The Excluded Middle Fallacy - Definition & Examples

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy
The Excluded Middle Fallacy - Definition & Examples

Introducing the fallacy of the Excluded Middle

The concept of this logical fallacy of the excluded middle has been around since Aristotle’s times. In our own times, it's a common rhetorical trick that is used by debaters to try and push unreasonable burdens onto their opponents, or frame the debate in a way most advantageous to their side.

In this post, we will discuss what the fallacy of the excluded middle is and provide some tips on how to identify it in arguments exchanged during discussions. Most importantly, we'll look at what to do when you spot your opponent using it against you, and how to reframe the debate to overcome it!

Definition and examples

The fallacy of the excluded middle, also known as a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy", is what happens when two options are presented as being the only possibilities when, in fact, there may be other options that exist. This fallacy operates on the principle that if one option is deemed false or impossible, then the other option must be true by default.

For example, in a debate on the topic This House Would Legalize All Drugs, the Government team(s) might try to persuade the judge that in order to win the debate, the Opposition are required to argue for all drugs to be illegal, with harsh criminal penalties for possession or use. But this isn't the case. The Opp have to argue for drugs not to be legalized - but beyond that, it's up to them how to frame their case and what they will choose to defend.

This sort of "burden pushing" is a common tactic in debates, and isn't necessarily illegitimate - it is in your interests to persuade the judge that the other side have to work as hard as possible to win the round! But it often rests on a logical fallacy that the only way to oppose a point of view is at the other extreme. Often, that isn't true.

Spotting the fallacy of the excluded middle in debates

To spot the excluded middle fallacy during a debate, listen for language that suggests only two options, ignore alternatives, or dismisses the possibility of a middle ground position. Common signs of this fallacy include the use of "either/or" language, ignoring alternative viewpoints, or dismissing the middle ground as "weak" or "indecisive."

Pay close attention any time the opponent name-checks your team, uses phrases like "the burden on our opponents..." or "what they have to prove to win the debate is...", particularly towards the beginning of their speeches. That's generally a sign that they are about to load an unwanted burden onto you!

Strategies to combat the fallacy of the excluded middle

To combat this tactic, you must learn to effectively reframe the argument in a way that you persuade the judge that your own position is the more reasonable, and that the burden being pushed on you by the opponent is unfair or incorrect. This process can start during prep time, when it is important to clarify with your teammates what burdens the motion places on you, and what your team stance will be on the central controversy of the debate. That way, it will be easier to immediately spot when the opponent is trying to paint your side into a more extreme or exaggerated position.

Once you're satisfied that your opponents are guilty of presenting the adjudicator with a false dichotomy, you should call it out in your next speech - but don't just accuse the other side of committing a logical fallacy and leave it at that! Instead, point out that you don't have to discharge the burden that they are trying to push onto you. Simply and clearly point out what the motion requires you to prove, and then follow up by demonstrating that you have already proved this, or are in the process of doing so.


The fallacy of the excluded middle is a common logical error in which an argument is presented as if there are only two options, when in fact there may be other possibilities. To spot this fallacy, debaters should be attuned to binary thinking and alert to opponents trying to depict your team's burden in an unreasonable light. If you hear someone using this fallacy, the best way to rebut it is to highlight the false dichotomy being presented and remind the adjudicator of what your actual burden is. Calmly steering the debate back onto the central clash mandated by the motion will put you a large step closer to winning - and may damage your opponent's credibility into the bargain.

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Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy