The Fallacy of Inapt Abstraction

Whitehead famously picked out the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness, also called the Fallacy of Reification, of Hypostatization, or of Concretism. It is committed “when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete real event or physical entity.” Popular discourse is rife with such fallacies: as, e.g., treating terrorism, racism, hate, anthropogenic global warming, patriarchy, and so forth as if they were concrete reals.

I’ve always cordially disliked those terms for the phenomenon. I like better the Fallacy of Inapt Concretion. That’s just me. But this is my essay, so I’m going to use it hereinafter.

In general, we may understand the Fallacy of Inapt Concretion as treating an idea as if it were actual in its own right; i.e., as if the idea all by itself could *do* things, the way that agents can do. Ideas can of course inform concrete actualities, and so doing influence their acts. But when this happens, it is not the idea itself that is acting, or that therefore is concrete, but rather the actuality that is informed by that idea.

To get sufficiently clear on this concept, we must distinguish between an idea and its concrete instantiations; between as it were the genotype and the phenotype of memes.

As to the former, the genotype of a meme is its formal specification, whereas the phenotype of a meme is its actual implementation by an actual entity. Memes are actual at all then only as aspects of the intellects in which they have been instantiated, and so have operated and interacted with other similarly instantiated memes, and then expressed in action.

The formal specification of a meme is of course also itself a meme.

I’m getting down into the weeds a bit here to begin with, only so that what I am about to say is – I hope – more clear. And that is this:

The reciprocal of the Fallacy of Inapt Concretion is the Fallacy of Inapt Abstraction.

This fallacy is committed when a concrete real is treated as if it were nothing but an abstract concept. It is found in the phenomenon of scapegoating, wherein a concrete person or thing is destroyed in an attempt to destroy an abstract evil that characterizes and so plagues the whole community. The move is obviously foolish; the only way to destroy the evil of the community is for each member thereof to abstain from it, and this just never happens, because very few actually want to stop doing evil.

Perhaps the greatest example of the Fallacy of Inapt Abstraction is to be seen in the murder by Communist regimes of millions upon millions of concrete individual persons, because they were thought to be salients of ideas that were politically incorrect. The same sort of thing goes on in the West today, albeit far less violently.

Signaling virtue without going to the trouble of actually being virtuous is another manifestation of the Fallacy. E.g., announcing on Facebook that you are against hate, and then doing nothing about actual acts of hatred in your own vicinity – especially such acts as tend to occur within your own cranium.

The Fallacy is epitomized also in the wry autodeprecation that “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.”

9 thoughts on “The Fallacy of Inapt Abstraction

  1. Pingback: The Fallacy of Inapt Abstraction | Reaction Times

    • It’s rife with both inapt concretion and inapt abstraction, I’ll wager. Perhaps that sort of inaptitude is what characterizes clever sillies. Much easier to fall into such errors regarding what is concrete when one deals in abstractions only, day after day.

      That of course has come to be the case for much of the rest of the culture, too; at least, for the “knowledge workers” among them.

  2. Pingback: Cantandum In Ezkhaton 04/07/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

  3. Thoughts:

    Heb 8:1 “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. 3For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 4Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; 5who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “SEE,” He says, “THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.” 6But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.”

    “who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” is in one interpretation, akin to Platonic Forms. Of course, if Christ is God (“three hypostases in one ousia”) Christ created Plato’s thought. And. Every other thought. If one is created by God, their Thoughts are created by God. Their Thoughts are not their own.

    Religiously motivated militant combatants kill one another in just wars to uphold doctrinal purity. Heb 9: 22 “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Try doing your hypothetical laundry with that method in mind and the results would fall far short of Ivory Snow Soap’s advertised quality standard.

    The Just War winner writes history and controls the narrative. The military (those doing the killing) finally took notice that they need not take military orders from religious authorities that claim power originating from the One Invisible Spirit, or interpretation of holy books authored by same. Thus, that pivot point for the West was generally the Enlightenment, separation of Church from State – secular humanism.

