Written by: Matthew Sabatine
Disclaimer: the following story reflects only the views of the author and not everyone at Common Issues.
Have you ever tried comparing two things, and then someone makes the eyebrow-raising comment: “This is like comparing apples and oranges. These don’t match!” Your disputer is trying to nail you for making a false equivalence. This type of fallacy occurs when the few shared characteristics of two opposing arguments are made to appear greater than they truly are, so that illusory parallels can be invented. Maybe you have witnessed the comparing-apples-to-oranges objection in political punditry and philosophical powwows.
I would like to use Batman and Aristotle in a story to illustrate my point. Never have the two met in an animated universe, but they will meet here in mine:
Batman and Aristotle walk into a bar
As Batman is strung out from a long day of fighting, and Aristotle is strung out from a long day of thinking, the two are expecting relief after entering their oasis at midnight. Batman sits on the stool and begins sipping his tequila, but is gloomily thinking about his day and having no relief after several drinks. Then, he is struck with a thought. He turns to Aristotle and says, “Dear friend, you are a great philosopher. Tell me, why is the harshness of this tequila much like the harshness of my failing to capture and defeat Joker?”
Aristotle feels a sense of humble confidence come over him as he says, “I am a philosopher and not a psychologist, so I can’t say much about why the tequila is affecting your mental state to make this comparison, but I can at least say that maybe the harshness is simply reminding you of how it felt when you failed. It can’t be said, objectively, that all failures to capture and defeat the Joker are as harsh as tequila.”
Batman stares adoringly into his half-empty tequila glass and begins singing: “when I taste tequila, baby I still see ya. Cutting up the floor in a sorority t-shirt…”
“Batman!” Aristotle yells. “Stay focused. Karaoke is next week.”
Batman continues singing: “I ain’t even drunk, I ain’t even drunk. And I’m thinking how I need your love, how I need your love. Yeah, it sinks in.”
Feeling annoyed, Aristotle yells, “Clearly, you are drunk if you are doing this.”
Batman runs his index finger around the rim of the glass, “I suppose this tequila reminds me of my failure because it is what I smelled and tasted the night I tried seizing him in another bar across town. He was brisk enough to grab a mug and toss it in my face to distract me as he ran.”
A slightly feminine murmur is heard from Batman as a tear streams down his face. “Aristotle, am I caught in a false equivalence fallacy? How can I escape this?”
Aristotle consolingly pats Batman on the back, “My friend, this is not really a false equivalence. It is more like a bad simile.” Aristotle sits on the stool with his chin resting on wrist and his thinking face on full display. “Mmmm…the tequila harshness of the joker is something worthy of a panel discussion with the rest of the philosophers of Athens. Batman, do you desire to have the kind of tequila harshness that can outmatch the Joker’s?”
Batman stares at Aristotle, increasingly puzzled. The two allowed a pause to go on for what felt like eternity before Batman finally states, “Aristotle, I may need to consult with Alfred on this.”
“Okay, Batman. Perhaps instead of using such fallacious reasoning about the joker and tequila, we can focus on how tequila’s refined and sophisticated quality, similar to bourbon, brandy, and even cognac, reminds us of our successes in apprehending and thrashing our enemies.”
Batman’s stress is mounting which is causing him to drink his tequila faster before quaveringly setting the glass on the bar. Batman’s voice deepens and slurs a bit as he says, “First of all, my battles with enemies do not usually occur in bars. I am the nocturnal eagle-eyed vigilante facing his enemies in the streets and sleuthing on them from the rooftops. Aside from that, what really hurts me now is my inability to properly use comparisons and similes to understand my enemies and the gang bangers of this cursed city.”
Batman slams his fist on the bar, “Gang bangers wear hoodies to cover their heads. Nuns use habits to cover their heads. I’ve got it now! Nuns do not morally surpass gang-bangers and are, therefore, also my enemies.”
Aristotle does a facepalm before exclaiming to Batman, “One property that is shared among two things shouldn’t make us assume that an equivalence exists! Equivalence is not the required logical result. A nun is not equally likely as a gangbanger to rob a gas station at gunpoint just because she covers her head as does the gangbanger. This shared feature among the two doesn’t necessitate that all other features are shared too. You are also making a hasty generalization fallacy, considering that all gang bangers don’t wear hoodies, nor do all nuns don habits.”
“Wow! Aristotle! Your brilliance never ceases to amaze me. I am now amazed just as much as I was when I finally understood the theory of evolution in college.” Batman feels a bit of relief.
“Wait…What? You believe in the theory of evolution?” Aristotle feels speechless for a while before he tries to quip, “If we evolved from monkeys, why do monkeys still exist?”
“Oh Aristotle. This is a run-of-the-mill question in attempt to reject the theory of evolution. What the question misunderstands is that evolution doesn’t indicate that we evolved from monkeys. Instead, we share a common ancestor with monkeys.”
Aristotle leans in closer to Batman to be heard over the dark dubstep music that has begun playing.
“You see, Batman.
There you go again making fallacious conclusions based on shared traits between
Batman became rather agitated and stated, “Wait right there, friend. This is where an analogy is justified to understand the past and present. Okay? Where did Protestants come from?”
