Logical Gal and reduce them to the absurd!

18 Apr

Redcutio Ad Absurdum Mug


This is a useful technique for pointing out the error in another’s reasoning IF you can think quick enough on your feet!

What you do, without distorting their argument, is to take one of their premises or propositions and ASSUME it to be true.  You can even explicitly announce what you are doing:

“Let’s assume to be true your premise that…….”

Then you carry out your conversation partner’s line of thinking to its furthest possible implications. For example you say:

 “Then THAT would mean  XYZ is also true!” (where XYZ is an example the proponent must acknowledge/accept to stay logically consistent) 

For example, imagine a neighbor who is disgruntled by Washington, DC and all the encompassing bickering and false promises.  He might spout off:

  • You can’t trust anyone who works for the government!

Trusting Washington

Few of us would probably jump to the government’s defense, but let’s suppose that you happen to be a RATIONAL and logical Joe or Jane.

You might say with a sincere tone:

  • You: Ok, let’s assume you are correct, that we can’t trust anyone who works for the government.  I suppose you probably will quit using the airlines to travel.
  • Him: What do you mean?
  • You: If you fly out of an airport, that means you would have to trust those federal workers, the air-traffic-controllers!

Situations where you might employ this technique of Reductio Ad Absurdum can sometimes be spotted with their universal adjectives and adverbs like ALL, EVERYONE, ALWAYS, NEVER, NO ONE….

Here is another statement I occasionally here:  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary explanations

My response to the one advancing that hyperbolic premise:

“Okay, let’s assume that what you claim is true. I just saw a man pull a rabbit out of an empty hat.  That certainly was out of the ordinary.”

Rabbit out of a hat

“If your line of thinking is correct, then we can’t accept as a legitimate explanation for this amazing trick something as commonplace as a simple mirror used as a false bottom to the hat, giving the appearance that it is empty when it was covering the rabbit!”

As I mentioned before, you have to be able to think of counter examples to bounce off of your interlocutor.  But if you can first ask some clarifying questions, that might be enough time to let your little gray cells work!

Hercule Poirot





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