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Encyclopedia > Pathetic fallacy

The pathetic fallacy or anthropomorphic fallacy is the description of inanimate natural objects in a manner that endows them with human feelings, thoughts and sensations. The pathetic fallacy is a special case of the fallacy of reification. The word "pathetic" in this use is related to empathy (capability of feeling), and is not pejorative. Reification (also known as hypostatization or concretism) is a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it represented a concrete, real event or physical entity. ... Pathos (from πάσχειν paschein, the Greek word meaning to suffer or emotion) is one of the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric (along with ethos and logos). ... Not to be confused with Pity, Sympathy, or Compassion. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with pejoration. ...

The pathetic fallacy is also related to the concept of personification. Personification is direct and explicit in the ascription of life and sentience to the thing in question, whereas the pathetic fallacy is much broader and more allusive. Look up fallacy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Phillipp Veits Germania (1877), a personification of Germany. ... Allusion is a stylistic device or trope, in which one refers covertly or indirectly to an object or circumstance that has occurred or existed in an external content. ...



The term was coined by the critic John Ruskin (1819–1900) in his 1856 work Modern Painters, in which he wrote that the aim of the pathetic fallacy was “to signify any description of inanimate natural objects that ascribes to them human capabilities, sensations, and emotions." In the narrow sense intended by Ruskin, the pathetic fallacy is a scientific failing, since most of his definitive paper[1] concerns art, which ought to be its truthful representation of the world as it appears to our senses, not as it appears in our imaginative and fanciful reflections upon it. However, in the natural sciences, a pathetic fallacy is a serious error in scientific reasoning if taken literally. Upper: Steel-plate engraving of Ruskin as a young man, made circa 1845, scanned from print made circa 1895. ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... The term natural science as the way in which different fields of study are defined is determined as much by historical convention as by the present day meaning of the words. ...

In history

When Xerxes was crossing the Hellespont in the midst of the first Greco-Persian War, he built two bridges that were quickly destroyed. Feeling personally offended, his paranoia led him to believe that the river was consciously acting against him as though it were an enemy. As such Herodotus quotes him as saying "You salt and bitter stream, your master lays his punishment upon you for injuring him, who never injured you. Xerxes will cross you, with or without your permission."[2] He subsequently threw chains into the river, gave it three hundred lashes and "branded it with red-hot irons".[3] Xerxes may refer to these Persian kings: Xerxes I, reigned 485–465 BC, also known as Xerxes the Great. ... The Helespont/Dardanelles, a long narrow strait dividing the Balkans (Europe) along the Gallipoli peninsula from Asia Anatolia (Asia Minor). ... Herodotus of Halicarnassus (Greek: Hērodotos Halikarnāsseus) was a Greek historian from Ionia who lived in the 5th century BC (ca. ...

In literature

Literary critics after Ruskin have generally not followed him in regarding the pathetic fallacy as an artistic mistake, instead assuming that attribution of sentient, humanising traits to nature is a centrally human way of understanding the world, and that it does have a useful and important role in art and literature. Indeed, to reject the use of pathetic fallacy would mean dismissing most Romantic poetry and many of Shakespeare's most memorable images. Literary critics find it useful to have a specific term for describing anthropomorphic tendencies in art and literature and so the phrase is currently used in a neutral sense. Literary criticism is the study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. ... Not to be confused with sapience. ... Romantic poetry was part of the Romantic movement of European literature during the 18th-mid-19th centuries. ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... 7th millennium BC anthropomorphized rocks, with slits for eyes, found in modern-day Israel. ...

It is a rhetorical figure and a form of personification. In the strictest sense, delivering this fallacy should be done to render analogy. Other reasons to deliver this fallacy are mnemonic. This fallacy can also be said to apply to works such as Richard Adam's Watership Down and George Orwell's Animal Farm (though the animal characters are not, of course, "inanimate") because they are literally false. However, this says nothing of their figurative value—it is not particularly fallacious to use animals as characters. A figure of speech, sometimes termed a rhetorical figure or device, or elocution, is a word or phrase that departs from straightforward, literal language. ... Phillipp Veits Germania (1877), a personification of Germany. ... Analogy is both the cognitive process of transferring information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target), and a linguistic expression corresponding to such a process. ... For other uses, see Mnemonic (disambiguation). ... For other persons named Richard Adams, see Richard Adams (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Watership Down (disambiguation). ... Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 [1] [2] – 21 January 1950), better known by the pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. ... For other uses, see Animal Farm (disambiguation). ...


Ruskin quotes a stanza from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Maud as an "exquisite" example of pathetic fallacy: In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. ... Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson (August 6, 1809 - October 6, 1892) is generally regarded as one of the greatest English poets. ... Please wikify (format) this article or section as suggested in the Guide to layout and the Manual of Style. ...

