Monday, April 21, 2008

Ageism: a logical fallacy?

While discussing dating preferences with a friend this evening, I realized that the rationale most of us use to benchmark who we'll consider going out with is based on the logical fallacy of the heap (or the Sorites paradox as the logicians call it).

To refresh, the argument (in a nutshell), goes like this: one grain of sand is definitely not a "heap". Neither is two. Neither is three. Taken to its conclusion, no amount of sand would constitute a "heap". So, how do we define a heap?? Let's look at it from the other angle: a million grains of sand (visualize it) is definitely a heap. Now, take one grain away. It's still a heap. Take another. And another. If taking one grain away does not rescind the pile of silicon dioxide's status of "heap", then the logical conclusion is that any amount of sand is a heap. So, a "heap" is no amount of sand AND any amount of sand. (?!!) Thus the paradox.

Now, back to ageism. Say you are 25 years old. You would consider a suitable partner to be anyone who's not "too old". How old is too old for you? 40? Well, if 40 is too old, then 39 (which is almost 40) must also be too old. Same for 38. 37. 36.... See where I'm going here? What if you took a more "glass is half full" approach? Example: "I'd date anyone up to age 40". Well, one could infer from your statement that 38 is not "too old" for you. Neither is 39, neither is 40. But this logic, 41 shouldn't be too old, nor 42, 43...

Though I am using the example of dating, this benchmarking occurs in many contexts.

In no way am I casting aspersions on those who are picky about choosing a mate. Nor am I advocating cross-generational dating simply for rebellion's sake. Third, I am definitely not taking a stance one way or the other on age-of-consent laws. My point (and I do have one) is that pinpointing an exact age at which one affixes the label "too old" (or "too young", as the case may be) is illogical. And rather arbitrary. After all, how many of us have bent our age "rules" just a bit in order to fit someone we like into our comfort zone?? Not very logical, is it?

No comments: