False equivalence, which could also be expressed as “comparing apples and oranges”, is a logical fallacy in which someone equates two things based on flawed reasoning. It is frequently committed — whether unintentionally or not — in politics, journalism, as well as in various types of online debates.
Perhaps more often than not, a false equivalence is drawn due to a lack of argumentation skills, and, as such, taking the time to learn about it can give you an advantage: It can help you to identify and counter them, as well as avoid committing them yourself.
False equivalence arises when one draws an equivalence between two things based on the notion that they share some characteristics that are, in reality, not significant enough to justify the equation.
Thus, it’s considered fallacious because it equates the two subjects on false grounds, either exaggerating the importance of the similarities or ignoring the differences between them that are in fact too important to make the equivalence accurate.
Its typical logical form is as follows:
- X has characteristics A and B.
- Y has characteristics B and C.
- Therefore, X and Y are equivalent (since they both share characteristic B).
An example would be:
- “Bears and cats are both furry mammals; Therefore, it’s the same thing to have a bear as a pet”.
Here, the supposed parallelism is simply drawn from one or two similarities between the animals without taking into account any of the significant differences, such as the difference in size and the fact that bears are not domesticated animals.
Note that this is generally committed due to the order of magnitude of the differences, which may not always be clear. As such, it often may be open for a debate whether a certain comparison can be seen as fallacious.
Here’s a list of several examples of false equivalences:
- “Apples and oranges must taste the same. After all, they are both fruits and round in shape.”
- “Evolution theory, like creationism, explains to you how we humans came to be. Thus, they are so similar that it doesn’t really matter which one you believe in.”
- “Cars kill people just like guns. Therefore, if we ban either one of them, we should ban the other too.”
- “Taking money from other people is a crime, so taxation can practically be seen as an illegal activity.”
- “Since plants are living things just like animals, veganism is no better than diets that allow meat consumption.”
It sometimes appears together with the tu quoque fallacy (Latin for “you too”), which occurs when someone attempts to discredit their opponent by asserting that the person’s past actions are inconsistent with their argument.
Consider the following example:
- “You shouldn’t be blaming him for stealing money off the company; we all remember the time you parked your car on the wrong spot.”
In this example, the speaker can be seen to commit both fallacies: They mistakenly equate the acts of stealing money and parking a car on the wrong spot, as well as try to discredit the other party on the grounds of alleged hypocrisy.