Ambiguous Collective fallacy
|“||An Ambiguous Collective fallacy is the use of a collective term without any meaningful delimitation of the elements it subsumes. "We", "you", "they", "the people", "the system", and "as a whole" are the most widely used examples. This fallacy is especially widespread and devastating in the realm of political discussion, where its use renders impossible the task of discriminating among distinctively different groups of people.
(The term "as a whole" is an assertion that a group of people somehow becomes an entity endowed with attributes other than those attributes possessed by an aggregate of individuals. It would be better to use the expression "composite" than "as a whole" as this preserves the awareness that the group is merely a collection of independent elements.)
Social problems are difficulties resulting from the interactions of groups of people. Before a social problem (or indeed any kind of problem) can be solved, it is imperative that the problem be precisely identified. To identify a social problem, you must delineate exactly the groups of people who are involved in that problem. The Ambiguous Collective fallacy prevents this identification.
I often challenge those who commit this fallacy to eliminate from their discussion all general collective terms, and each time they want to use such a term to use instead a precisely delimiting description of the group the term is intended to subsume. Very few people are able to do this.
One reason this fallacy is so prevalent and difficult to deal with is that it is built into the English language. Consider the question "Do you love anyone?" The ambiguity arises from the fact that the word "anyone" can denote either of two completely different meanings:
Here are some examples of the Ambiguous Collective fallacy:
In this statement, who exactly are the "us"? The speaker wants to convey the idea that term limits are very widely supported, but if in fact the 77% refers only to those who voted, the supporting subgroup may well be a quite small percentage of the total population.
In this statement, who are the "we" and who are the "us"? Is the speaker trying to promote socialized medicine by advocating government control of the medical schools? When he says "we need to" does he really mean "the government should"? And is the "us" merely a subtle way of saying "me"?
Perhaps the most widely-known example of the Ambiguous Collective fallacy is the statement:
In this statement "the people" has three distinctly different meanings: One group of "the people" (the victims, or producers) are ruled by another group of "the people" (the bureaucrats, with their action arm, the police) in order to achieve the goals of another group of "the people" (the politicians).
The concept that a soldier is honor-bound to obey orders without question allowed the German Army to be drawn into helping the Nazis create the nightmare that led ultimately to the death of millions of Germans and the near total destruction of Germany.