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Example statement: 'life is fair'. Is there a more specific term other than fallacy? Maybe a subset of fallacy that also indicates comfort in believing it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jan 19 '17 at 15:18

15 Answers 15

62

I'd call it wishful thinking:

  • the attribution of reality to what one wishes to be true or the tenuous justification of what one wants to believe.

(M-W)

30

This would be a Panglossian statement or Panglossianism, after the character Professor Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide who eschews suffering, posits that even the worst misfortunes are for the best and puts a positive spin on every tragedy or case of malfeasance.

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    Yes, his catchphrase being that of Leibniz, that "all is well in the best of all worlds". It stems from a form of Christian theology based around the idea that God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent so in our world everything must be for the best and, even if a great earthquake kills millions, it is for the best – perhaps the earthquake provides an opportunity for new life and charity. Voltaire was an atheist ahead of his time and Candide was written as a critique of what he saw as blind optimism. – BladorthinTheGrey Jan 18 '17 at 21:34
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    I was unaware of the Leibnitz connection. Thank you. – Rache Jan 19 '17 at 13:18
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    everyone should read candid... It is both cutting satire, and very funny... I think a lot of people encounter it in school and have to analyze it; which probably kills it for most, but it is just a great, fun read. – Grady Player Jan 21 '17 at 5:24
  • @BladorthinTheGrey, I'd just like to say, if God is omniscient and we are not, it's entirely reasonable for us to say that an earthquake might be for the best, while also calling it a great tragedy with no discernable purpose. – mwfearnley Jan 22 '17 at 1:05
  • @mwfearnley That is very much the Leibnizian response and the argument against Voltaire's point. – BladorthinTheGrey Jan 22 '17 at 10:32
25

Some words that could apply to a "statement which is false but comfortable to believe in"

Platitude

As defined in Cambridge Dictionary

a remark or statement that may be true but is boring and has no meaning because it has been said so many times before

also

a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.

Bromide

a trite and unoriginal idea or remark, typically intended to soothe or placate.

"feel-good bromides create the illusion of problem solving"

a commonplace or hackneyed statement or notion

-Merriam-Webster

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    upvoting for bromide – Rache Feb 1 '17 at 15:23
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Going off of the first answer and comment, I think the following might be useful:

fantasy - all-purpose description of a belief in something false that is pleasing.

delusion - belief in something false that is usually pleasing or at least very convincing to the thinker but has negative consequences for themselves or for others.

self-deception - similar to delusion but with less of a connotation of badly disordered thinking. A self-deception to me seems to indicate something like rationalization.

Others, in no particular order:

  • pipe dream
  • chimera
  • daydream

Source: http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/wishful%20thinking

  • Also, self-delusion – user66219 Jan 19 '17 at 0:40
  • Pipe dream was the first thing that came to my mind – Academiphile Jan 20 '17 at 6:19
21

People often call a statement which is false but comforting to believe in a "beautiful lie". But it can be used in other contexts when a lie can somehow appear to have its merits.

The problem with using "beautiful lie" is you have to ask yourself at that point if you may as well say "comforting idea"/"comforting lie"/"convenient lie".

I'm not sure I would call it a term/phrase; it's definitely been said many times but I still think it hasn't taken on any meaning beyond the meaning of the two words themselves.

This is a stretch, but you could refer to such ideas as "fairytales". But that's definitely a loaded way of referring to them. "Folklore" sounds a little less belittling. Neither are really perfect, and definitely are not exactly what you're looking for.

All the things I mentioned can mean different things in different contexts. None of them explicitly refer to comforting ideas that are hard to prove but are widely believed.

Oh wow. Well you could refer to it as a "religion". But yeah that might be even more loaded than "fairytale".

The word "reassurement" (it's on dictionary.com but spell check thinks it's not a word) means exactly what you'd think it does. It also has no connotations of being untrue but a phrase like "everything's going to be OK" is sort of a reassurement. And perhaps often when people say phrases like that and "life is fair" they are also in part reassuring themselves.

https://www.quora.com/Is-there-a-word-for-when-you-lie-to-keep-someone-happy

A "hoax" fits a lot of the rules. Many people are affected by a hoax, a hoax is generally something most people perceive as being good (so comforting [before they realize its a hoax] ). But a hoax has a perpetrator who wishes to deceive people in some way. Does the person saying "life is fair" wish to deceive anyone? Definitely not typically. And often they themselves believe the lie. So "hoax" really does not work. A bit of a problem here is the type of statement your talking about is probably typically not an "intentional lie".

