Tag Archives: Reductio Ad Absurdum

Logical Gal – Allowed to have an opinion?

4 Mar

From her 22 January 2015 Press Conference at the Capitol, when pressed about whether a 20-week old fetus was a human being, Pelosi responded:

“And as a mother of five, in six years, I have great standing on this issue, great understanding of it, more than my colleagues. In fact, one day many years ago, perhaps before you were born, when I was a new member of Congress, as a Catholic and a mom of five, opposing some of the initiatives similar to what–in the same vein as–what we have today, one of the Republicans stood up and said: Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the pope.

“Yeah, Yeah. That would be true.”

Nancy Pelosi

**So in essence, Nancy Pelosi’s presupposition might be stated this way:

Premise 1:  Only those who have had babies have the moral authority or right to make judgments about babies and fetuses and when life begins

Premise 2: I am one of those people who have had babies

Conclusion:  Therefore, I am qualified to make pronouncements and judgments about babies, fetuses and life

This kind of reasoning is easy to refute when one applies a technique called, “Reductio ad Absurdum”.  What we do is apply the principle inherent in the argument to an extreme case. The argument self-destructs on its own.

So in Nancy Pelosi’s argument, let’s boil down her reasoning so we can apply it to another situation.  Her thinking goes like this:  only those who have experienced an event have the credibility/aka, ‘the moral high ground’ to make a decision.

If this is so, then we would have to preclude the following situations:

  • doctors diagnosing and commencing healing remedies
  • Congress creating laws for our country
  • judges deciding legal cases
  • parents applying wisdom in situations that they themselves never experienced as children

All these cases and a plethora of others would not be valid, since those making a judgment had not actually undergone the experience of the people affected by their decisions.

Judgments are sound when supported by sufficient reason and evidence.  Period. Plain and simple.

Don’t get snookered by this ‘playing the personal experience card’.


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