Failure to Eliminate Alternatives

Every other time, you come across an article that makes an argument and reaches an assertive conclusion as the only end that could ever be, given the context addressed in the argument. However, you can tell that there are relevant aspects the article didn’t consider before deriving its conclusion. In logical reasoning, arguments with such flaws toe the lines of exclusivity fallacies and are faulted for their failure to eliminate alternatives.

Failure to eliminate alternatives is a logical flaw that occurs when the options presented and addressed in an argument are limited or fails to consider non-exclusive options that are vital to the conclusion reached. With such arguments, the conclusion can be weakened by simply pointing out scenarios where the conclusion doesn’t apply. Hence, the conclusion can’t be said to be conclusive unless there is another assumption that excludes the scenario.

Beyond articles or other forms of publications, the failure to eliminate alternatives flaw is a common flaw that can be found in everyday interactions. It could come as a very convincing conclusion. Other times, you may be able to spot it even before the speaker arrives at their conclusion.

To get a better understanding of this error, let’s consider a quick example:

Howard: John couldn’t get a PS5 console when it was released on the official site.
Now that the consoles are sold out, he will never own a PS5!

When you consider Howard’s statement attentively, you can fish out a lot of plot holes in his reasoning. Is the official site the only avenue to purchase a PS5? There are lots of online and physical stores that offer the product. What if John gets one as a gift? What if he enters a competition and wins one? What if the official site puts another batch of PS5 consoles on sale? Also, John could have gotten a console during the official release but kept it a secret from Howard.

There are lots of relevant alternatives that Howard failed to account for before making an assertive conclusion. Therefore, his logic is flawed and faults on the failure to eliminate alternatives.

How do you determine if reasoning or an argument has failed to eliminate alternatives? It is quite simple, ask yourself, “Did the argument fail to consider other possibilities?” Arguments that fail to exclude or account for alternative explanations for an observation are flawed, and their conclusion cannot be considered as a given.

For a more extensive grasp of this flaw, let’s take a look at an article, observe the errors therein its argument, and how failure to eliminate alternatives flaw comes into view in the publication.

Article Review: The Police Are Not Here To Protect You

Let’s dive in and address some of the failure to eliminate alternatives flaws that could be found in this article.

Error 1:

“The bulk of police officers work in patrol. They take reports, engage in random patrol, address parking and driving violations and noise complaints, issue tickets, and make arrests for drinking in public, possession of small amounts of drugs, or the vague ‘disorderly conduct’. Officers I’ve shadowed on patrol describe their days as ‘99 percent boredom and 1 percent sheer terror’ — and even that 1 percent is a bit of an exaggeration for most officers.”

The author is trying to prove that the bulk of police tasks aren’t structured to protect you, but every task mentioned could be considered as an act tending towards the protection of individuals by the police. Even though the tasks are portrayed to seem minute or inconsequential, what are the alternative scenarios that should be accounted for when the police are or aren’t available to carry out these tasks?

Unaccounted Alternatives:

Neighbors could engage in a disastrous fight if one refuses to tone down their noise. Random patrols increase police officers’ chance of being within close proximity of probable crime scenes or accident scenes. Hence, they are able to defuse situations and protect lives on the go. Individuals/dealers arrested for possessing small amounts of drugs stand a chance of being introduced to rehabilitation facilities, thus protecting the lives of those who are at risk of overdosing if they bought/consumed the drugs.

Error 2:

“The police do not prevent crime…yet the police pretend that they are society’s best defense against crime and continually argue that if they are given more resources, especially personnel, they will be able to protect communities against crime. This is a myth.”

Here, the author argues that the police do not prevent crime and implies that the police will never do so, even if more resources are at their disposal.

Unaccounted Alternatives:

Who prevents crime? Who has been preventing crime? Have communities never been protected by the police, or is there evidence that the police can’t protect communities with more resources? Does the proliferation of crime mean that police efforts to combat crimes are null and void?

Error 3:

“The reality is that the police exist primarily as a system for managing and even producing inequality by suppressing social movements and tightly managing the behaviors of poor and non-white people: those on the losing end of economic and political arrangements.”

“Any real agenda for police reform must replace police with empowered communities working to solve their own problems…”

“Policing will never be a just or effective tool for community empowerment, much less racial justice…we don’t need empty police reforms – we need a robust democracy that gives people the capacity to demand of their government and themselves real, non-punitive solutions to their problems.”

The article goes further to discredit the instituted police motto – to serve and to protect – to state that the police exist primarily for other purposes. It lingers on the societal perception of statutory and racial prejudice within police units, to belittle the collective objective of entire police units as an arm of law enforcement. And then goes on to postulate that policing will never be a tool for community empowerment.

Unaccounted Alternatives:

The article failed to consider various community policing programs sprawled across the country, and their positive effect thus far. It also fails to acknowledge that police officers are also members of the community. The police works alongside other members of the community to solve problems prevalent in the communities, and have proven to be just in numerous cases. Community policing town hall meetings also exist across communities, where residents and the police meet to discuss solutions to their problems and how to protect lives better.

The title could have been written better

From the title, one thing feels certain; the police are not here to protect you. It could have said the police might not protect you or that there are conditions that could determine whether the police will protect you or not. The stance taken by the article was pretty straightforward and assertive. But even without perusing the article, we already know through individual/group experiences or interactions that the police do protect, and will protect you depending on given conditions. Hence, the title which takes the stance of a fact is, in fact, not factual.

The article has failed to actually account for ‘You’, ‘your experience’ and ‘your probable future experience’ as an alternative before drawing its conclusion. Rather, it considered limited options (racial prejudice and social perceptions) as a basis for covering a subject matter that has a very wide range. It failed to eliminate a lot of alternatives before arriving at its conclusion.

The article could have simply addressed police racial prejudice and negative social perceptions, and tackled them as a subject. Most importantly, the article could have done so without casting aspersions on the entire police force or saying they are not here to protect you – or anyone for that matter. In doing so, logical flaws would be greatly minimized, and the argument becomes more convincing and stronger.

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