Decent Democracy
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Ideal Fallacy

First published May-2010
last update 9-June-2010

Politics is the that area of our activity that organized society. For each person to participate in this activity requires them having some idea of how society should be organized, some idea of an ideal society.

However, I have essentially refrained from any further using the word ideal outside this footnote [1], not because the ideal is not worth pursuing but because the "ideal fallacy" is so common it has been associated with the word itself (and so in the following chapters I use equivalent formulations of the word ideal).

Ideal Fallacy

The "ideal fallacy" is any argument in the form "Ideally there would be X and Y; therefore Q: if there is Y then there will be X". Whether or not X and Y would really be ideal is of course always up for discussion, but what we can be sure is that approaching Y doesn’t mean X will be equally approached. For instance the argument, "ideally (X) people competing against each other results in the good for all, and (Y) ideally there would be no government as it takes resources and entails a significant amount of risk; therefore (Q) if we remove government entirely (Y`) people would be free to compete resulting in the greatest good of everyone (X`) without needing to pay taxes or risk totalitarianism." Is a popular ideal fallacy in the western world. Though X and Y both seem fairly ideal, the argument that Y would entail X is false.

Though people can compete in a positive sense — bettering themselves, being honest, keeping their word and engagements, inventing new techniques, and taking the full responsibility of their actions — people can also compete in a negative sense — rather than trying to better themselves, trying to make the competition worse by harming them in any number of direct or indirect ways or simply destroying them all together, being dishonest, breaking their word, and offloading as many bad consequences of their actions onto others as possible.

And so simply removing all government may result in some positive competition but may also result in a relatively few people making enormous efforts in negative competition, including taking control of what government is left (which has become weaker than non-government actors due to deregulation) to destroy competition and offload responsibility even further.

Other examples are "Ideally, everyone would think good, and the good would be the same for everyone; therefore, if everyone thinks the same, everyone would think good." ; "Ideally, society would be just and everyone would have about the same pay; therefore, if everyone was paid the same society would be just." ; "Ideally, believing in god inhibits corruption; therefore if everyone believed in god no one would be corrupt."


[1In order to do any coherent action or propose any coherent plan, we require an ideal we are striving towards. For instance, if I attempt to build a house I require some idea of what house I am trying to build, and to come to this idea I need to think of what the ideal house would be for me to live in. However, this ideal in and of itself is not sufficient to make any decisions, as it cannot describe what to do the moment the ideal can no longer be met, which is certain to occur. Ideals, such as my ideal of a spherical house hung from tall fruit or nut bearing trees, can inspire practical ideas but cannot be the basis of any decision. Decisions themselves spring from the effort we make, which is read to include the ethic we live by, and the very act of thinking of what would be the ideal house, the ideal water capturing system, or the ideal society is a consequence of this effort and cannot be it’s originator, for our minds are far from perfect and what we may think is ideal is liable to change from one moment to another.

Written by Eerik Wissenz.

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*Chapters in grey are in progress.

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