Fallacies: The Taxi Cab Fallacy


The taxi cab fallacy is likely mis-attributed to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. It runs something like this:

“Science is not a taxi-cab that we can get in and out of whenever we like”

Borwen and Bailey used it recently in an otherwise well-written critique of some of our less logically rigorous politicians. There are a couple of problems with their usage. First, the cranky Schopenhauer likely never said anything of the kind. Second, it’s not really a fallacy, although it is a useful metaphor.

Arthur Shoepenhauer was a German philosopher. WC finds him cranky, tedious, misogynistic and racist. But he influenced a lot of later, better-known philosophers, including Friedrich Nietzsche. He lived from 1788-1860, so it’s fairly doubtful he knew what a taxi was. And “science,” as a means of thinking, was in its infancy, and an area where he did not do a lot of writing. He devoted a lot of energy to reinterpreting Plato, just to give you an idea. So it is highly unlikely he ever uttered the quotation attributed to him, and nearly certain he never wrote it in any of his voluminous writings.

WC made a half-hearted effort to run down the real origin of the quote. It seems to have originated, or perhaps the erroneous attribution originated, with Christian theological discussion. For example, it is used to defend the Christian world view by StreetApologetics:

A detractor of the Christian worldview cannot hop into the Christian system of thought by erecting an objection grounded in the Bible and then demand an answer be given without the use of a Bible.  Again, they cannot appeal to the Bible in raising their question and then insist we throw our Bible out of the equation when we give an answer!

But that’s not describing a fallacy. At least not a logical fallacy. That is simple inconsistency.

Borwen and Bailey were pointing out that Senator Mario Rubio’s pandering equivocation on the age of the earth impliedly rejects the consistency of radioactive decay as a basis for determining the age of the earth. Yet Senator Rubio probably uses global positioning system for navigation, and the GPS satellites that enable that navigation rely upon the ultra-precise timing and consistency of radioactive decay.

WC suspects that all of the Christianists and their pretenders who insist upon a literal interpretation of the Bible engage in similar inconsistencies. Science and technology are such a part of our lives that, in America at least, unless you are living a Mennonite lifestyle, you are taking advantage of and relying upon the science you deny. It’s intellectually dishonest. It’s unhealthy denial.

Blinkers may be suitable for a horse – WC is no horseman – but it is odd behavior in humans, a refusal to use the curiosity that makes us what we are.

But it isn’t a logical fallacy. And Schopenhauer didn’t say it.

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2 thoughts on “Fallacies: The Taxi Cab Fallacy

  1. A very minor note: Schopenhauer could have actually been familiar with horse-drawn taxi cabs during his lifetime. At least in London, small two-wheeled Hansom cabs were a fixture in the mid 19th century, through to the invention of the automobile. There were other designs before that, extending back into at least the 18th century.

    Nitpicking aside, my favorite observation about the hypocrisy of anti-science religious whack jobs is this: drug testing relies utterly on the fact that certain animals (particularly monkeys and chimpanzees) have well-established similarity in biological structures to humans, and these similarities are essential in being able to take the result of a primate trial for a medication and using that to establish definitively that the medication is safe in humans without extensive testing. This is particularly important in chemotherapy drugs.

    So if you don’t believe in the evolutionary biology that is a critical underpinning of pharmacology, then you have no business taking any drug that has been approved by the FDA, from aspirin on up to the most cutting-edge life-prolonging cholesterol, cancer, etc. drugs. And you have no basis using anesthesia during any medical procedure, either.

  2. I have found a few examples of this type of logical fallacy being used by fairly intelligent people. The man who “does not believe in Evolution” is a highly skilled and paid aircraft mechanic who works on jet engines. Sometimes it just makes my head hurt.

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