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 the results that occur only happen because of the process taken to achieve these results. 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.

This man incorrectly assumes that he knew where the wallet was all along, and believes that knowing where to look for it led to his finding the wallet.[2]


  1. ^ The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology, John Dewey, The Psychological Review, VOL. III. No. 4. July 1896. p. 367
  2. ^ APA Dictionary of Psychology

Further readingEdit

  • Good, J.A. (2005). A Search for Unity in Diversity: The 'Permanent Hegelian Deposit' in the Philosophy of John Dewey. Lexington Books. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-7391-6066-4. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  • The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology (1896)
  • APA Dictionary of Psychology