All or None Thinking

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All or none thinking, a term closely related to and often used interchangeably with black and white thinking, either/or thinking, and false dichotomy, is a thinking process and logical fallacy in which a person sees only two distinct sides to an idea, when the idea is actually more subtle or complex, and has a range of components to it.

This idea is related to our rules of communication, which state "Talk about shades of gray and complexities where they exist," and "Do not use black-and-white categories unless there is a consensus that something fits into simple categories." All or none thinking is an example of clouded thinking, and can keep someone from thinking clearly.

Examples of all or none thinking

Either/or statements

This includes statements like:

  • "You're either liberal or conservative."
  • "You're either with us or against us." Statements like this can alienate people from a group or organization, because a person might not be sure about their cause, but still want to help them in some ways, yet be perceived as an enemy because they aren't fully on board with it.
  • "You either believe it or you don't." This statement is often not true, because people can have a range of uncertainty about their beliefs.

All or nothing reasoning

This includes lines of reasoning like:

  • "I made a mistake. The whole project is ruined!"
  • "He said something I don't agree with. I can't trust him at all." This idea is fallacious because it is very unlikely for a person to agree with someone else completely, and there are many ways to trust someone. Even if you don't trust someone's opinion, you still might trust their reliability.
  • "She turned me down when I asked her out. She must not care about me at all." This idea is fallacious because caring about someone is a different idea from wanting to go out with them. Turning someone down can be a caring thing to do, so as not to lead the person on.