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Proving too much

Proving too much, in philosophy, is a logical fallacy which occurs when an argument reaches the desired conclusion in such a way as to make that conclusion only a special case or corollary consequence of a larger, obviously absurd conclusion. It is a fallacy because, if the reasoning were valid, it would hold for the absurd conclusion.

For example,

  • Pascal's wager, ostensibly to prove that one should believe in God, proves too much, because it can be used to justify belief in any God who rewards and punishes at all.
  • Anselm's Ontological Argument, that God exists because he is the greatest conceivable being and to exist is greater than to not exist, proves too much, because the same line of reasoning can be used to prove the existence of anything which is the most perfect, from islands to jelly doughnuts.[1]

The judgement of fallacy is therefore largely dependent on a normative judgement of the "absurd" conclusion. A charge of "proving too much" is thus generally invoked, rightly or wrongly, against normatively-opposed conclusions, and so such chargers are often controversial at the time they are made, as in the following examples pertaining to slavery and laissez-faire economics:

  • The Georgia-born American educator Henry Coppée in 1850 described in his "Elements of Rhetoric" that if one argues that slavery is evil because masters are put into situations where they can beat slaves to death, then marriage and parenthood are also evil because domestic violence exists.[2]
  • Economist Walter Block states that the argument "because perfect competition does not exist in a free market, government must intervene," proves too much. "It argues, in effect, that 1) reality does not resemble an arbitrarily contrived model of the world; 2) reality should resemble this model; and therefore 3) the government should step in, to bring the world into closer conformity with the model. But almost anything can be 'proven' with this line of reasoning. Substitute for perfect competition objects moving faster than the speed of light, or people having more than two arms, and further government intervention can easily be justified. Even were it true, however, that the market is somehow deficient because the pinnacle of perfect competition has not been attained, it by no means follows that further state encroachments on the economy would improve matters."[3]

Showing that an opponent has proved too much is a form of reductio ad absurdum.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Mizrahi, Moti. "On Proving Too Much". Acta Analytica.
  2. ^ Coppée, Henry (1850). Elements of rhetoric: designed as a manual of instruction. J.H. Butler & Co. p. 234.
  3. ^ W Block (1989), The Justification of Taxation in the Public Finance Literature: An Unorthodox View (PDF), Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice