Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

The Best Essay Ever: The Fallacy of Wishful Thinking

Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

The Best Essay Ever: The Fallacy of Wishful Thinking

Article excerpt


It is argued that wishful thinking is an informal logical fallacy and is distinguished from self-deception and delusion. Wishful thinking is unique in that a human desire is the starting point, which remains unfulfilled because of insufficient, no evidence, or ignorance, despite the agent's beliefs. It contrasts with self-deception, a more serious mental state in which the agent hides or denies the truth from himself, regardless of whether it is desired. Wishful thinking is a logical fallacy, depending on the agent's genuine beliefs as an epistemic dilemma or merely a harmless fantasy.

Keywords: wishful thinking, informal fallacy, self-deception, desires

1. Introduction

One of the most common forms of false optimism is wishful thinking in which agents desire and often hope for something with little or no evidence that it can be obtained or attained, or the evidence is misinterpreted or not examined. Generally, agents hold a belief for a desired future outcome, or perhaps an imagined past, without a strong reason to believe that this will or has been true. I would like to think this is the best essay ever written, and if I believed that, I would be committing the wishful thinking fallacy (WT). I have no reason or evidence at all to hold that this is the best essay ever written, and I am certain that it is not close. If I simply believe that it is a nice pleasing but farfetched thought, then no fallacy is committed. Furthermore, it is very questionable whether strong evidence would or could exist to make that particular truth claim. One reason would be the lack of consensus among philosophers on the criteria for this claim. WT, I argue, is an informal fallacy when it is a real belief for a desired state of events with weak or no evidence and a highly improbable likelihood. It is a leap into improbability based upon false optimism. In most cases, the agent has no argument; it is only implied, not explicit. Yet an enthymeme can be constructed into an argument which is necessary in order to show that a fallacy exists. Obviously, if the agent does not quite believe his fantasy, or if no argument is able to be reconstructed based on the premises, then no fallacy is committed. The term "wishful thinking" is used in this paper to refer to a mode of thought that may or may not be a fallacy.

In the WT fallacy the agent is motivated by a lack of opposing evidence to propose that his belief is true perhaps because it has not been disproven. Although it may be mistaken for appeal to ignorance, which argues from the absence of such evidence or reason to a conclusion that the proposition must be then true, WT moves from a pleasant comforting desire or wish to a conclusion that it is, will be or has been true. The desire for the idea to become true must be present in the WT fallacy. Primarily, WT is unsupported optimism, idealized unrealistic hope or wishfulness. This paper explains and clarifies WT as a fallacy, distinguishing it from self-deception and delusion, and defends the crucial importance of hard evidence to support one's beliefs. It is very consistent with evidentialism and the intellectualistic theory of belief

2. Problem of Evidence

As an inductive fallacy, WT begins as a desire that is often very strong and is held as a belief, despite insignificant or no evidence to support it. The individual then leaps to an unwarranted conclusion. As such, the agent intuits rather than reasons to the unjustified conclusion that the belief is/will be true. The rule for evidence can be stated: "Apportion the strength of your belief to the evidence; believe only what is justified by the evidence, and believe it to the full extent, but only to the full extent, that it is justified by the evidence."1 Although it may be considered a character idiosyncrasy, it is an inductive error in which the agent moves from a merely possible or impossible desired future to a belief in a highly probable or certain one without checking or collecting the necessary and sufficient information. …

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