Reification (fallacy)

Reification (fallacy)


Reification (also known as concretism, or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness) is a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event, or physical entity.[1] In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea. For example: if the phrase "fighting for justice" is taken literally, justice would be reified.

Another common manifestation is the confusion of a model with reality. Mathematical or simulation models may help understand a system or situation but real life always differs from the model.

Note that reification is generally accepted in literature and other forms of discourse where reified abstractions are understood to be intended metaphorically,[1] but the use of reification in logical arguments is usually regarded as a fallacy. For example, "Justice is blind; the blind cannot read printed laws; therefore, to print laws cannot serve justice." In rhetoric, it may be sometimes difficult to determine if reification was used correctly or incorrectly.


From Latin res thing + facere to make, reification can be loosely translated as thing-making; the turning of something abstract into a concrete thing or object.


Reification often takes place when natural or social processes are misunderstood and/or simplified; for example when human creations are described as “facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will”.[2] Reification can also occur when a word with a normal usage is given an invalid usage, with mental constructs or concepts referred to as live beings. When human-like qualities are attributed as well, it is a special case of reification, known as pathetic fallacy (or anthropomorphic fallacy).

Nature provides empathy that we may have insight into the mind of others.

Reification may derive from an inborn tendency to simplify experience by assuming constancy as much as possible.[3]

Difference between reification and hypostatisation

Sometimes a distinction is drawn between reification and hypostatization based on the kinds of abstractions involved. In reification they are usually philosophical or ideological, such as existence, good, and justice.[1]

Fallacy of misplaced concreteness

In the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, one commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness when one mistakes an abstract belief, opinion or concept about the way things are for a physical or "concrete" reality.

There is an error; but it is merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. It is an example of what I will call the ‘Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.’[4]

Whitehead proposed the fallacy in a discussion of the relation of spatial and temporal location of objects. Whitehead rejects the notion that a concrete physical object in the universe can be ascribed a simple spatial or temporal extension, that is, without reference of its relations to other spatial or temporal extensions.

...among the primary elements of nature as apprehended in our immediate experience, there is no element whatever which possesses this character of simple location. ... [Instead,] I hold that by a process of constructive abstraction we can arrive at abstractions which are the simply located bits of material, and at other abstractions which are the minds included in the scientific scheme. Accordingly, the real error is an example of what I have termed: The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.[5]

The use of constructs in science

The concept of a "construct" has a long history in science; it is used in many, if not most, areas of science. A construct is a hypothetical explanatory variable that is not directly observable. For example, the concepts of motivation in psychology and center of gravity in physics are constructs -- they are not directly observable. The degree to which a construct is useful and accepted in the scientific community depends on empirical research that has demonstrated that a scientific construct has construct validity (especially, predictive validity).[6] Thus, if properly understood and empirically corroborated, the "reification fallacy" applied to scientific constructs is not a fallacy at all—it is one part of theory creation and evaluation in normal science.

Similar fallacies

Pathetic fallacy (also known as anthropomorphic fallacy or anthropomorphization) is a specific type of reification. Just as reification is the attribution of concrete characteristics to an abstract idea, a pathetic fallacy is when those characteristics are specifically human characteristics, thoughts, and feelings.[7] Pathetic fallacy is also related to personification, which is a direct and explicit in the ascription of life and sentience to the thing in question, whereas the pathetic fallacy is much broader and more allusive.

The animistic fallacy involves attributing intention of a person to an event or situation. This is usually not reification because the "real" attributes are given to the perceived person involved, and not the event or situation. For example, "The train's conductor must have been impatient, so we missed the train." (animistic fallacy), compared to "The train was impatient." (reification).

Reification fallacy should not be confused with other fallacies of ambiguity:

  • Accentus, where the ambiguity arises from the emphasis (accent) placed on a word or phrase
  • Amphiboly, a verbal fallacy arising from ambiguity in the grammatical structure of a sentence
  • Composition, when one assumes that a whole has a property solely because its various parts have that property
  • Division, when one assumes that various parts have a property solely because the whole has that same property
  • Equivocation, the misleading use of a word with more than one meaning

As a rhetorical device

Reification is commonly found in rhetorical devices such as metaphor and personification. In those cases we are usually not dealing with a fallacy but with rhetorical applications of language. The distinction is that the fallacy occurs during an argument that results in false conclusions. This distinction is often difficult to make, particularly when the fallacious use is intentional.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Logical Fallacies, Formal and Informal
  2. ^ David K. Naugle, Worldview: the history of a concept, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002, ISBN 0802847617, Google Print, p.178
  3. ^ David Galin in B. Alan Wallace, editor, Buddhism & Science: Breaking New Ground. Columbia University Press, 2003, page 132.
  4. ^ Whitehead, Alfred North (1997) [1925]. Science and the Modern World. Free Press (Simon & Schuster). p. 51. ISBN 0684836394. 
  5. ^ Whitehead, Alfred North (1925) [1919]. An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.. 
  6. ^ Kaplan, R. M., & Saccuzzo, D. P. (1997). Psychological Testing. Chapter 5. Pacific Grove: Brooks-Cole.
  7. ^ Reification fallacy as used in agnosticism and atheism discussions

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