The tendency to attribute human characteristics to nature, inanimate objects, or animals, but not quite as formally giving the thing a human identity as in personification. Also called the emotional fallacy.

The phrase was invented by John Ruskin in 1856 to talk about literature -- Ruskin said only the greatest poets could do this well and too much of it was the mark of an inferior poet, but the phrase has become somewhat less negative in connotation since then.

For the Pathetic Fallacy to qualify as a fallacy it is necessary that it be false. IE it is necessary that the attribution of human emotions or characteristics to inanimate objects or to nature be a false attribution.

That would imply there is no relation between human characteristics and the object under discussion.

Most would agree that nature, or natural phenomena do not possess human characteristics in the same manner as a human. However, to qualify as a fallacy it is necessary that the attribution be false, not merely imprecise. The phenomena must in no way possess the human characteristic under discussion.

To say that storms prefer coasts, is not false, it is merely imprecise. Storms do not not possess human intelligence, but they are complex systems, whose behavior is poorly understood. It is useful to describe their behavior using the terminology of the complex system we are most familiar with, the human brain.

Therefore it is inaccurate to describe the pathetic fallacy as a fallacy.


The biggest complaint I've heard to this view point is that storms can't prefer coasts. That is only because you have chosen to define prefer in such a way that it cannot be applied in this circumstance. I am not claiming that under the standard definition of prefer, storms can prefer coasts. What I am saying is that it is useful to discuss the behavior of complex systems, like storms, using anthropomorphic terms, such as the word "prefer." Storms do not behave entirely as if they have intelligence, but models that treat them such may prove useful.

-Brother Rail Gun of The Short Path

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