Opinions or attitudes formed not on the basis of facts but because of one’s own desires or wishes, which in turn do not reflect reality.
I wish angels existed.
Therefore, angels exist!
In such an explicit form, the fallacy should be obvious to anyyone, instead, wishful thinking is usually encountered in more subtle, rather implicit phrases. Surely everyone has already heard a statement like the following:
Deep in my heart,
I knowthat our soccer team will win the championship!
Of course, no one can know in advance how the championship will turn out. At best, the chances are better for some teams than for others, but believing in victory because you would like to to happen is fallacious – though in this case of course rather of the harmless kind.
Still it can become a problem, if one makes important decisions on this basis – for example, if one bets large sums on the victory of one’s favorite football team, solely because of such a fallacious mindset.
The basic thinking behind this fallacy can be formalized as follows:
I/we wish X were true.
Therefore X is true.
It would be in my/our interest if X were true.
Therefore X is true.
In many circumstances is wishful thinking related to the appeal to consequences, namely when one would have to draw undesired consequences from a more realistic assessment of the situation. For example:
I smoke a pack of cigarettes every day.
If I were to accept that this is harmful to my health, I would have to draw the consequence and stop smoking.
Therefore, my smoking habit is not harmful to my health.
Even though if judged by the basis of the examples here it seems, as if this thinking mistake concerns above all absurd and absurd wish conceptions, in fact probably everyone might at least sometimes be subject to the wish thinking. We all sometimes believe in things we want to believe in.
It might be impossible to reliably harden oneself against falling for wishful thinking, but you can train yourself to recognize it at least sometimes by asking yourself every now and then:
Do I believe this, perhaps, mainly because I would like it to be true?
Cynics may see religion as communal excercises in wishful thinking. While this may be debateable for some religious beliefs there definitely some that can be seen to support such cynicism.
Take, for example, the following:
I don’t want to believe that I simply disappear when I die.
Therefore, there must be life after death.
Similarly for the Buddhist or Hindu variant:
Therefore there must be reincarnation.
However, the applicability of logic to religious topics is limited anyway (see FAQs).
Expressions of wishful thinking are common in political discussions and any politically interested person can certainly spontaneously find many examples where their respective political opponents commit, or at least supposedly commit, this error.
For topical reasons, here is an example of a possibly overdue infrastructure project:
Experts certify that an important bridge is in urgent need of renovation.
The renovation costs a lot of money that we would rather use for other projects.
It would be better for us if the experts were wrong.
Therefore the experts are wrong.
Health / alternative medicine
The desire for wish fulfilment seems to be particularly high when it comes to one’s personal health. There is hardly any other way to explain the mass of ever new health trends and pseudo-scientific treatment methods that seem to appear all over the place.
While a desire for access to healing is understandable, this is far less true for the tendency to distrust established authorities in this field and to rather invest one’s hope in alternatives that run as much as possible counter to the established consensus.
Behind this tendency seems to lie a form of wishful thinking that might best be summarized as follows:
I wish there was an easier way to achieve or maintain health than the methods of established medicine.
That is why alternative healing methods are better than established ones.
Or maybe even - and this may already count as an example for magical thinking:
I wish there were magical powers that science cannot explain (but that I and a select few have discovered).
That is why there are magical remedies.
In any case, it can only be recommended to scrutinize any of these methods carefully and critically before putting one's health, or that of others, at risk.
Health / Pandemic
If the expression of a desire is not grounded in an irrational opinion or attitude, but in a desire that is actually or at least potentially attainable, it is not automatically a thinking error. Something like the following:
I wish we would go to the mountains this summer!
So we are going to the mountains this summer.
Even a desire that is ultimately unfulfillable can be meaningful if working toward its fulfillment can be useful. For example:
I wish there were no more wars and conflicts in this world!
Even if the ultimate goal is unlikely to be attainable in the foreseeable future, every small step toward that goal represents an improvement in living conditions, therefore a wish like this one is certainly justified.