What is Non-anticipation?

The fallacy of non-anticipation consists of supposing that everything worth doing or saying has already been done or said. Any new idea is rejected on the grounds that if it were any good, it would already be part of current wisdom. Proposals are rejected because they have not been anticipated.

If tobacco really is so harmful, how come people didn’t ban it years ago?

(They didn’t know. Nowadays more people live long enough to experience the adverse effects, and we now have more techniques for measuring such things.)


The central assumption of the fallacy is unwarranted. Progress is made on several fronts, including the scientific and the social. New ideas are constantly being adopted, and there is no justi-fication for supposing that our ancestors would have found them all. The presumption that they did intrudes irrelevant material into the argument.

Wise though the sages of old probably were, we can no more presume in them the totality of wisdom than we can assume complete stupidity.


If breakfast television is all that good, why has it taken so long for it to appear?

(Because we didn’t realize that people wanted even more pap with their morning milk.)


It is not just products and processes which are revolutionized by invention; the same is true of changes in our living patterns.


People didn’t need these long Christmas holidays years ago, why should they now?

(They probably did need them years ago; they just couldn’t afford them. The same fallacy would have supported, and no doubt did, the continuance of child labour in mines and factories.)


The fallacy of non-anticipation is a great comfort to those who, while possessing a conservative disposition, cannot actually think of any arguments against the changes which are put forward.


Mr Chairman, this proposal has been kicked around for more than twenty years. If there were any merit in the idea at all, it would have been implemented long before now.

(The beauty of this is that your current rejection will serve as extra ‘evidence’ against it in the future. Perhaps the reasons for past rejection were equally frivolous.)


To give added effect to the fallacy, you can enumerate some of the phantom legions who could have taken up the idea but did not. Their numbers appear to be ranged against the idea, like yourself, even though they might simply never have thought of it.


Are we to assume that we are cleverer than the thousands of the very learned and competent people over the years who could have acted on a proposal such as this, but wisely refrained from doing so?

(Any more than Beethoven was cleverer than the millions who could have written his symphonies but did not do so?)


You will find the fallacy extraordinarily useful in resisting trends towards emancipation. After all, if there were any merit in having women and children participate in decisions, would it not have been discovered long ago? The same approach will help you to stand up against independent holidays, dining out, taking exercise or eating courgettes.


If there were any connection between drinking eight pints of beer a day and obesity, don’t you think that countless beer drinkers would have seen it before now?

(Why should they? They cannot even see their own toes.)