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Consider a male athlete who is a reasonably skilled 100 metres sprinter, with a best time around 10.3 seconds. Probably not enough to make a career in track and field, but faster than the women's 100 metres record of 10.49 seconds, enough for him to declare:

What a shame I was not born a woman, for then I would have been a record-breaking champion instead of an amateur.

This reasoning is clearly flawed because if he had been born a woman, he would not have run 10.3 seconds.

I think this mode of spurious reasoning, in which the side-effects of a counterfactual are ignored, is reasonably common in practice, but is there a name or expression which describes it? Either the technical name of this particular fallacy, or a phrase or idiom which alludes to it, would both be welcome.

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  • You might be better off asking this on Philosophy rather than EL&U. Though I do believe we have a [rhetoric] tag...
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 13:17
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    Take your pick: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 13:19
  • @Dan Thanks for the suggestion. I thought about posting on Philosophy, but I'd be quite happy with a non-technical answer that expressed the same idea - I wouldn't be surprised if there were an idiom for it, for instance.
    – Silverfish
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 13:22
  • @KevinWorkman Thanks, that's one of my favourite Wikipedia lists (another is the list of cognitive biases) but I can't see what I'm looking for on there. Although I might have missed it, or more likely, not noticed how it is a special instance of one of those listed.
    – Silverfish
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 14:09
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    I feel like your assumption that he wouldn't have run 10.3 as a woman is sexist. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 17:07

1 Answer 1

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This seems to be specific fallacy of inconsistency that is labeled false equivalence:

a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.

The false equivalence is in the assumption that being born a woman is the same as being born a man, when in fact there are many genetic, physiological and sociological differences that would have an impact on the outcome.

The syllogism:

100 m in 10.3 s is an amateur time for men

I ran 100 m in 10.3 s

∴I am an amateur.

Has no logical equivalence to:

100 m in 10.3s is a world record time for women

I ran 100 m in 10.3 s

∴I am a world record holder.

The false equivalence, generates a false minor premise, because it was a man who ran 100 m in 10.3 s.

You cannot change your past, but if you could, it would change your present.

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  • (+1) I am still thinking about this answer. The situation I described does not seem to fit in to quite the same mold as "They're both soft, cuddly pets. There's no difference between a cat and a dog" or "We're all born naked. We're all no different from each other", which are clear examples of false equivalence. I wonder whether there is a more specific name for the "ignoring other effects of a counterfactual" as it is a fallacy I see regularly.
    – Silverfish
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 0:45

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