Reification (also known as concretism, hypostatization, or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness) is a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete real event or physical entity.[1][2] In other words, it is the error of treating something that is not concrete, such as an idea, as a concrete thing. A common case of reification is the confusion of a model with reality: "the map is not the territory".

Reification is part of normal usage of natural language, as well as of literature, where a reified abstraction is intended as a figure of speech, and actually understood as such. But the use of reification in logical reasoning or rhetoric is misleading and usually regarded as a fallacy.[3]

A potential consequence of reification is exemplified by Goodhart's law, where changes in the measurement of a phenomenon are mistaken for changes to the phenomenon itself.


The term "reification" originates from the combination of the Latin terms res ("thing") and -fication, a suffix related to facere ("to make").[4] Thus reification can be loosely translated as "thing-making"; the turning of something abstract into a concrete thing or object.


Reification takes place when natural or social processes are misunderstood or simplified; for example, when human creations are described as "facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will".[5]

Reification may derive from an innate tendency to simplify experience by assuming constancy as much as possible.[6]

Fallacy of misplaced concreteness

According to Alfred North Whitehead, one commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness when one mistakes an abstract belief, opinion, or concept about the way things are for a physical or "concrete" reality: "There is an error; but it is merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. It is an example of what might be called the 'Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.'"[7] Whitehead proposed the fallacy in a discussion of the relation of spatial and temporal location of objects. He rejects the notion that a concrete physical object in the universe can be ascribed a simple spatial or temporal extension, that is, without reference to its relations to other spatial or temporal extensions.

[...] apart from any essential reference of the relations of [a] bit of matter to other regions of space [...] there is no element whatever which possesses this character of simple location. [... Instead,] I hold that by a process of constructive abstraction we can arrive at abstractions which are the simply located bits of material, and at other abstractions which are the minds included in the scientific scheme. Accordingly, the real error is an example of what I have termed: The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.[8]

Vicious abstractionism

William James used the notion of "vicious abstractionism" and "vicious intellectualism" in various places, especially to criticize Immanuel Kant's and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's idealistic philosophies. In The Meaning of Truth, James wrote:

Let me give the name of "vicious abstractionism" to a way of using concepts which may be thus described: We conceive a concrete situation by singling out some salient or important feature in it, and classing it under that; then, instead of adding to its previous characters all the positive consequences which the new way of conceiving it may bring, we proceed to use our concept privatively; reducing the originally rich phenomenon to the naked suggestions of that name abstractly taken, treating it as a case of "nothing but" that concept, and acting as if all the other characters from out of which the concept is abstracted were expunged. Abstraction, functioning in this way, becomes a means of arrest far more than a means of advance in thought. ... The viciously privative employment of abstract characters and class names is, I am persuaded, one of the great original sins of the rationalistic mind.[9]

In a chapter on "The Methods and Snares of Psychology" in The Principles of Psychology, James describes a related fallacy, the psychologist's fallacy, thus: "The great snare of the psychologist is the confusion of his own standpoint with that of the mental fact about which he is making his report. I shall hereafter call this the "psychologist's fallacy" par excellence" (volume 1, p. 196). John Dewey followed James in describing a variety of fallacies, including "the philosophic fallacy", "the analytic fallacy", and "the fallacy of definition".[10]

Use of constructs in science

Main article: Construct (philosophy of science)

The concept of a "construct" has a long history in science; it is used in many, if not most, areas of science. A construct is a hypothetical explanatory variable that is not directly observable. For example, the concepts of motivation in psychology, utility in economics, and gravitational field in physics are constructs; they are not directly observable, but instead are tools to describe natural phenomena.

The degree to which a construct is useful and accepted as part of the current paradigm in a scientific community depends on empirical research that has demonstrated that a scientific construct has construct validity (especially, predictive validity).[11] Thus, in contrast to Whitehead, many psychologists[who?] seem to believe that, if properly understood and empirically corroborated, the "reification fallacy" applied to scientific constructs is not a fallacy at all; it is one part of theory creation and evaluation in 'Normal science'.[original research?]