    Although I empathize greatly with Christians in the zone of conservatism, right leaning, (other semantically preferable words others might choose that fit more correctly into their world view), who among us/them, would want to take orders from Rome (or insert Correct Religious Political Representative)?, the Divine Right of Kings, etc.

    Thus the paradox of Christians living in a post-Christiandom representative government world, with the West-Left promoting decadence/decline. And the Christian-Right-ish-isms fighting back to uphold some form of Goodness in the world. An epic titanic struggle for the minds of men and women at the core of its traditional identity definitions (the poisonous social construct attack intended for All Oppressed Minority Groups to Rule Over the White Male Phallologocentric Patriarchal Majority).

    My point about your point, “The Fallacy of Inapt Abstraction” is that it’s not a fallacy for any True Believer (in the Eric Hoffer sense: ( We live in a world of competing Truth’s. One person’s truth is another’s fallacy. The fallacy of the fallacy ad infinitum.
    And yet the whole world is claimed to have bought into a fallacy: Rev 12: 9 “And the great dragon was hurled down – the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

    Regardless of the correct or incorrect attribution of:

    “To be is to do.” – Kant
    “To do is to be.” – Sartre
    “Do-be-do—do-be-do” – Sinatra ….

    … From a mass movement/groupthink perspective, the individual finds oneself born/thrust into the world against their will, buying into an predetermined idea and identity, and acting within that fixed form/domain. It’s rarer that one self-reflects upon that circumstance, and elects to change directionally based on some motivation.

    This is not intended to be Against , “The Fallacy of Inapt Abstraction”. I’m just riffing further on its problematic implications in general. If anything, I am Against Nihilism. I am For Virtue (as a Thing in Itself, Archetype, Platonic/Heavenly Form of the Good ,etc.) and For not throwing the Christian morality baby out with the bathwater.

    Thank you for your post.


    • Thanks, WT, and welcome to the Orthosphere.

      A quibble: that God creates everything does not mean he does everything. If our acts (including our thoughts) were not really ours, but rather God’s, then they would not actually exist: only God then would actually exist. We would not then exist, at all. But we do exist. QED. So, somehow or other, our thoughts must be our own, even though God creates us at every moment of our lives.

      • Kristor, I understand and agree with the basis of your quibble. That would be the implication. God as a singular unity renders us all literal figments of God’s imagination because “In Him we live and move and have our being.” And I don’t endorse the position. I’m more a pluralist. If 1 thing can exist uncreated … ahem, …. unearned, then why not 2? and so on, and so on.

        If souls are immortal then we were and are perhaps uncreated and God-like. And were all once higher beings fallen to a lower level for crimes Unspeakable in our former state. This would make us individual stakeholders in making full restitution, and working out our own salvation in fear and trembling.

        It would be hard in cosmic court for the defendant to plead innocent to the charge of multiple child murders by claiming scapegoat privilege in the Murder of the Correct Child.

        Jesus said to the Jews “You are of your father the devil. He was a murderer from the beginning.” Yet there is no Easter Resurrection Christian forgiveness for the Deicide guilty Jews, and they don’t believe the Roman version of the salvation story. And Team Jesus house divided against itself can’t muster the marketing offer persuasive enough to get the Jews to buy in. So Christianity has a core counterintuitive absurd moral problem baked into its DNA.

        I think most Christians are scratching the surface of a much deeper historical and current child sacrifice problem for which most fear to explore.

        I cannot negate Christianity. It exists. And it’s existence (the hope that human suffering and death can be overcome with help from friends visible and invisible) is evidence that life is first and foremost a moral journey of shit-shoveling Herculean eating in the sweat of our brow labor pain.

        In other words. We pay. Not a scapegoat.

        Speculation yes. But morally logical by the standard of all other scapegoating being morally reprehensible.


      • Well, I have a number of new quibbles with what you’ve just written here.

        There can be only one uncreate being because, by the definition of ultimate, there can be only one ultimate. An uncreate being is an eternal being. If there were two eternal beings, neither one would be ultimate with respect to the other, and there would be no ultimate. So if there were two uncreate beings, then there would be no ultimate: no God.

