Fallacy of composition

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part). For example: “This fragment of metal cannot be broken with a hammer, therefore the machine of which it is a part cannot be broken with a hammer.” This is clearly fallacious, because many machines can be broken into their constituent parts without any of those parts being breakable.

This fallacy is often confused with the fallacy of hasty generalization, in which an unwarranted inference is made from a statement about a sample to a statement about the population from which it is drawn.

The fallacy of composition is the converse of the fallacy of division. The fallacy of composition is also known as the “un-ecological fallacy.”


  1. Human cells are invisible to the naked eye.
  2. Humans are made up of human cells.
  3. Therefore, humans are invisible to the naked eye.[1]

In Keynesian macroeconomics, the “paradox of thrift” theory illustrates this fallacy: increasing saving (or “thrift”) is obviously good for an individual, since it provides for retirement or a “rainy day,” but if everyone saves more, Keynesian economists argue that it may cause a recession by reducing consumer demand.

In voting theory, the Condorcet paradox demonstrates a fallacy of composition: Even if all voters have rational preferences, the collective choice induced by majority rule is not transitive and hence not rational. The fallacy of composition occurs if from the rationality of the individuals one infers that society can be equally rational. The principle generalizes beyond the aggregation via majority rule to any reasonable aggregation rule, demonstrating that the aggregation of individual preferences into a Social welfare function is fraught with severe difficulties (see Arrow’s impossibility theorem and Social choice theory).

Modo hoc fallacy

The modo hoc (or “just this”) fallacy is the informal error of assessing meaning to an existent based on the constituent properties of its material makeup while omitting the matter’s arrangement.[2] For instance, metaphysical naturalism states that while matter and motion are all that comprise man, it cannot be assumed that the characteristics inherent in the elements and physical reactions that make up man ultimately and solely define man’s meaning; for, a cow which is alive and well and a cow which has been chopped up into meat are the same matter but it is obvious that the arrangement of that matter clarifies those different situational meanings.[2]

Backward Stumble in Laissez-Fairyland

Ron Paul and the TP are fond of saying you can’t spend your way out of debt. Or you can’t borrow your way to prosperity. There is a huge error hidden in a small truth there.

You can’t “spend” your way or “borrow” your way out of public debt crises, but you cannot cut or save your way out of them, either. You have to INVEST your way out of them. That’s how real capitalism is supposed to work. If you can’t borrow your way to prosperity, how did most of the now-thriving businesses in the world first get started?

Austrian/libertarian/laissez-faire/Tea-Party economics is wrong. Ron Paul is wrong.  But the Koch brothers hope you buy the deregulation, government is baad (ok?), every-man-for-himslef part of the story.

What progressives want to do is invest in new industries and enterprises that will create millions of good jobs and get revenue flowing into households first and then into the public treasury. The old, vested-interest money doesn’t want competition from green energy, local organic food, credit unions, housing coops, or any of that stuff, and that’s why they bankroll the libertarian/TP laissez-fairyland movements.

I think, I hope, that many in those movements just haven’t thought it all the way through. Some TP’ers only seem to think in terms of bumper-sticker slogans and sound-bite sized ideas. Others are extremely smart but may have arrested personality development (i.e. they are sub-clinical sociopaths).  A lot of young people seem to fall into that category. Self-absorbed and with chips on their shoulders to start with, they want nothing from the busy-bossy, self-absorbed establishment.  Some have conflicts between their financial interests and the better angels of their nature. Some are just decent, ordinary people who have been sold a huge load of crap. They are mad, but may not know who they should really be maddest at.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we went from a budget surplus at the end of the Clinton administration to where we are now entirely under GOP leadership. . .

Note: If you hold some of the Laissez-Fairyland beliefs but don’t think you fit any of those categories above, please let me know. I am open to finding common ground.