Stephen Jay Gould draws heavily on the idea of fallacy of reification in his book The Mismeasure of Man. He argues that the error in using intelligence quotient scores to judge people's intelligence is that, just because a quantity called "intelligence" or "intelligence quotient" is defined as a measurable thing does not mean that intelligence is real; thus denying the validity of the construct "intelligence."[12]

Relation to other fallacies

Pathetic fallacy (also known as anthropomorphic fallacy or anthropomorphization) is a specific type[dubiousdiscuss] of reification. Just as reification is the attribution of concrete characteristics to an abstract idea, a pathetic fallacy is committed when those characteristics are specifically human characteristics, especially thoughts or feelings.[13] Pathetic fallacy is also related to personification, which is a direct and explicit ascription of life and sentience to the thing in question, whereas the pathetic fallacy is much broader and more allusive.

The animistic fallacy involves attributing personal intention to an event or situation.

Reification fallacy should not be confused with other fallacies of ambiguity:

As a rhetorical device

The rhetorical devices of metaphor and personification express a form of reification, but short of a fallacy. These devices, by definition, do not apply literally and thus exclude any fallacious conclusion that the formal reification is real. For example, the metaphor known as the pathetic fallacy, "the sea was angry" reifies anger, but does not imply that anger is a concrete substance, or that water is sentient. The distinction is that a fallacy inhabits faulty reasoning, and not the mere illustration or poetry of rhetoric.[2]


Reification, while usually fallacious, is sometimes considered a valid argument. Thomas Schelling, a game theorist during the Cold War, argued that for many purposes an abstraction shared between disparate people caused itself to become real. Some examples include the effect of round numbers in stock prices, the importance placed on the Dow Jones Industrial index, national borders, preferred numbers, and many others.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Reification, Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ a b "Logical Fallacies, Formal and Informal". Archived from the original on 22 November 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  3. ^ Dowden, Bradley. "Fallacy". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ISSN 2161-0002. Retrieved 26 April 2021. Whether a phrase commits the fallacy depends crucially upon whether the use of the inaccurate phrase is inappropriate in the situation. In a poem, it is appropriate and very common to reify nature, hope, fear, forgetfulness, and so forth, that is, to treat them as if they were objects or beings with intentions. In any scientific claim, it is inappropriate.
  4. ^ "reification, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 24 September 2016. Format
  5. ^ David K. Naugle (2002). Worldview: the history of a concept. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-8028-4761-4.
  6. ^ David Galin in B. Alan Wallace, editor, Buddhism & Science: Breaking New Ground. Columbia University Press, 2003, p. 132.
  7. ^ Whitehead, Alfred North (1997) [1925]. Science and the Modern World. Free Press (Simon & Schuster). p. 52. ISBN 978-0-684-83639-3.
  8. ^ Whitehead, Alfred North (1997) [1925]. Science and the Modern World. Free Press (Simon & Schuster). p. 58. ISBN 978-0-684-83639-3.
  9. ^ James, William, The Meaning of Truth, A Sequel to 'Pragmatism', (1909/1979), Harvard University Press, pp. 135-136
  10. ^ Winther, Rasmus G. (2014). James and Dewey on Abstraction. The Pluralist 9 (2), pp. 9-17
  11. ^ Kaplan, R. M., & Saccuzzo, D. P. (1997). Psychological Testing. Chapter 5. Pacific Grove: Brooks-Cole.
  12. ^ Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel (March 1987). "Rethinking reification". Theory and Society. 16 (2): 263–293. doi:10.1007/bf00135697. ISSN 0304-2421. S2CID 189890548.
  13. ^ pathetic fallacy. Retrieved on: 9 October 2012
  14. ^ Schelling, Thomas C. (1980). The Strategy of Conflict. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674840317.