The Middle Ground Fallacy: How to Avoid Irrational Compromises

I’ve previously written about the false dilemma fallacy; our tendency to consider only two options even though more exist.

The middle ground fallacy is effectively an inverse false dilemma.

That is, instead of only considering two options, we only focus on a middle point between them.

Let’s say James is convinced that vaccinations causes autism in children.

But his friend John, who’s a doctor, says that claim has been debunked and proven false.

Listening to their discussion, their mutual friend Robert concludes that vaccinations must cause autism sometimes, but not all the time.

The Tricky Middle Ground

While the correct position on a topic often is somewhere between two extremes, that cannot be assumed without considering the evidence.

Sometimes, one of the extreme positions is entirely true, and the other one completely false. When that’s the case, a compromise always misses the mark.

Other times, both extreme positions are wrong. And when that’s the case, the truth can’t be found anywhere in the spectrum between them.

So, if we don’t pay attention to it, the middle ground fallacy can lead to poor reasoning and bad decisions.

Here Are Some More Examples

  • My teacher says it’s never okay to skip classes. My friend Michael says it’s okay to skip as many classes as you want. Therefore, it’s okay to skip class sometimes.
  • Jennifer thinks I should follow my doctor’s prescription to treat my illness. Linda says I should use holistic medicine. Therefore, I’ll take half of my prescriptions, and half of the holistic’s recommendation.
  • William thinks the Philadelphia Eagles will win the game. David thinks the New England Patriots will win. Therefore, I’ll place a large bet that game ends in a tie.
  • Some people believe in man-made climate change. Others claim global warming isn’t real. Therefore, climate change is real, but people aren’t causing it.
  • Some people think slavery is wrong. Other people think slavery is right. Therefore, we should allow slavery in some places, but not all.

How to Avoid The Middle Ground Fallacy

Compromises are often useful, but not always. As the saying goes: Half a kitten is not half as cute, it’s a bloody mess.

So, whenever you’re presented with two opposing views, don’t automatically assume that the truth has to exist somewhere between them.

Instead, examine the evidence of each claim independently.

Ask yourself how likely they are to be true, and if a compromise between them is truly warranted.

That will help you make much more accurate assumptions and better choices.

This article is an excerpt from my book The Decision-Making Blueprint.