Reification, Fallacy of




Also Known As: Fallacy of Hypostatization


This fallacy occurs when an abstraction is assumed to be a real, concrete entity and a conclusion is drawn from this assumption. The fallacy has the following form:


Premise 1: Abstraction A is treated as if it were a real, concrete entity.

Premise 2:  Treating A as real is taken to entail C.

Conclusion: Therefore, C is true.


The mistake is to treat an abstraction as real entity without adequate justification and then using this to support a conclusion.

This fallacy commonly occurs when abstract entities such as nature, fate and political or social entities are treated as being real entities with intentions, desires, needs and motivations of their own. Attributing such human qualities to objects is sometimes called the Anthropomorphic Fallacy or the Pathetic Fallacy.

This fallacy also occurs when human institutions, such as states, are treated as real entities on par with (or being) natural (or supernatural) forces. This reification is often used to justify actions or policies for or against the institution. For example, the state might be reified to argue that it must be obeyed. This view is popular with some fascists. As another example, a person who pirates electronic media might reify companies to argue that their theft is not morally wrong.

In some cases, what counts as reification is a matter of serious philosophical debate. Thinkers have often argued for the reality of what others regard as purely abstract entities.  For example, philosophers such as Aristotle and Aquinas attributed purpose to natural forces and to dismiss their arguments without consideration would be an error.

As such, showing that this fallacy has been committed requires showing that the abstraction has been assumed to be a real entity without adequate support. If an argument for treating an abstraction in this manner has been provided, then this argument must be engaged rather than merely dismissing the reasoning as fallacious.


Defense: The main defense against this fallacy is to check to determine if any good reasons have been advanced to accept that the abstract entity as being real. If not, then the fallacy has been committed. Even if arguments do exist somewhere for the abstract entity being real, this fallacy can still be committed by a person who fails to support their view. For example, while there are many philosophical arguments aimed at showing that the natural world is purposeful, someone who simply reifies nature would be committing this fallacy.


Example #1

Rick: “Homosexuality only occurs in humans and only by choice. In nature, there are no homosexuals. This shows that nature is opposed to homosexuality and hates it. Therefore, homosexuality is morally wrong for what nature opposes is evil.”

Emile: “I’m pretty sure there are gay animals.”

Hugo: “Yes, years ago I saw a show about gay penguins. I mean, they all wear tuxes, and you know who wears tuxes, right?”

Emile: “Grooms?”

Hugo: “Right. And you know what grooms do?”

Emile: “Get married.”

Emile: “Spot on. Since all the penguins wear tuxes, that means they are all grooms. So, penguins are practicing gay marriage.”

Rick: “No, they are not! And if they were, they’d go to hell!”

Hugo: “Yup. And it would be extra bad for them. They are, after all, accustomed to the cold.”

Emile: “Those poor dead gay penguins…”

Rick: “Don’t pity them! They got what they deserved!”


Example #2

Kyle: “You know, I feel bad doing this experiment. I know they signed a release and all but zapping them with electric shocks doesn’t feel right.”

Gina: “I understand. This is hard on me, too. But the experiment requires that we go on and do what we must.”

Kyle: “Well, if the experiment requires me to do it, then I must. I get my $15 right?”

Gina: “Of course, the experiment always keeps its word.”

Kyle: “It better. Why are you having me shock people?”

Gina: “Oh, we’re doing an experiment on reification.”

Kyle: “Is that a fancy term for zapping people?”

Gina: “As far as you know.”

Kyle: “Zap!”


Example #3

“Why do you waste your energy trying to oppose the State? You otherwise seem to be a sensible man. You do not stick your head into a fire and try to resist its burning. You don’t run out in a storm and shake your fist at the tornado. You do not try to oppose gravity. Be sensible and do not resist the State. It only wants what is best for you, so even if you could someone resist, then you would only be hurting yourself. Be sensible.  Come back to the loving embrace of the State. Even now, the State will forgive you your sins.”



Example #4

Lulu: “I used to feel a bit bad about liberating software, music, videos and eBooks.”

Sasha: “You mean ‘pirate’, right?”

Lulu: “Such a harsh word. But anyway, I don’t feel bad at all about it now. After all, when I liberate…or pirate…stuff, I am not hurting individuals. I am just pirating from the corporation. It has plenty of money and does all kinds of bad things. So, it is fine for me to pirate from it.”

Sasha: “Well, would you steal a candy bar from the corner store?”

Lulu: “No way. That would be stealing from Mr. Whipple. That would be wrong.”

Sasha: “But stealing from a corporation is okay? What about the artists who create the work or the people who distribute it?”

Lulu: “Yeah, it is fine. I’m not hurting those people. I’m sticking it to the corporation.”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More