A dichotomy is an equal split, taking a subject and saying, “There is THIS or THAT. The end.” Implied in the dichotomy is choice. Choose one side of the dichotomy or the other because choosing both would be a contradiction.
True dichotomies follow two criteria:
- Everything you’re discussing fits into EITHER one side of the dichotomy or the other.
- Nothing you’re discussing fits SIMULTANEOUSLY in both sides.
Violate either principle and you commit the logical fallacy of “false dichotomy.” Not cool.
For instance, if Joel claims that all food is either sweet or sour, he violates the first criterion since some food is bitter, savory, salty, etc. He also violates the second criterion because some food is both sweet and sour at the same time. BOO Joel.
Legit dichotomies can be rhetorically powerful as tools for framing debates. But the greatest power in dichotomy is breaking one. Let’s discuss: