Chesterton’s Fence: Logical Fallacy? Common Sense? Or Both?

Chesterton’s Fence: Logical Fallacy? Common Sense? Or Both?


I’m Jill Bearup and the most common comment
I got on my logical fallacies video was ‘Seriously though, what is that accent?’ Sorry that was the second most common comment. The most common comment I got on my logical
fallacies video was, ‘But sometimes something happens in exactly the way people said it
would EVEN IF it’s not logical!’ So let’s talk about that. The thing about logic and fallacies is that
both of these things are very helpful but they are not complete and infallible guides
to life. Yeah you see what I did there. I’m here all week. Fallacies are fallacies if you use them to
say ‘it MUST be true because…’ and then put forward a fallacious argument. I have three great players on my hockey team,
therefore my hockey team must be great: fallacy. I have three great players on my hockey team,
therefore it’s more likely that my hockey team is going to be great…seems like a reasonable
starting point for an argument, yeah. Things like commenting on trends or drawing
comparisons or using analogies are not necessarily bad things in and of themselves. In fact, they can be quite useful. A lot of human reasoning is heuristic-based,
which means it’s based on rules of thumb. And those are gut feeling things rather than
logic things. And they can be helpful or they can be spectacularly
bad. But you can also spectacularly screw up your
reasoning while being very logical, and for a great example of this we’re going to look
at Chesterton’s Fence. Chesterton’s Fence is a principle expounded
by GK Chesterton, who was an English writer, poet, lay theologian, journalist, philosopher,
literary and art critic, dramatist (man wore a lot of hats) in the late 19th and early
20th century. The principle of Chesterton’s fence goes like
this: reforms to, for example, laws, should not be made until you understand the reason
that the law is there in the first place. “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct
from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably
be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution
or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily
up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer
will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear
it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that
you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” But Chesterton’s fence: isn’t that an
appeal to tradition? After all, isn’t it just: something has been
this way for a long time, so it must be right? Well…yes and no. Chesterton’s fence is an example of when
only using logical fallacy-based reasoning is going to give you a worse result. Because if you say ‘just because it has
been there a long time is no reason to keep it!’ and then you knock it down, then you
have not considered the reason it is there in the first place, and that might go poorly. Basically, nobody builds a fence for no reason,
and nobody makes a law for no reason. That’s not to say that people don’t make stupid
laws (they do) or unjust laws (they do) or laws which were relevant at some point in
the past but are no longer relevant now. But nobody builds a fence for no reason, so
consider what it is doing before you knock it down. This especially applies in the realm of law,
because laws are easier to make than they are to change. Don’t know about fallacies, but that just
seems like common sense to me. Thanks for watching, if you Googled this in
an attempt to find out what Chesterton’s Fence is, I hope you now know, If you’d like to see my original video,
which is called 31 logical fallacies in 8 minutes, then there should be a link to it
next to my face somewhere. And if you’d like to see the other things
I do on my channel (mostly movie reviews and stuff about stage combat actually) then you
should come and have a look around my channel and see if you’d like to stay a while. Hope to see you around!

28 Replies to “Chesterton’s Fence: Logical Fallacy? Common Sense? Or Both?”

  1. Jill Bearup once again in part of her wheelhouse – making logic and reasoning simultaneously serious and fun because wisdom.

  2. 0:08 Time Travel Rules short version 0:08
    1. Only observe don't change history. 0:08
    2. Wear clothes from that time period.
    3. Only spend 1 minute in the past.

  3. I never knew this idea had a name, I always just thought of it as a type of initial emotional response, often fueled by tribalism or bandwagoning, but sometimes separate. I saw this all the time in middleschool.

  4. So, by process of deduction, one going gaily up to a fence and knocking it down is wrong? Does this mean Chesterton is homophobic? I'm calling buzzfeed!

  5. I have over the years developed a similar concept in programming: When I see stupid bad or insane nonsense in code, I should pause before removing it and figure out why that nonsense is (still) there.. Is it doing something I just can't tell? or is something else we have no control over relying on the nonsense continuing to be nonsensical and thus noone has been able to remove it so far?

    It is amazing how often knocking down a pointless fence that does absolutely nothing, breaks things that relied on the dumb fence being there.

  6. I'm fighting a cold, but i haven't thought about why it was in me in the first place.. wait no, i do, it's bc i went outside. there's no point to this comment

  7. Oh, nice. I was (kinda) familiar with this line of reasoning, but I didn’t know, there was actually a name for it.

  8. Logical fallacies are interesting because, as you said, they're fallacies when you can't show evidence to connect A to B to C. However I've also seen people cite logical fallacies to shut down arguments that have merit which is, itself, a logical fallacy. One of the more interesting examples on both sides that I've seen is the "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

  9. As a progressive and open-minded Christian, I speculated the reason why the Bible 'condemns' queer sexuality (even though the term and concept of Homosexuality didn't exist until the 19th century, back then they thought of anyone as baby breeders, and didn't what you did in you personal life so long as you did your duty making children).

    I suspect that since the Biblical laws and rules started with a small Abrahamic tribes in the Middle-east, they were concerned with continuing the family blood line, and so regarded queer sex as useless in terms of procreation. Not to mention life expectancy was short and babies could die at birth.

    Thus, these rules are in no use to apply to us anymore, because we as a society have evolved and changed. We no longer live in tight-knit closed communities wandering the desert, herding sheep and goats for a living.

    This is my own example of Chesteron's Fence example, why were those rules in the Bible to begin with, just like why did those Confederate statues existed in the first place.

  10. I understand your point, but I live here "in the belly of the beast" (Washington DC) and there are far more working parts (or non-working) than Chesterton's Fence encompasses.

  11. Chesterton's Fence – Fallacy Fallacy?

    Oh! Matrix Reloaded!

    The scene where Neo and Councillor Hamann are discussing the paradox of using machines to keep Zion habitable, while the Machine Armies seek to Destroy Zion. Hamann points to a water treatment machine, and opines on not knowing How it works, but understanding that there's a Reason for it. Which he also applies to Neo.

  12. Why did i ever go to school when I have Jill Bearup? I would revel in a friendly theology debate with you. It would be way better and I would learn way more than my collegiate theology courses. I can guarantee that.

  13. I’m surprised your example involved a hockey team. I would have expected a “football” or perhaps a cricket team. I’m impressed – very international of you. Now if you order your coffee “double-double”, you can become an honorary canadian 🇨🇦

  14. Five stars out of five.

    Absolutely TRUE. It is not a good idea to change something until you know the reasons that it came to be the way it is now. The iconoclasts and radicals of all persuasions never give heed to this simple idea.

  15. It's an interesting though. Meditate upon this, I shall.

    Will you be reviewing Infinity War and Endgame? And good luck with your acting career!

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