Ignorance, The Fallacy of

(Argumentum ad ignorantiam)

The case of not knowing anything about the subject, but not letting that put you off.

Its main habitat consists of trying to break the rule that “you can’t prove a negative”—concluding that, since you can’t find something (such as a black swan) it follows that it doesn’t exist. Variants are:

1. The Scientist’s Fallacy that something that has not been proved and understood therefore does not exist (e.g., homeopathy, morphic resonance, ghosts). This tends to be stated in the assertion that “there is no evidence that . . .”, often reflecting a determination not to find it.

2. The Non-Scientist’s Fallacy that something that has not been proved not to exist therefore does exist. Variants of this are the non-scientist’s version of the Scientist’s Fallacy: the view that a phenomenon around which there is still uncertainty (e.g., climate change) is therefore untrue; and the Hypochondriac’s Fallacy: that a problem that has not been shown not to exist therefore does exist.I16

Other varieties of the fallacy:

3. Where your ideology and intense conviction about a subject make it unnecessary to know anything about it.

4. Where your sweet innocence would be polluted by the facts.

5. Where your expertise in one area is so impressive that it makes you feel confident in other areas of which you know nothing (the Spillover Fallacy).

6. Where you are so consumed with work (e.g., doing brilliant science on climate change) that you overlook other commitments (e.g., communicating your results to non-scientists).

7. Where you are so determined to see the matter from others’ point of view that you never develop or research a point of view of your own.

8. Where you don’t believe that others (unlike strong-minded intellectuals like you) are up to being told the truth, so you leave them in ignorance.

9. Where ignorance opens up brilliant possibility—for, without a blanket of ignorance about how difficult the task was going to be, you would never have attempted it.


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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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