Affirming the Consequent in Self-Perception

Have you seen these articles that give "X signs that you are intelligent" or "Y signs that you are Z" or whatever other traits/character that people wish to identify with? There might be a little logical issue that can arise from such a thing, especially when it leads to the wrong conclusion.

Let's take a statement that is often brought up when people want to excuse their lack of work ethic: intelligent people are lazy. Now, if we structure it like an argument we get this:

Intelligent people are lazy.

Person X is intelligent.

∴ Person X is lazy.

Doesn't seem too bad, until this becomes their argument (which it often does):

Intelligent people are lazy.

Person Y is lazy.

∴ Person Y is intelligent.

The latter argument seems to have little difference with the former, but there is quite a big difference. The latter exhibits a case of Affirming the Consequent, a logical fallacy where given a preposition that P leads to Q, you argue that Q also leads to P, which sometimes isn't true. Affirming the consequent is often used when making excuses, which is of no surprise. Regarding the aforementioned example, how often are people who we see as lazy not intelligent? We can probably think of many people that fit this criteria, but we don't often think about this regarding ourselves (see Illusory Superiority.)

We can apply this to a lot of things as well. People also state that intelligent people are often messy individuals. Does that mean that messy people are intelligent? Not necessarily. These types of articles are often used by people to justify their self-destructive behaviour instead of helping them change their behaviour for the betterment of themselves.

This can possibly lead to ridiculous behaviour that tries to satisfy the wrong conditional, which can lead us further down a path of destruction. If we return to the example, we can see that if we believe that "lazy people are intelligent", then suddenly we have an incentive to be lazy. We can even be led to believe that being studious and disciplined makes us less intelligent, which is an entirely ludicrous claim. People say that lazy people will find the easiest solution, but what threshold of laziness are we talking about? What if we are so lazy that not coming up with a solution is easier than finding the "easiest" solution? If we are to say that laziness is proportional to intelligence, then how lazy can we get before it is no longer "intelligence" but rather "incompetence"?

If affirming the consequent doesn't sound that irrational, I'll give you two more examples to illustrate the point:

1. If you eat pizza, you will be full. 1. If you win the lottery, you are rich.
2. You are full. 2. You are rich.
3. ∴ You ate pizza. 3. ∴ You won the lottery.

What if you ate anything other than pizza? Wouldn't that make you just as full than if you ate pizza? And how about being rich? What if you inherited the money and did not win the lottery? The argument simply doesn't hold. However, the fact that this counts as a logical fallacy does not mean that all arguments are one-directional. There are many prepositions that have arguments that can have the consequent Q lead to the antecedent P, but logically it shouldn't be used as a main platform for an argument.

Now what throws me off about these "signs of intelligence" business is how "intelligent people are perceived to be more humble." What if I am just acting humble to put up a façade of intelligence when in fact I am the most stupid person to have ever lived? Intelligent people are often deemed to be curious, so what if I was curious for solely putting on a mask of intelligence? How would I know whether I was actually intelligent, or I was merely acting so that I looked intelligent? If this were the case, what can I do about it? This is probably some sort of thing that will inevitably lead to a quarter-life crisis, not that it has happened already.

That's why after looking for all the possible signs to figure out whether I am intelligent or not, I gave up. It is simply a fruitless journey that will lead to nowhere, because in the end what I deem to be intelligent may be another person's "stupid", or vice versa: what I deem to be "stupid" may be someone else's "intelligent". It is like the saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", except it would be "intelligence is in the mind of the beholder." The definition of "intelligence" keeps on shifting, and the inherently relative measurement of intelligence further illustrates how futile it is to seek confirmation of your intelligence from an external source.