In this third post in a series on logical fallacies, I write about the nose counting fallacy.
My 8th grade social studies teacher, Mr. Estepp, had a poster hanging up in his room that read, “What popular is not always right; what is right is not always popular.” This middle school poster actually refutes the nose-counting fallacy–the idea that if the majority believes something it must be true–quite well. This fallacy is so obvious that schoolhouse posters are refuting it. However, it is still one of the most common fallacies people use to support their claims.
In democratic societies, such as the one I live in, we tend to have an unhealthy obsession with opinion polls. Issues such as the legalization of marijuana are argued for, not in terms of the impact it would have on society, but in terms of whether the majority supports it or not. The problem with such an argument is that it cannot tell us whether marijuana legalization is a good or bad thing. It only tells us what the majority believes to be the case. Belief cannot make a thing true or false, no matter how sincerely the belief is held.
In Common Sense Logic, philosopher Ric Machuga makes a helpful observation about common phrases that can indicate this popular brand of bad thinking (pun intended).
The words “who’s to say,” “no one can prove,” and “everyone has a right to their own opinion” are indicative of the nose counting fallacy. For example, it would be fallacious to argue that
• No one can prove that God exists because there will always be people who disagree.
• Who’s to say that a tax cut will be good for the economy-it’s all just “politics.”
• Since everyone has a right to their own opinion it is wrong for those who are “pro-life” to try to impose their opinions on others.
-Ric Machuga, Common Sense Logic, 6th. Edition
We encounter this kind of reasoning every day. At the heart of this fallacy is the self-refuting notion that all truth is relative. To claim that truth is relative is essentially to claim that there really is no such thing as truth. The reader may recall my saying in a previous post that all truths are absolute truths. If there is no truth, then even the claim that truth is relative cannot be true.
Truth exists, but it is not subject to a majority vote. It is discovered by our observations of the real world around us. In fact, truth is true whether we have discovered it or not. It is simply the way things really are, regardless of what we believe. Our beliefs ought to be based on truth, not the other way around.
Stay tuned to Think on These things for my next post on the ad hominem fallacy.
Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV
Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.