Morton's fork

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A Morton's fork is a type of false dilemma in which contradictory observations lead to the same conclusion. It is said to have originated with the collecting of taxes by John Morton.

The earliest known use of the term dates from the mid-19th century and the only known earlier mention is a claim by Francis Bacon of an extant tradition.[1]


Under Henry VII, John Morton was made archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and Lord Chancellor in 1487. He raised taxation funds for his king by holding that someone living modestly must be saving money and, therefore, could afford taxes, whereas someone living extravagantly obviously was rich and, therefore, could afford taxes as well.[2][1] Morton's Fork may have been invented by another of Henry's supporters, Richard Foxe.[3]

Another example of Morton's fork is a swim test for witchcraft that was performed in the Early Modern period. The suspected witch was tied up and thrown in the water. If they floated, that was considered to be proof of witchery. If the suspect sank and drowned, they were deemed innocent. Either way, the outcome was the same; the test subject died.[4]

Popular culture[edit]

"Morton's fork coup" is a maneuver in the game of bridge that uses the principle of Morton's Fork.[5][6]

An episode of the television series Fargo is titled "Morton's Fork," after the dilemma. It is also mentioned in NCIS: Los Angeles season 5 episode 16, "Fish Out of Water."

In the movie Princess Bride Vizzini employs this fallacy during the Iocaine Powder Battle of Wits.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Morton's Fork". Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  2. ^ Morton's Fork. Oxford English Dictionary.
  3. ^ S. B. Chrimes, Henry VII, p. 203.
  4. ^ Hill, Frances (2000). The Salem Witch Trials Reader. p. 5. DaCapo Press, Boston. ISBN 978-0-306-80946-0.
  5. ^ Frey et al. (1976). The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge, p. 295. ISBN 0-517-52724-3.
  6. ^ Gray, Robert. The Bridge World, March 1973