The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fallacy: Middle Ground

Also Known as: Golden Mean Fallacy, Fallacy of Moderation

Description of Middle Ground

This fallacy is committed when it is assumed that the middle position between two extremes must be correct simply because it is the middle position. this sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. Position A and B are two extreme positions.
  2. C is a position that rests in the middle between A and B.
  3. Therefore C is the correct position.

This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because it does not follow that a position is correct just because it lies in the middle of two extremes. This is shown by the following example. Suppose that a person is selling his computer. He wants to sell it for the current market value, which is $800 and someone offers him $1 for it. It would hardly follow that $400.50 is the proper price.

This fallacy draws its power from the fact that a moderate or middle position is often the correct one. For example, a moderate amount of exercise is better than too much exercise or too little exercise. However, this is not simply because it lies in the middle ground between two extremes. It is because too much exercise is harmful and too little exercise is all but useless. The basic idea behind many cases in which moderation is correct is that the extremes are typically "too much" and "not enough" and the middle position is "enough." In such cases the middle position is correct almost by definition.

It should be kept in mind that while uncritically assuming that the middle position must be correct because it is the middle position is poor reasoning it does not follow that accepting a middle position is always fallacious. As was just mentioned, many times a moderate position is correct. However, the claim that the moderate or middle position is correct must be supported by legitimate reasoning.

Examples of Middle Ground

  1. Some people claim that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good. Other people claim that God does not exist at all. Now, it seems reasonable to accept a position somewhere in the middle. So, it is likely that God exists, but that he is only very powerful, very knowing, and very good. That seems right to me.

  2. Congressman Jones has proposed cutting welfare payments by 50% while Congresswoman Shender has proposed increasing welfare payments by 10% to keep up with inflation and cost of living increases. I think that the best proposal is the one made by Congressman Trumple. He says that a 30% decrease in welfare payments is a good middle ground, so I think that is what we should support.

  3. A month ago, a tree in Bill's yard was damaged in a storm. His neighbor, Joe, asked him to have the tree cut down so it would not fall on Joes new shed. Bill refused to do this. Two days ago another storm blew the tree onto Joe's new shed. Joe demanded that Joe pay the cost of repairs, which was $250. Bill said that he wasn't going to pay a cent. Obviously, the best solution is to reach a compromise between the two extremes, so Bill should pay Joe $125 dollars.

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