The Gadarene Swine Fallacy

The GSF is the fallacy of supposing that because a group is in the right formation, it is necessarily on the right course; and conversely, of supposing that because an individual has strayed from the group and isn't in formation, that he is off course. The individual may seem lost to the group but not off course to an ideal observer.

Background: Gadara was the ancient city of Palestine southeast of the Sea of Galilee and subsequently destroyed. The name was later adopted by a district east of Jordan and called Gadarenes, or Gergesenes. It was the site of the famous miracle of the swine, in which Jesus conjured demonic spirits into the body of swine and let them  perish in the sea. The story is recounted in the Synoptic Gospels.

The fallacy is elucidated well in R.D. Laing's Politics of Experience. Here is an excerpt from that work:

From an ideal vantage point on the ground, a formation of planes may be observed in the air. One plane may be out of formation. But the whole formation may be off course. The plane that is 'out of formation' may be abnormal, bad or 'mad,' from the point of view of the formation. But the formation itself may be bad or mad from the point of view of the ideal observer. The plane that is out of formation may also be more or less off course than the formation itself is.

The 'out of formation' criterion is the clinical positivist criterion.

The 'off course' criterion is the ontological. One needs to make two judgements along these different parameters. In particular, it is of fundamental importance not to confuse the person who may be 'out of formation' by telling him he is 'off course' if he is not. It is of fundamental importance not to make the positivist mistake of assuming that, because a group are 'in formation,' this means they are necessarily 'on course.' This is the Gadarene swine fallacy.

[Click here for a long list of logical fallacies.]

- Return Home -