What it really is is a comforting untruth or falsehood. Since typically when the words are uttered I think the people believe them to some extent. But yeah it all depends on the context. It's a falsehood though, yeah.

And ideas such as "life is fair" are often alluded to in ways like "these lies we tell ourselves". But obviously you're here looking for a one-word solution.

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    I like "comforting idea". – AndyT Jan 19 '17 at 12:05
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    "Convenient fiction" is another term, similar to "convenient lie", but not (quite) as pejorative. – Hot Licks Jan 19 '17 at 18:50
  • I think a "convenient fiction" is often a social convention, tacitly and mutually perpetuated by at least two parties, rather than just nice things a person tells his own self. – MissMonicaE Jan 19 '17 at 21:21
  • Recent American English slang would also include truthiness, which is tangentially related. – user73481 Jan 20 '17 at 19:48
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How about pleasant fiction?

An example from the movie Gladiator:

Marcus Aurelius: Let us pretend that you are a loving daughter, and I am a good father.

Lucilla: This is a pleasant fiction, is it not?

  • See also 'legal fiction' – hawkeye Jan 22 '17 at 22:09
5

optimism bias

Since you specifically mention fallacies, one cognitive bias comes to mind that applies to some of the types of statement you describe: the optimism bias.

For example, I could choose to believe that my health is not going to be affected by consuming junk food. This is — as you put it — false, but comfortable to believe in. This is optimism bias in action.

Of course, it doesn't apply to some untrue statements which you might take comfort in believing in for some reason other than optimism.

The optimism bias (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism) is a cognitive bias that causes a person to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others.

(Wikipedia)

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This is not so far from the meaning of "foma", a word which Kurt Vonnegut made up and introduced in his novel "Cat's Cradle". It is not widely used. The emphasis in the term "foma" is on the idea that the falsehoods involved actually make one a happier and healthier person.

  • User19268220 sometime - sometime (s)he tried. – Grady Player Jan 21 '17 at 5:30
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convenient truth

It's the opposite of an inconvenient truth. So: a convenient untruth.

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A shibboleth:

a : a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning: the old shibboleths come rolling off their lips — Joseph Epstein

b : a widely held belief: today this book publishing shibboleth is a myth — L. A. Wood

Not necessarily a false statement, but false statements qualify.

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Medically, thematic paralogia is the word for your state.

Otherwise paralogia or paralogism might work as well.

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Siren

If it is ok for it to be actively harmful rather than just untrue this would be a great metaphor that would be widely understood.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous creatures, who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.

It might be a little dramatic for your use.

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sham or myth

It's probably a sham. It happens all the time - people love to believe in shams, even the obvious ones.

Also, myth may work.

Macmillan:

sham NOUN

1 [SINGULAR] something that people pretend is good, serious, or honest but is really not

myth NOUN

2 [COUNTABLE/UNCOUNTABLE] something that people wrongly believe to be true

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sophistry

Sophistry would probably do. It's where an argument makes sense at first glance and sounds plausible but when you investigate it further it's nonsense, usually deliberately deceptive.

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    It's a good suggestion, please add links to and definitions from a reliable online dictionary to further improve your answer. :) – NVZ Jan 19 '17 at 2:06
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Cognitive dissonance

focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it.

"The Fox and the Grapes" by Aesop. When the fox fails to reach the grapes, he decides he does not want them after all. Rationalization is often involved in reducing anxiety about conflicting cognitions, according to cognitive dissonance theory.

(Wikipedia)

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    This answer causes cognitive dissonance by its inapplicability and confusingness. – Wildcard Jan 21 '17 at 9:59
  • I can see the distinction between a word describing a false statement and cognitive dissonance however, I think cognitive dissonance describes exactly what the OP is looking for. Aesop's illustration of it "When the fox fails to reach the grapes, he decides he does not want them after all" in other words he lies to himself to console his ego. – Ron Royston Jan 21 '17 at 18:35
  • A decision isn't a lie. It's "true" (it is an actual decision) by definition. He gives up because he failed to get the grapes. I see where you are coming from, I just disagree. – Wildcard Jan 22 '17 at 5:40

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