        Humans and angels are immortal, but not eternal. There being at most one uncreate being, angels and humans are created. So, unlike God, they have beginnings. They are everlasting because they have no endings. It runs thus: God is eternal; angels and demons are aeviternal; and humans are sempiternal.

        We can be stakeholders in our own salvation without being fallen gods. The completely natural obligation to live a righteous life, and to make fit compensation for our defects, sins, and errors is enough. Or it ought to be. Hell is enough. Or it ought to be. The chance at Heaven – which is to say, theosis, immortal life in a Resurrection Body, of the sort that the pagan gods enjoy – is enough. Or it ought to be. The infinite bliss of the Beatific Vision is enough. Or it ought to be. And so forth.

        It is simply not true that Christianity offers no Easter Resurrection Christian forgiveness for the Deicide guilty Jews. They are forgiven (Luke 23:34); the only question is whether or not they will ever reckon their sins, and accept that forgiveness, and repent, and turn from their wickedness, and live. The same question looms for all men.

        Team Jesus doesn’t have the marketing muscle to convince most men of any sort. Few even of those who are convinced of Christianity will allow themselves to be saved. This does not make God morally problematic, nor does it make Jesus or his Body or the Magisterium thereof (or the marketing muscle thereof) morally problematic. It makes morally problematic the humans who make the morally problematic decision against salvation. The problem is not with the perfection that the Body of Jesus offers freely to those who would take it; nor does it lie with that offer. The problem lies with those who, for reasons of their own – evil, bad, stupid, morally idiotic reasons of their own – will not take that offer.

        Lots and lots of Christian and Jewish theologians have grappled profoundly with the sacrifice of the first born that figures so prominently in their scriptures. How not? One of the most important narrative threads of the Bible as a whole is the more and more thorough repudiation by Israel of the child sacrifice – and, indeed, the human sacrifice more generally – that was so commonly practiced in the ancient world, and its expurgation from Hebrew and then Gentile cultures. As the apotheotic sacrifice of the First Born Son – indeed, literally the theotic sacrifice – the Passion is the culmination and fulfillment of that repudiation and expurgation. As the only full sacrifice, it is the final sacrifice.

        So, it just isn’t the case that Christianity has a human sacrifice problem. On the contrary. Nor do Judaism or Islam.

        It is paganism, irreligion, idolatry and religious confusion that have a human sacrifice problem. Viz., abortion.

        We pay; not a scapegoat.

        Scapegoats don’t cut the mustard. The distance between sinfulness and perfection is infinite. So, no possible sacrifice a finite human might make could possibly suffice to compensate for the infinite harm inflicted by his sins, so that he was by his own sacrifice cleansed of all the corruption of his sins, and restored to full spiritual health: saved, salved, redeemed.

        So scapegoating is a vain repetition.

        In fact, it’s worse than useless, because not only is it a waste of time and resources, it inflicts wholly new and completely unnecessary suffering on innocents, and so compounds the sin of those who sacrifice scapegoats. What is even more, it misleads the celebrants of such sacrifices into the wholly mistaken thought that their vain and stupid rites have somehow rendered them ritually pure and morally clean. That misapprehension on their part, and the satiation of their moral anxiety it temporarily confers, and thus the temporary dullness of their moral acuity and relaxation of their moral alertness which that satiety then generates, are together all too likely to leave them vulnerable to temptations to yet more sins. Their misapprehension of their true moral predicament is likely to lull them into moral somnolence, in which, dreaming under the influence of Elysian poppies, they commit altogether new sins that they would otherwise have abhorred.

        The only way that a human might make sufficient sacrifice is if he was God, and sacrificed himself. That’s what happened. The bonus for us is that the God man, being himself perfect and so sinless, and what is more infinite, with infinite ontological resources at his disposal, can compensate with his sacrifice for all the sins and defects of the entire cosmos. Which is what happened.

        The result is that, the infinite God himself having compensated for the infinite injury we had done to our relation with him, we finite creatures are now able to make payment to our fellow finite creatures that is sufficient to compensate for the finite injury we have done to the cosmos. Once we have paid that price, and provided we have truly accepted the forgiveness proffered to us by the sacrifice of Jesus our Great High Priest, we are in like Flynn.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.