by / 0 Comments / 26 View / April 9, 2015

CONTINUUM – Ignoring any degree of difference between two extremes. 

This is sometimes referred to as the “Argument of the Beard” or the “Balding Man.” After a man shaves, stubble starts to grow again. The hair continues growing until it becomes a long luscious beard. At what point does it switch from being a five o’clock shadow into a beard? There is no hard line; it is a continuum. The fallacy would be in concluding there is no difference between being clean shaven and having a long beard.

Similarly, it would be wrong to claim, “If I lose just one hair I am not bald. And if I lose one more after that I am still not bald. It doesn’t matter how many single hairs I lose, I will never be bald!”

These are humorous examples, but serious flaws in understanding continuum are often seen in debate. Take the following example:

Abe: Do you have a problem with the age of consent being 18 years old?
Ben: No. Why?
Abe: The way I see it, there’s no difference between being 18 years old and 17 years, 364 days old. 
Ben: Okay, I agree with that. Not much different…
Abe: There’s also no big deal turning 17 years and 364 days old from 17 years, 363 days. If we continue stripping away days, you can see age of consent is meaningless! Who cares if I have sex with a three year old?
Ben: Umm, well at that point I’d definitely take issue with it. That’s a huge difference. 

Although we might disagree on what a correct cutoff should be, nearly all of us would be disgusted by a grown man taking advantage of a baby. The Argument of the Beard ignores any of the distinctions between two extremes.

For a different example, consider the “speciesism” argument from philosopher Peter Singer in Animal Liberation:

“The only thing that distinguishes the infant from the animal, in the eyes of those who claim it has a ‘right to life,’ is that it is, biologically, a member of the species Homo sapiens… But to use this difference as the basis for granting a right to life to the infant and not to the other animal is, of course, pure speciesism. It is exactly the kind of arbitrary difference that the most crude and overt kind of racists uses in attempting to justify racial discrimination.”

This does not account for any qualitative differences across the spectrum of life. It reduces any discussion of nuance to absurd extremes.

Other examples of the Continuum Fallacy include:
(1) Vector Theory of Life (That there is no distinction in the value of human life between conception and birth).
(2) Statist-anarchist Continuum (Government is oppressive, so if you do not believe in zero government as the logical solution you are an oppressive statist).
(3) Drinking Age (There should be no drinking age, similar to the argument for no age of consent).  

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