Theories explain phenomena by appealing to some underlying
cause or phenomena. Theories which do not appeal to an
underlying cause, and instead simply appeal to membership
in a category, commit the fallacy of limited depth.
- My cat likes tuna because she's a cat.
(This theory asserts only that cats like tuna, without
explaining why cats like tuna. It thus does not explain
why my cat likes tuna.)
- Ronald Reagan was militaristic because he was American.
(True, he was American, but what was it about being American that made
him militaristic? What caused him to act in this way? The
theory does not tell us, and hence, does not offer a good
- You're just saying that because you belong to the union.
(This attempt at dismissal tries to explain your
behaviour as frivolous. However, it fails because it is
not an explanation at all. Suppose everyone in the union were to
say that. Then what? We have to get deeper - we have to ask
why they would say that - before we can decide that
what they are saying is frivolous.)
Theories of this sort attempt to explain a phenomenon by
showing that it is part of a category of similar phenomenon.
Accept this, then press for an explanation of the wider
category of phenomenon. Argue that a theory refers to a
cause, not a classification.
Cedarblom and Paulsen: 164
13 August 1996