Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

Depression and Logical Fallacies, Part 3

My final post on the manifestation of logical fallacies in depressed thinking.

This will be the third and last post in a series dealing with the ways in which depressed thinking is also illogical thinking. The hope is that for some people dealing with depression, this might be of help. Depressed thinking involves magnification or minimization, labeling and mislabeling, and personalization.

  • Magnification or Minimization:  Here, a person is unable to see things from the proper perspective. She might magnify her own setbacks or shortcomings, while minimizing her achievements. We all can engage in such thinking, but for the depressed person it can deepen her feelings of depression and be a common way in which to view the world. This type of thinking commits the fallacy of unacceptable premise. The person engaging in such thoughts is drawing conclusions that are not warranted by the premises. For example, "Breaking my diet makes me a failure" is not a belief supported by good evidence, but it can seem so to the depressed person.
  • Labeling or Mislabeling:  In these scenarios, a person wrongly attributes negative traits to himself with emotionally charged language. For example, I fail to get a promotion at work, and I tell myself that "I'm such a loser." Such labels/mislabels can also be applied to others. A man who has some minor disagreements with his wife and because of this he might label her as "selfish" or something worse. Such thinking commits the fallacy of insufficient evidence, as in each case the person is drawing conclusions that are denigrating and not supported by the evidence.
  • Personalization: This occurs when a person takes him or herself to be the primary or sole cause of some event in a way that is simply not true. A child might be acting out at daycare or in school, and the parents may be filled with feelings of guilt or inadequacy. There could be a variety of reasons for such behavior apart from parental failure, and we need to recognize our limitations and the scope of our responsibility for the behavior of others, even our own children. When we do think in this way, however, we commit the fallacy of false cause. This happens when we believe there is a causal connection between two events when no such connection exists.

I think there are likely many other forms of depressed thinking which manifest many other types of logical fallacies. The point of this series of posts is not that medication is unnecessary. In many cases, it is. Many cannot address these patterns of thought until some of the emotions are brought under control.  However, if the depressed person can recognize and correct some of his illogical patterns of thought, he is one step closer to a better and more fulfilled life.

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Much of the above was drawn from an article published by William Irwin and Gregory Bassham, "Depression, Informal Fallacies, and Cognitive Therapy: The Critical Thinking Cure?" Inquiry (2003): 15-21. Another resource which might be helpful that is discussed by Irwin and Bassham is Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by David Burns.

Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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