this where no lifelike attributes are given". That's interesting distinction. We could certainly use refs for that. Definition and example from [1] is not conclusive, I am afraid - I could argue that "forces ruling the universe" are alive...-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  18:58, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
Congrats on the DYK. As I can't really find anything to support my viewpoint, I'll concede. I'm still a little sceptical though, especially at the not-particularly-academic sources. --Oreo Priest 20:52, 26 April 2007 (UTC)
I think you are right we need an article on hypostasis; we just need to see what is a subset/common part of what... and yes, the sources are far from perfect - but than logic is not my area of expertise, I will be the first to admit. But they fullfill WP:V until we get better ones...-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  03:51, 27 April 2007 (UTC)

Thanks for the article, Piotrus.[edit]

•Two comments: Your subheading "Ethymology" is not as familiar as the equivalent "Etymology" – the former redirects to the latter in en.Wikipedia. Also, in the "Theory" section you write "A reification circle refers to the event when a norm, first seen as artificial and forces,...." It makes sense to me if "forces" should be "forced" but perhaps you had something else in mind that I'm not getting.

Made changes referred to above.—Blanchette 07:00, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

Usage in literature[edit]

Just mentioning that the authors of The Science of Discworld mention "reifying the privative", or in other words working on the basis that if X is a real "thing" or concept, then the absence of X can be treated as a real thing as well. For example, heat is an actual measurable quantity, but cold is merely the absence of heat and so "shutting the windows to keep out the cold" is actually reifying cold. I'm pretty sure there's a reference somewhere in the book that may be more "acceptable" than a book that's half fantasy novel, half popular science book and I'll try and track it down later. Confusing Manifestation 02:15, 27 April 2007 (UTC)

On Nothingness[edit]

The first example in the Examples paragraph references Ayn Rand's position on the Existentialist concept of Nothingness. It looks like Ayn Rand completely misinterpreted the Existentialist concept of Nothingness, which is not a sort of metaphysical existent (in that case, it would be reification indeed). Instead, it is more about the absence of a specific thing, e.g. you have an appointment with John for lunch, but John didn't show up. John is not there, thus a negation of John being there. That is Existentialist Nothingness: the absence of a specific thing. "Nothing Noughts" and "Existence Exists" are not similar axioms, as Ayn Rand seemed to have thought. I wonder if she actually read Heidegger herself. I suspect she only read snippets of his works out of context. See also Nothing.

Indeed. I actually came to the talk page to see if anyone else had a problem with this example, which is completely faulty. Heidegger actually specifically argues against using the term "nothing" in that sense. I'm removing it, but if someone can come up with a good (sourced) example, it would be more than welcome. Smw543 (talk) 02:04, 4 December 2008 (UTC)

Great Article[edit]

This is an awesome article, really wonderful... I bow my hat to you, Wikipedians. =]

Just in literature?[edit]

I find it odd that "literature" is singled out here as the only field in which it is acceptable to use metaphors of this sort. You can find metaphors of all sorts throughout science (it is impossible to have any language without metaphors) and every other field. It only becomes considered a fallacy when one accuses someone else of taking the metaphor too seriously or borrowing from the wrong semantic domains. Using metaphors of any sort is not itself a fallacy, which is what this particular article implies at the moment. -- 21:01, 18 July 2007 (UTC)

I amplified that second paragraph to address your concerns and make the distinction between metaphorical and fallacious reification clearer. —Blanchette 00:53, 27 July 2007 (UTC)

Citations Needed — Also Patience[edit]

I reverted deletions by user Removing sentences or paragraphs because they are unreferenced is not always appropriate. Most recently-created Wikipedia articles are poorly referenced but in time they evolve into something better. Naturally if the information is not only unreferenced but actually false, it should be deleted, but then we would hope for a reference to a reliable source that contradicts the false information, if only by being a comprehensive treatise on the subject which does not confirm the information in question. In other words, I agree that the burden of proof is on the editor who inserts or defends the information but Wikipedia policy definitely allows unreferenced material on noncontroversial topics. As it states on WP:VERIFY, "Material that is challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source," Which means, of course, that unverified material is permitted until challenged. So now that this material has been challenged please note that the WP:VERIFY also states, "Any edit lacking a source may be removed, but editors may object if you remove material without giving them a chance to provide references. If you want to request a source for an unsourced statement, consider moving it to the talk page."