Poor Richard

Related PRA 2010 posts:

Libertarian Fundamentalism

Green Free-enterprise

Economical Bestiary

At Other Blogs:

Critiques Of Libertarianism

A great web site with the following topics and much more:

A Non-Libertarian FAQ [More…]

A general introduction to discussion with libertarians, with an extensive discussion of arguments commonly used by libertarian evangelists. This is the original FAQ, little changed from when it originated in 1994.
What Is Libertarianism?
Twenty views of the big picture of libertarianism.
Notorious Failures of Libertarianism
Claims widely adopted by libertarians that are spectacularly wrong.

(many more topics)

October 9, 2011, 3:14 pm


A number of readers, both at this blog and other places, have been asking for an explanation of what IS-LM is all about. Fair enough – this blogosphere conversation has been an exchange among insiders, and probably a bit baffling to normal human beings (which is why I have been labeling my posts “wonkish”).

[Update: IS-LM stands for investment-savings, liquidity-money — which will make a lot of sense if you keep reading here]


The following web site has some examples of how the super-rich pay for phoney academic opinions and propaganda to support their fraudulent financial schemes. (Entire universities are becoming little more than hired PR firms.) ~PR


Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman school Tyler Cowan

There is a huge demand for rebuttals to Keynesian arguments about how to fix the economy. Anti-government right-wingers and libertarians oppose Keynesian interventions, and they have vast wads of money to throw at such issues.

Tyler Cowan, at the George Mason University Economics Department, is employed by the Kochs for just that purpose. Apparently, one of his jobs is to undermine rival economists’ arguments.

Now, it is well known that no economics model is perfect, and it is easy to assemble a list of problems and a list of people describing those problems. But the fallacy is to use this list to denounce an imperfect model in favor of worse models or none. Voltaire wrote “the perfect is the enemy of the good”, meaning that we should not discard effective solutions for pie-in-the-sky perfectionism.

It is interesting to note Cowan’s typical strategy, which like most public relations strategies is not aimed at “proof” but at convincing onlookers with incessant repetition of ideas such as “problems with IS-LM”. Cowan throws a bombshell, and then echos supporters without answering any questions about his own position at any point. A ploy to attempt to retain academic credibility in the midst of vigorous dog-whistling. He wishes to use his academic authority without being responsible to the academic community.

It looks to me as if Cowen has won. He has achieved his goal of repeating his memes numerous times and showing that there are other academic supporters of his criticisms. Basically, this is a variant of the tarbaby strategy from Uncle Remus. Trick your opponent into a fight with a tarbaby. The opponent may get in all the good licks and totally destroy the tarbaby, but afterwards you are exhausted, helpless, coated with goo, but the rabbit that set up the tarbaby is untouched and laughing.

(this web page has many links for the technically inclined)

Re Global warming conspiracy

Logical Fallacy of the day:

Conspiracy theory fatigue (crying wolf):  The presumption that a conspiracy theory is false because so many prior conspiracies have been false.

Crying "Wolf"

Examples of real and false conspiracy:

False conspiracy: Climate change is a hoax manufactured to justify a vast geoengineering and genetic engineering scheme to increase government power and confiscate private property.

Real conspiracy: Climate change is a real problem that will be cynically exploited to justify a vast geoengineering and genetic engineering scheme to increase corporate power and wealth.

Poor Richard

Money = speech?

Logical Fallacy of the day:

False analogy or false equivalence: False analogy is an informal fallacy applying to inductive arguments. It is often mistakenly considered to be a formal fallacy, but it is not, because a false analogy consists of an error in the substance of an argument (the content of the analogy itself), not an error in the logical structure of the argument.

False Analogy Examples: money = speech, or corporation = person

How about this logic: Money is speech + Speech is free = Money is free

The US Supreme Court seems to have based their Citizens United decision on that venerated principle of jurisprudence, “money talks”.

But if “money talks”, why is money = speech a false equivalence or false analogy? Because money is to speech as gasoline is to fire–

two completely different things!

In the real world money is not speech. Money is property!



Re Citizens United v. FEC

Dear US Supreme Court  Justices,

They say “talk is cheap.”  I guess its time for each citizen to “put his money where his mouth is”. So just how much does a Supreme Court opinion cost now?

Poor Richard



Debate: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (Debatepedia.org)


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