  There has fallen a splendid tear
    From the passion-flower at the gate.
  She is coming, my dove, my dear;
    She is coming, my life, my fate.
  The red rose cries, "She is near, she is near;"
    And the white rose weeps, "She is late;"
  The larkspur listens, "I hear, I hear;"
    And the lily whispers, "I wait." (Part 1, XXII, 10)

Other examples are:

Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792 – July 8, 1822; pronounced ) was one of the major English Romantic poets and is widely considered to be among the finest lyric poets of the English language. ... Portrait of William Cowper attributed to Romney. ... Walter Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist. ...

In science

The pathetic fallacy is not confined to fiction, but was a generally accepted convention of pre-World War I prose. For example, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica abounds in use of the pathetic fallacy even though it is ostensibly a purely factual work. For example, "Nature abhors a vacuum" (John Ruskin's translation of the well-known Medieval saying natura abhorret a vacuo, in Modern Painters) assigns nature feelings that enable it to "abhor" something. “The Great War ” redirects here. ... (Redirected from 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica) The Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) in many ways represents the sum of knowledge at the beginning of the 20th century. ... The Middle Ages formed the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three ages: the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times, beginning with the Renaissance. ...

Unlike in literature, in science a pathetic fallacy is a logical fallacy since it can imply a mistake in reasoning. To continue with the same example, nature specifically does not abhor a vacuum in the sense the saying intends. The observed phenomena are caused by atmospheric pressure; most of the universe is actually vacuum. It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Fallacy. ... Look up Vacuum in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Diurnal (daily) rhythm of air pressure in northern Germany (black curve is air pressure) Atmospheric pressure is the pressure at any point in the Earths atmosphere. ...

The pathetic fallacy is often seen in teaching and in literature intended for the general public, e.g. "Since muons are right-handed, they like to have their spins aligned with their direction of motion." In reality, muons cannot "like" or "dislike"; the process is entirely inanimate. A "preference" or "like and dislike" is a human construction for the higher probability of aligning spins with the direction of motion. The muon (from the letter mu (μ)--used to represent it) is an elementary particle with negative electric charge and a spin of 1/2. ...

In advertising

  • Philadelphia's city logo, "The City that Loves you Back"
  • Signs for zipcars often write, "Zipcars live here"
  • In an IKEA commercial, a lamp is shown for 20 seconds with major events happening in life with dramatic music. As an owner replaces the lamp at the end of the commercial the scenery changes, depressing background music is heard, and the owner closes the door leaving the old lamp in a trash can on a rainy night. An announcer says in a thick Swedish accent, deadpan: "You are probably feeling sorry for the lamp. This is because you are crazy. It is a lamp, it has no feelings. The new lamp is much better." The commercial thereby exposed a potential Pathetic Fallacy.

Zipcar is a for-profit, membership-based carsharing company providing automobile rental to its members, billable by the hour or day. ... Map of countries with IKEA stores. ...

In popular culture

The Vertigo Comics series Jack of Fables depicts the pathetic fallacy as a human-like individual capable of bestowing anthropomorphic life and emotion to inanimate objects. Fittingly, the literary device of the fallacy has been applied to the fallacy itself, personifying it as an overly sensitive man who prefers to be called "Gary," (or maybe Lance. Or Kevin). Vertigo logo Vertigo is an imprint of comic book and graphic novel publisher DC Comics. ... Jack of Fables is a spin off of the comic Fables. ...



  1. ^ Ruskin, John. "Of the Pathetic Fallacy", from Modern Painters, volume iii, pt. 4, 1856. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  2. ^ Herodotus The Histories vii.35
  3. ^ Green, Peter The Greco-Persian Wars (London 1996) 75.

is the 72nd day of the year (73rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 2007 (MMVII) is the current year, a common year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar and the AD/CE era in the 21st century. ...


  • Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th edition. Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0030549825.
  • Crist, Eileen. Images of Animals: Anthropomorphism and Animal Mind. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999. ISBN 1566396565.
  • Groden, Michael, and Martin Kreiswirth (eds.). The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. ISBN 0801845602.

See also

  Results from FactBites:
Hardy Miscellany (1369 words)
It is not mandatory in modern literature that pathetic fallacy extend to the extremes of violent emotions.
Thomas Hardy's use of pathetic fallacy in Far From the Madding Crowd serves to broaden the novels emotional scope in a subtle manner that allows him to provide depth to scenes, suggest censorable ideas, and prepare the reader for future events.
Pathetic fallacy adds an entire dimension to Far From the Madding Crowd, and the greater one's understanding, the more prevalent it is throughout all literature.
Top Literature - Pathetic fallacy (492 words)
In literary criticism, the pathetic fallacy is the description of inanimate natural objects in a manner that endows them with human feelings, thoughts and sensations.
Critics after Ruskin have generally not followed him in regarding the pathetic fallacy as an artistic mistake, instead assuming that attribution of sentient, humanising traits to nature is a centrally human way of understanding the world, and that it does have a useful and important role in art and literature.
The pathetic fallacy is not a logical fallacy since it does not imply a mistake in reasoning.
  More results at FactBites »



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