Aristotle’s thinking face is on full display again. He ponders for a minute and then says, “Well, I don’t know. The Protestants emerged onto the scene hundreds of years after my time. I wasn’t there to witness their emergence nor their precursors.”
“Aristotle, you are talking about hundreds of years as if to imply that you are…” Batman suddenly gasps as he experiences his revelation, “Wait…you are ancient and had traveled forward in time. This exposes a huge part of your secret identity after having me believe you are from my time.”
“Well, Batman, you should have paid more attention during philosophy class. I am a prominent figure in the department of ancient Greek philosophy. Why should I share my secret identity with you when you won’t share yours with me? Besides, I already know you are Bruce Wayne.”
“Wait…how? What? You know my identity? Don’t say my name too loudly.” Batman says this as the dark dubstep music continues playing raucously.
“Batman, we are derailing from the other important topic. Finish your analogy about the theory of evolution.” Aristotle says this anxiously.
“All right. So, do you remember learning about Martin Luther, the 95 theses attached to the church door, and the Reformation? Those were the Protestants.”
“Oh! They came from Catholics. Yes!” stated Aristotle.
“And Catholics are still here. Right? The Christian church divided into two branches, which today we call Catholic and Protestant. Something isn’t required to become extinct after it spawns a new line of descent. This might be too simplistic of an analogy based on religious history, but it’s quite similar to what happened with primate evolution many tens of millions of years ago, when the branch that led to today’s monkeys diverged from the branch leading to the great apes, of which we are one. Lastly, it would be wrong to assume that the monkeys of today look the same as those from millions of years ago. They have changed just as much as we have. I can’t take full credit for this analogy, as it was taken and modified from Kenneth R. Miller’s book called The Human Instinct–How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will . I read that one recent night as I was bored and traveling home in my Batmobile. What do you think?”
“Batman, how can you read and drive at the same time?”
“Aristotle, it is called self-driving mode. Get with the times, my friend.”
Aristotle begins talking with a bit of a stutter, “This is an unbelievable comparison that fails to validate the formation of new species from an ancestral population. Your analogy using shared traits to invent an illusory equivalence doesn’t impress me. If you would want to agree with the fallacy of false equivalence, we could also claim that apples and oranges are the same fruit merely because they both contain seeds.”
“Wow! Aristotle, you are usually brilliant, but your error of reasoning appears to be unpardonable, here. Hopefully, our friendship is salvageable. I would never want to say that apples are the same fruit as oranges. This fallacy is so simply understood that it has never been able to mislead me since my undergraduate school days. The apples-to-oranges idiom is a bad way of explaining one’s mistake.”
Batman goes on:
“Here is what I have learned from Smithsonian.com: Malus x domestica (the apple) and Citrus sinensis (the navel orange) have an 89.2 million years of evolutionary difference, but they both come from fruit trees. They are both round, edible, sweet, and can be juiced. Obvious differences would be the color; apples are smooth whereas oranges are knobby; apples’ seeds are visible whereas the visibility of oranges’ seeds depends on the variety. They have a 2.1-gram difference of fiber, a 17-gram weight difference, a 1.2 circumference difference, a 0.3 diameter difference, and a negligible caloric difference. These differences aren’t felt when holding and tasting them. For health reasons, you may want to pay more attention to the potassium and vitamin C differences. ”
Aristotle now says, “I am incredulous, Batman.”
Batman slams his fist on the bar again. A troubled Aristotle pulls away from Batman, asking, “My dear friend! Why be so angry like this?”
“Aristotle, I simply can’t tolerate the kind of pedantic nitpicking that people employ with the bad apples-to-oranges idiom when they can’t think of a more substantial counterargument.”
“The night is young, Batman! We have a lot left to drink, more women to see, and more bar-hopping to finish, so we can’t allow this contentiousness to put a damper on our fun this night.”
“Aristotle, I always saw you as a philosopher, but never a carousing philosopher. I am shocked, but also rather amused.”
Aristotle begins dancing on the table while singing, “Oooooohhhhh! I wanna dance with some-buuudaaay! I wanna feel the heat with some-buuudaaay!”
“Aristotle!” Batman interruptedly screams, “Don’t you know proper etiquette? Get down from there. Whitney Houston songs aren’t your forte. Your intoxication levels must be maximized.”
It was at this point that Superman walked into the bar and Batman immediately greeted him. “Superman! What brings you here this evening?” An inconvenienced Superman states, “I can’t believe this is the third time this week I have to carry this misbehaving menace out of this bar.” Batman responds, “Really? I can’t believe I just saved a bunch of money on my Batmobile insurance by switching to Geico.”
“Seriously?” Says Superman. “They called me to come here during a Geico commercial and I am not getting paid as an actor? I shall take my suave face and debonair hair elsewhere to get the payment I deserve.”
About the author: Matthew is interested in discussing social psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, sociology, human biology and anatomy, mental health disorders, philosophy, the psychology of religion, and the history of religion. Matthew loves his friends, his family, and his dog named Sampson. You can contact Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 R. Miller, Kenneth, The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will, Publisher: Simon & Schuster 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020 (April 17, 2018). Print.