Middle Ground




Also Known as: Golden Mean Fallacy, Fallacy of Moderation


This fallacy is committed when it is assumed that the middle ground between two (often extreme) positions must be correct because it is the middle position. This reasoning has the following form:


Premise 1: A and Z are two (extreme) positions.

Premise 2: P is a position located in the middle between A and B.

Conclusion: Therefore, P is correct.


This is fallacious because it does not follow that a position is correct just because it lies in the middle of two positions. This is shown by the following example. Suppose that a person is selling his bike. He wants to sell it for the current market value, which is $800, and someone offers him $1 for it. It would hardly follow that $400.50 is a reasonable selling price.

This fallacy draws its power from the fact that a moderate or middle position is often correct. For example, a moderate amount of exercise is better than too much or too little. This is not because it just happens to be the middle ground between two positions. It is because too much exercise is harmful and too little exercise is all but useless. In many cases in which moderation is correct it is because the extremes are typically variations of “too much” and “not enough” and the middle position is “enough.” In such cases the middle position is, by definition, correct.

This fallacy can also draw psychological force from the belief that a compromise or meeting someone in the middle can be reasonable or good. While this can be true, it does not follow that the middle position must be true or even that it likely to be true just because it is in the middle. And considerations of fairness and compromise take the matter far beyond the realm of “pure” logic and into the normative realm.

It should be kept in mind that while uncritically assuming that the middle position must be correct because it is the middle position is poor reasoning it does not follow that accepting a middle position is always fallacious. As was just mentioned, a moderate position can be correct. However, the claim that the moderate or middle position is correct must be supported by good reasoning.


Defense: The main defense is to consider whether the support offered for a middle position consists only of the claim that it is a middle position. If so, there is no reason to accept it as correct on this basis.

To avoid being mistaken about the fallacy, you should also consider whether it is a case where the middle position is, by definition, correct. You should also consider whether it is a case of normative reasoning in which the concern is over compromise or fairness; but even in such cases the reasoning should still be assessed.


Example #1:

Some people claim that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good. Other people claim that God does not exist at all. Now, it seems reasonable to accept a position somewhere in the middle. So, it is likely that God exists, but that he is only very powerful, very knowing, and very good. That seems right to me.


Example #2:

Congressman Jones has proposed cutting welfare payments by 50% while Congresswoman Shender has proposed increasing welfare payments by 10% to keep up with inflation and cost of living increases. I think that the best proposal is the one made by Congressman Trumple. He says that a 30% decrease in welfare payments is a good middle ground, so I think that is what we should support.


Example #3:

A month ago, a tree in Bill’s yard was damaged in a storm. His neighbor, Joe, asked him to have the tree cut down so it would not fall on Joe’s new shed. Bill refused to do this. Two days later another storm blew the tree onto Joe’s new shed. Joe demanded that Joe pay the cost of repairs, which was $250. Bill said that he wasn’t going to pay a cent. Obviously, the best solution is to reach a compromise between the two extremes, so Bill should pay Joe $125.

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More