It should be obvious that operating on the principles of's deletions, the entire article except the "the reification of the zero" quote should be deleted. This article was only created this past April. Patience has served Wikipedia well in the past and should continue to do so. I would be grateful to user if he/she would discuss improvements to this article before deleting any more. I too have doubts about the sentence, "When people describe nonbiological events (like a geyser) or social institutions (like government) as alive, they are committing a reification fallacy," not because it is unverified or I think it is false, but because the article does not go on to explain the rationale (or historical reason) for using the term "reification" for both the case where an abstraction is treated as a concrete, and where a non-living thing is treated as if it were a living thing, since it is hard to see the latter as a subset of the first. Perhaps the etymologically defined reification was expanded to include attributing new properties to things that do not actually possess them (newthingification?), but in any case, this article would benefit from a clearer expositions of the different senses and shades of reification. As for the second paragraph, it makes the vital distinction between metaphorical reification which is certainly an example of treating an abstraction as if it were a concrete ("justice is blind"), and fallacious reification. If you want to know more about why this paragraph is necessary see the original Reification [[2]] talk page where the problems of making the distinction between metaphorical and fallacious reification led to a dead end for the fallacy article.—Blanchette 12:46, 13 August 2007 (UTC)

Blanchette, thank you for reminding us of the all-important principle that wiki pages are always to be improved, not prevented from being imperfect. I just reverted my own revert of a doubtful claim with tenuous support. I hope it leads someone to find or write some better material, making use of whatever good nugget it contained. —Ben Kovitz (talk) 16:05, 30 May 2012 (UTC)


Regarding a state as a conscious being: "This product is known to the state of California to cause cancer."

Is that really a fallacy? It seems to me that that is nothing more than a shorthand for "the government of the State of California" (which in turn is itself shorthand for "the people who make up the government of the State of California") Nik42 (talk) 05:07, 1 February 2008 (UTC)

It is a fallacy because a State cannot think. The people of the State may, but the State itself does not have a brain. (talk) 05:01, 1 October 2008 (UTC)

Reification vs hypostatisation[edit]

Ok... and what about Hypostatisation? 'xyz happens in both, and reification is zyx. (doesn't explain the Hypostatisation half to that.) (talk) 05:01, 1 October 2008 (UTC)

Sometimes a distinction is drawn between reification and hypostatization based on the kinds of abstractions involved. In reification they are usually philosophical or ideological, such as "existence," "good," and "justice."
That was to my previous statement. It appears incomplete. (talk) 05:03, 1 October 2008 (UTC)


I have a problem with the example of supposed confusions about "nothing". The idea of there being no thing with a certain property can be modeled trivially with simple mathematics. The empty set is the set that contains no thing. A set is merely an abstract box (or, if you are a constructive mathematician, a concrete representation of an abstract box), and the empty set is a box devoid of content. The semantics of the empty set are straightforward and consistent. One can easily reason about "nothing" by analyzing a set that is uniquely (as there is only one empty set) related to "no thing". In fact, because there is only one thing that is related to "no thing", we can twist language around a little (but still remain in the first-order logic) to say that there IS a thing the empty set contains, and it is called "nothing" (though it would typically be denoted as an upside-down T _|_, and pronounced "bottom" (or "false" or "contradiction" or "inconsistent" or "nil", and is a generalization of the empty set for "lattices" and "categories". This is mathematical reification, and it is not a fallacy. It is powerful and unifying abstraction.

What would be a fallacy is concluding that the notion of nothingness is false, contradictory, or inconsistent because _|_ is called "false" (or "0") in the context of Boolean lattices, or "contradiction" in the context of lattices of deductions, or "inconsistent" in lattices of partial functions, or "Nil"/"Null" in lattices of SQL relations.

I intended on merely getting rid of the offending example, but I decided to rework my "complaint" here into examples. (talk) 20:43, 24 July 2009 (UTC)

Many substantial claims were made in the section you added, and all of them lack citations. This violates the Wikipedia:No_original_research policy. For this reason, I have removed this section from the article. --Beala (talk) 08:17, 9 November 2009 (UTC)

Fallacy of misplaced concreteness[edit]

Because of an effective fork with a synonym, I merged this version into the article as a section.Novangelis (talk) 17:53, 4 February 2010 (UTC)


Please avoid listing ambiguous examples. Lists should be kept concise and should not grow unrestricted. Where a list already has several entries, there should be a clear deficiency that is being filled by adding another. There should be a specific feature "Science is a self-correcting process" is not a particularly good example. The verb "is" does not imply agency. "Self" does not imply agency; a "self-righting ship" does not imply any agency other than ballast. Statements like "Nature abhors a vacuum" or "water seeks its own level" are clear-cut examples where agency is expressed. "Science will not tolerate error forever" would indicate agency, but it is not a phrase that has any historical usage, so it would not make a good example.Novangelis (talk) 01:54, 28 July 2010 (UTC)

