Argument to moderation
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Argument to moderation (Latin: argumentum ad temperantiam)—also known as [argument from] middle ground, false compromise, gray fallacy, false middle point fallacy, equidistance fallacy and the golden mean fallacy—is an informal fallacy which asserts that the truth must be found as a compromise between two opposite positions. This fallacy's opposite is the false dilemma.
Validity of method
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An argument is only logically sound if its premises are all true and it is a valid argument. However, in many issues of contention, there are sound arguments from both sides. In such cases, whether or not the argument to moderation is a fallacious method for arriving at truth is arguable. In essence, the method is pragmatic and utilitarian and creates a new argument from the best parts of both sides. This method is synonymous to those used by Golden mean (philosophy), Centrism, Middle Way, Third Way, and evolutionary Reproduction and Genetic recombination.
In such cases, where both arguments are sound or perceived to be sound, it is possible that a true compromise of sorts, as opposed to a false compromise, could be made. A true compromise can produce a deductively valid and sound argument which is also acceptable, utilitarian and desirable. A false compromise can produce a deductively invalid or unsound argument, or even if the argument is sound and valid, a pragmatically undesirable conclusion. The problem therefore with the method is it is not always obvious how to discern a true compromise from a false compromise. If the new argument is both sound and valid, one idea is that it can be considered a true compromise if it is accepted by a majority on both sides of the argument. Indeed, such heuristics are used to gauge political opinion on different policies (see Overton window).
Some believe that the method of recombination of both arguments is not a logically valid operator in deductive logic and hence that the method in itself is a fallacy whilst others believe the new argument is made from logically valid transformations of the initial arguments, and the new argument is what needs to be logically evaluated. It is therefore not clear that the use of the method in itself can be described as false or true, and rather that this may be a misnomer that doesn't consider context of evaluation such as utilitarian benefit, cost, virtue or categorical imperative, or that doesn't include some inductive data about the success of producing true or pragmatic outcomes.
This leads us to conclude that the argument from moderation is arguably not a logically valid method to determine truth, rather it spawns a new argument whose truth and validity need to be evaluated in its own right. Nevertheless, this can sometimes lead to pragmatic and acceptable outcomes.
An example of a fallacious use of the argument to moderation would be to regard two opposed arguments—one person saying that slavery is always wrong, while another believes it to be legitimate—and conclude that the truth must therefore lie somewhere in between. One could imagine a society that accepts a midway position between slavery and non-slavery as truth using the argument to moderation, and its only the cultural values of freedom and decency and the like, that would object. If these values didn't exist then the culture might find the middle ground true. There are also examples where both arguments can be sound, but instilled with differing goals or even misinformation.
Vladimir Bukovsky points out that the middle ground between the Big Lie of Soviet propaganda and the truth is itself a lie, and one should not be looking for a middle ground between disinformation and information. According to him, people from the Western pluralistic civilization are more prone to this fallacy because they are used to resolving problems by making compromises and accepting alternative interpretations, unlike Russians who are looking for the absolute truth.
An individual making a false compromise can fallaciously believe that the positions being considered represent extremes of a continuum of opinions, whereas sometimes there is only a binary choice possible. Someone who thinks that such extremes are always wrong, and the middle ground is always correct is certainly deluded as there are many situations where the middle ground does not achieve an acceptable outcome. Additionally, the middle ground fallacy can create the rather illogical situation that the middle ground reached in the previous compromise now becomes the new extreme in the continuum of opinions; all one must do is present yet another, radically opposed position, and the middle-ground compromise will be forced closer to that position. In politics, this is part of the basis behind Overton window theory.
- Fallacy: Middle Ground, The Nizkor Project (accessed 29 November 2012)
- Susan T. Gardner (2009). Thinking Your Way to Freedom: A Guide to Owning Your Own Practical Reasoning. Temple University Press.
- Vladimir Bukovsky, The wind returns. Letters by Russian traveler (Russian edition, Буковский В. К. И возвращается ветер. Письма русского путешественника.) Moscow, 1990, ISBN 5-2350-1826-5, p. 345.