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Dichotomy

From Academic Kids

A dichotomy is a division into two non-overlapping or mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive parts. They are often contrasting and spoken of as "opposites". The term comes from dichotomos (divided): dich- ([in] two) temnein (to cut).

A false dichotomy is not jointly exhaustive or not mutually exclusive. It is a logical fallacy, usually in which two entities are presented as if they are exhaustive, when in fact other alternatives as possible. In some cases, they may be presented as if they are mutually exclusive although there is a broad middle ground.

Dichotomies are common in Western thought. C.P. Snow believes that Western society has become an argument culture. In The Argument Culture (1998), Deborah Tannen suggests that the dialogue of Western culture is characterized by a warlike atmosphere in which the winning side has truth (like a trophy). In such a dialogue, the middle alternatives are virtually ignored.

In monetary economics, a special branch of economics dealing with money and the financial system of a country, classical dichotomy refers to the division between real money, which is measured in physical terms and is usually supposed to be a better indicator of money value due to its stability, and nominal money, which is measured in terms of a currency and hence is susceptible to inflation. According to Milton Friedman, who is commonly referred to as the father of monetary economics, different forces influence real and nominal variables (money value here) and changes in the money supply affect nominal variables but not real variables. This irrelevance of monetary changes for real variables is called monetary neutrality.

In biology, a dichotomy is a distribution of genera into two species. Such dichotomies are used as part of the process of classifying species, to build a taxonomic key. When classifying, a series of questions is asked which narrows down what is being examined, to indicate where it belongs in the hierarchy. A well known dichotomy is the question "does it have a backbone?", used to divide species into vertebrates and invertebrates.

In computer science, more specifically programming language engineering, the term dichotomy is used to denote fundamental dualities in a language's design. For instance, C++ has a dichotomy in its memory model (heap versus stack), whereas Java has a dichotomy in its type system (classes versus primitive data types).

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