Historical fallacy

The historical fallacy is a logical fallacy originally described by philosopher John Dewey in The Psychological Review in 1896. Most simply put, the fallacy occurs when a person believes that results occur only because of the process taken to obtain them. Dewey writes:

"A set of considerations which hold good only because of a completed process, is read into the content of the process which conditions this completed result. A state of things characterizing an outcome is regarded as a true description of the events which led up to this outcome; when, as a matter of fact, if this outcome had already been in existence, there would have been no necessity for the process."[1]


  • A man loses his wallet but has an idea of where it might be.
  • He looks for his wallet and finds it where he thought it may have been.
  • The man falsely concludes that he knew where his wallet was the entire time.
  • Thus, the man incorrectly concludes that knowing where to look (i.e., the process) was essential to his finding the wallet (ie. the result)[2]


  1. ^ The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology, John Dewey, The Psychological Review, VOL. III. No. 4. July 1896. p. 367
  2. ^ "Historical fallacy". APA Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. n.d.

Further readingEdit