The Reification Fallacy

I have written a few posts about the logical problem of making an abstract concept concrete:

This rhetorical trick is called “The Reification Fallacy” and goes by several other names:

  • Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness (Whitehead)
  • Concretism
  • Concretizing the Abstract
  • Hypostatisation: [Gk. hypostatos: substantially existing] attributing real identity to (a concept).  See Hypostasis in theology (wiki)
  • Ontological Fallacy

Reification Fallacy is the error of treating an invented idea as a concrete thing.  For example if someone, “I fought with my boss today”, “boss” is a concrete thing.  But if someone says, “During the war, I fought for justice”,  “justice” is abstract.  “Justice”, in this case is only an amalgam of ideas particular to that speaker.  Everyone has a different idea of “justice”, but if we start to think that “justice” is a real thing which we must search for the truth about, and we forget that we created the idea, then we would be reifying “justice”. The trouble comes when we start to think of abstractions as if they were concrete realities themselves.  These abstractions are only useful if people use them to talk about ideas they agree about, it only works for in-house echo-chamber conversations.  But they can be used very deceptively too.  Thus, abstractions can be used as quick heuristics for useful communication or tools to deceive ourselves and others.  So it is important to remember the difference between abstractions and real things.

The Reification Fallacy is a type of Ambiguity Fallacy (see: Fallacy Files) and I have illustrated its place on the Fallacy Taxonomy above. Interestingly, I can’t find the “Reification Fallacy” discussed in the “Fallacy Files”. But here are some sources that do discuss it:

8 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “The Reification Fallacy

  1. From both a physicist’s & a Buddhist’s point of view, do we not apply this reification fallacy universally—even to the ceramic mug we drink our coffee from each morning?

  2. Hey, Daniel,
    I thought you were a Kindergarden teacher!? Or did you major in Physics decades ago and are still using that title? 🙂

    Reification is the process of taking an ABSTRACT notion (of which a ceramic mug is not one) and making it concrete (like a coffee mug).
    Does that make sense?

    So in Buddhist circles: You see self as ’empty’ and then imagine a thing called ’emptiness’ and then eulogize “Emptiness” — with a capital “E”.

  3. Must eliminate desire… Must eradicate sin…
    So do you think that reification is behind the creation of gods and goddesses used to symbolize an abstract notion? Satan for sin, Manjushri for knowledge, etc?

  4. @ancientwaykevin,
    Sorry, I did not follow your first line.
    Reification is definitely one of many manipulative ways to get folks to make believers and patriots. Religions, Politics and Business and more uses all human foibles to sell their wares.

    @ myrthryn,
    Thanks for the compliment, but out of principle I refuse to participate. Never liked chain letters. Though, as you know, I have been suckered into MLM in my past. I hope that is thought-provoking without being to much of a jerk. 😦

  5. Earnest

    I anthropomorphise inanimate objects all the time, is that on topic?

  6. KrisB

    Isn’t reification a kind of objectification?….various online dictionaries give it as a synonym, i tend to think of it in computer terms, say when you compress a file into a zip format, at that moment you’ve packaged everything that is into something that can be conveniently labelled. So, in buddhist terms, an aggregated thing has become a singular thing.

    In reality, phenomena which at heart are thoroughly insubstantial are temporarily given spurious substantiality. In regard to reification, considering the imagined as real, if this is the habitual operation of the mind what does it mean to recover reality?

    “Reality” isn’t spoken of in the absolute sense by Buddha i.e. reified & thus packaged conveniently. Only that you shall see things as they are, thus avoiding the Advaita dichotomy of real v imaginary.

    So what i’m trying to say is that reification is reversed when we de-objectify, and when we de-objectify we find what were considered as objects are empty. To buddhists, empty of self, for in the notion of self thereby is begotten essentialism in all other forms.

  7. KrisB

    Hello Sabio, could you remove the above comment and this comment as well.

    I’m not yet quite sick of myself as i should be concerning my own personal schtick with regard to buddhism – to wit, my fascination with my consciousness which manifests itself as meta-thoughts(are there any other kind?..all thoughts are about something) on buddhism

    All this is deleterious to my spiritual life given i am, in fact, by grace of a different religion

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