Pathetic Fallacy




Also Known As: Anthropomorphic Fallacy, Personification Fallacy


This fallacy occurs when inanimate objects are treated as if they possessed mental states such as feelings, thoughts, sensations, and motivations. To be a fallacy of reasoning, a conclusion must be drawn based on this assumption. However, by popular usage the error occurs from treating an inanimate object in this way. As a fallacy of reasoning, it has this form:


Premise 1: Inanimate object (or force) O is treated as if it had mental state M.

Premise 2:  O was involved in event E.

Conclusion: Therefore, O’s role in E is due to M.


This is an error because it attributes to inanimate objects animate qualities, which they do not (by definition) possess, and uses this attribution to support a conclusion. As a fallacy of reasoning, it tends to be rare.

Far more commonly the pathetic fallacy is taken to include cases in which no conclusion is drawn. For example, if someone says, “the sea is angry” and leaves it at that, then there would be no fallacy of reasoning. However, this would be regarded as the Pathetic Fallacy in the popular use of the term.

The pathetic fallacy is also taken as occurring in cases involving explanations that are flawed because they involve attributing mental states to inanimate forces or objects. For example: “When it gets hot, air wants to rise.” Since air has no wants, this would be an inadequate explanation.

This fallacy derives its name from “pathos” rather than “pathetic” in the pejorative sense.


Example #1

“I was working on my paper and the darn computer crashed. That computer never liked me, so I must infer that it did that out of spite.”


Example #2

Les: “Thanks for letting me borrow your car, but it won’t start.”

Mel: “She is very temperamental. Did you try sweet talking her?”

Les: “Um, no. I did check the battery, though.”

Mel: “Here, I’ll give it a try.”

Les: “Okay.”

Mel: “Good morning, Lucile! How about going for a trip with Les?”

Lucile: “Vrooom!”

Mel: “You see, this shows that she has to be sweet talked into starting.”

Les: “Thanks again. I’ll be sure to talk nicely to her there and back!”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More