Monday, November 24, 2014


The man who invented Western philosophy, Aristotle, considered ignoratio elenchi, which roughly translates to "irrelevant thesis," an umbrella term that covered all other logical fallacies. Indeed, most of the other fallacies on this list could be categorized as subsets of the irrelevant thesis. Formally, ignoratio elenchi refers to any rebuttal that fails to address the central argument.

And for those who are searching for an example of ignoratio elenchi, look no further than the presidential debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry. What transpired during the event happens with almost every question asked in a political setting. For example, at a televised debate between presidential candidates, the mediator might ask, "If you become president, what would you do about the rising unemployment numbers?" to which the candidate might reply, "I'm glad you asked, because unemployment is the greatest problem facing this nation yadda yadda yadda, and my opponent's plan to deal with the problem is completely insufficient." Notice, in this example, how the candidate dodged the question entirely. He made an argument, but it didn't answer the mediator's concerns and was thus an irrelevant thesis.

Another example of ignoratio elenchi is the "two wrongs make a right" fallacy, which was recently used to great effect by the Democrats during the final stages of the healthcare debate. When asked if he thought using the reconciliation strategy to pass the healthcare bill with a simple majority vote was the right thing to do, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid--after claiming that nobody was talking about it (a logical fallacy known as the incorrect statement)--Reid released a statement detailing how many times the Republicans have used the reconciliation strategy over the last decade. Like the example above, Reid made an argument, but it was an irrelevant one that said nothing about how right or wrong the strategy is.

This kind of thing happens in cycles, because the majority party is always changing hands. When the minority party is called childish for filibustering a judicial nominee or something, for instance, they always come back with something along the lines of "You guys did the same thing a few years back, nanny nanny boo boo!" This is, of course, a meaningless argument, even though it is usually true. Even if your opponent shot somebody and got away with it, it doesn't mean you can do the same thing.

1 comment:

  1. I liked your argument and examples, and found it especially relevant as you brought up the fact that both parties do it. American politics are riddled with fallacies and no one seems to consider that its the system, not the people.