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There is a kind of argument that goes like this:

x is good because if x were not there, y would be bad.

What is this kind of argument called? I learned about this in school but forget the name of it. Basically you argue not directly about the positive features of having whichever element you're arguing for, but you argue that without the element, there would be negative effects.

  • I don't have time to comb through the list right now, but this might help: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies – samuelesque Apr 22 '13 at 15:27
  • I'm not sure this type of argument is a fallacy. "War is good because without war there would be no arms industry." "Air is good because without air there would be no life." Examples of what you are actually asking about would be beneficial. – Andrew Leach Apr 22 '13 at 15:43
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    This is a good question for philosophy.stackexchange.com – Mitch Apr 22 '13 at 15:50
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    @Mitch What, so you’re saying that just because a question can be asked in English and its answer given in English that it does not necessarily belong here? – tchrist Apr 22 '13 at 15:51
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    @tchrist: The OP may not think of it that way, but yes. In the same way that the etymology of a word might be asked at history.SE, but is probably more appropriate here. – Mitch Apr 22 '13 at 15:53
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I take this to be an appeal to consequences. I think it is one of the most subtle and seductive fallacies, because it has so much of the air of being self-evident. But the nature of a fallacy is that it is not logically inevitable, and in this case, the lack of inevitability is found in the fact that we are looking at a judgement call. "Good" and "bad" may seem self-evident, and one would hope that most of us share a common opinion of what constitutes each of these, but logically they remain matters of points of view, and not determiners of truth or falsity. So, bringing "good" and "bad" into the matter pushes this argument into the realm of an appeal to consequences.

If we try to structure the sample argument in logical terms, there are certainly logicians who are far more capable than I of doing so, but let me try to give at least one clumsy attempt to demonstrate it. One version of the original example could be this:

If X is good, then Y will not occur.

Y is undesirable (bad).

Therefore, X being good is true.

We can then see that the fallacy occurs at the disjunction between truth and desirability. Note that our logical premise is "Y is bad," not "Y does not occur." You can't validly derive the conclusion from the former, only from the latter, but the latter is not the given premise.

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