Even statements like "Water seeks its own level" probably aren't good examples of the reification fallacy. The use of terms of emotion and intention just provides a metaphorical way to describe a causal regularity, and water does exist and has effects. ("Nature" might provide some genuine reification fallacies, though I don't think "Nature abhors a vacuum" commits one.) I'm having difficulty finding real examples of this fallacy. Here are some candidates:
  • Heidegger's ideas of Being and Not-Being, especially his statement "Das Nicht nichtet." This could be the ultimate reification fallacy, ascribing existence and activity to non-existence. But, this might be a misunderstanding of Heidegger (as noted above).
  • Economic and political fallacies where "the economy" or "society" is thought to be the cause or proper beneficiary of individuals' actions.
  • Belief that religious myths are literally true, according to the theory that religious stories are metaphors.
  • Thinking that physical laws cause effects rather than physical objects, or that physical laws can be affected by physical actions. I've never seen that come up seriously except perhaps in the idea that God chooses physical laws and can temporarily suspend their operation (as if God has some knobs and levers whose settings are the physical laws).
  • Newton's and Einstein's rejection of action at a distance to explain gravitational attraction would be deliberate avoidance of a reification fallacy. Perhaps also some objections to quantum mechanics.
  • The "realist" theory of universals, which explicitly claims that abstractions exist separately from particulars.
  • Belief in the mind or soul as something causally separate from the activity of the brain (obviously, a highly controversial example).
  • Perhaps naïve belief that words have powers related to their meanings, so saying the name of a dirty animal near some food might make the food dirty (like contagion heuristic).
  • The gambler's fallacy, where a person seems to think that an abstract probability exerts an effect ("pulling back" like a rubber band after previous events "stretched" away from the probability).
  • Perhaps many more superstitions, like thinking that stolen or otherwise ill-gotten goods are more likely to break—that is, justice has causal power independent of people's enforcing it.
All of these examples except the last three would be controversial: they're theories with plenty of serious, active proponents. But, we could include them as long as we noted the controversy. I've never come across a good source that explains that any of these involve a reification fallacy.
Ben Kovitz (talk) 20:10, 10 June 2011 (UTC)

Abstract versus concrete[edit]

Thanks for the post, BenKovitz. Rudolf Carnap is one reliable source who finds Heidegger's thoughts on nothing as fallacious and absurd as I do. There is surprisingly little reliable material to be found on the fallacy of reification despite the fact that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would defend the proposition that there is no such thing as the category error of treating an abstraction as if it were a concrete. I have been studying this issue and I think that the real problem is to be found in (1) a disagreement among philosophers about what constitutes the distinction between the concrete and the abstract (see Abstract object and its references) and (2) a profound confusion among laymen, such as those editing this article, about the same issue, betraying ignorance on even the points where most philosophers agree (except extreme Platonists), such as the claim made above that a clearly abstract mathematical idea, such as an (or the) empty set should be seen as proving that a nothing with properties exists concretely. There is a good article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Abstract Objects and I hope to find some useful material in its extensive references that may illuminate this article. Meanwhile, perhaps we should consider opening the body of this article with a discussion of what it means to be concrete or abstract, because it looks as though a professional quality article on the fallacy of reification will eventually have to show how whether a proposition commits the fallacy of reification depends on one's view of abstractness and concreteness, which may account for the disagreement on Heidegger. All prominent viewpoints should be represented. Needless to say, this article still needs the help of an expert. —Blanchette (talk) 06:42, 8 August 2012 (UTC)

Improper example in introduction[edit]

The present introduction states:

For example: if the phrase "holds another's affection", is taken literally, affection would be reified.

But an emotional thing like an affection is certainly not an abstraction (compare to pure ideas like justice, money, redness, or the scientific notion of force). It is a real thing, if indeed not physical; moreover, since it is rather hard to tell apart real from concrete, one may well say an affection is concrete; this is a question of point of view or definition.

Thus, I consider this example at best misleading and ambiguous.
denis "spir" (talk) 15:48, 24 September 2011 (UTC)

PS: will change is for "fighting for justice".


After reading the article I still have no idea what the reification fallacy is. That's rare within Wikipedia. Crasshopper (talk) 12:40, 6 January 2014 (UTC)