Distributive Fallacy - Composition


The argment moves from a claim about the distributive sense of a class (i.e. each of the members taken separately) to a claim about the collective sense of a class (i.e. the class taken as a whole).



"I like Rocky Road ice-cream, dijon mustard, and potato chips; so, I should like an ice-cream sundae made with Rocky Road ice-cream, topped with dijon mustard and potato chips.


"Every piece of the machine was brand new, and passed inspection at the factory before it was shipped. Therefore the machine should be in perfect working order."



There is no guarantee that qualities manifested in the parts will be manifested in the whole. However, there are some interesting examples in which the inference from parts to whole appears to be perfectly sound. For example, "The legs of this desk are made of wood. So is the writing surface, the back, the shelves, and the sides. This is a wooden desk." It is not the move from parts to whole per se that makes Composition a fallacy. Rather, it is the move from parts to whole in a context in which we are discussing an "emergent property," i.e. a property that is true of the whole because of some sort of interaction among the parts. Because the emergent property depends upon interaction, it cannot be found in the parts taken separately. In the example above, each of the parts of a machine may be in perfect condition and functioning exactly as intended (taken separately). But the machine as a whole will not work unless those parts are also assembled correctly and were designed to work together. A carburator may be in perfect working order, but it may still not do its job if it is put into the wrong car.

Unfortunately, the distinction between emergent and non-emergent properties is easy to overlook, and is perhaps hard to understand. The fallacy of Composition mimics good reasoning, I believe, because it tries to pass off a context in which an emergent property is involved with a context in which a simple, non-emergent property is involved.


Source: Aristotle, Sophistical Refutations.


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