About This Site

Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
(What are figures of speech?)
Ask Figaro a question!

This form does not yet contain any fields.

    « Burning Gas Like There’s No Tomorrow: That’s Sound Energy Policy | Main | I Would, But You Forgot to Supply Pens »

    Can We at Least Childproof the White House?

    tornado_warning.gifQuote:   "You don't have the resources to childproof the entire country." George Friedman, chairman of Stratfor, a consulting firm based in Austin, Texas, in USA Today

    Figure of Speech:   reductio ad absurdum, taking an argument to its extreme

    To ridicule the notion that the nation can prepare for every disaster, Friedman uses reductio ad absurdum, which in Latin literally means "reducing to absurdity."  This figure of thought pursues an opponent's argument to an illogical conclusion.

    Snappy Answer:   "No, but let's see if we can pass disaster pre-school."

    Got a snappier answer? Email Figaro.

    PrintView Printer Friendly Version

    EmailEmail Article to Friend

    Reader Comments (3)

    Bill Bennett's statement is a classic example:

    CALLER: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't -- never touches this at all.

    BENNETT: Assuming they're all productive citizens?

    CALLER: Assuming that they are. Even if only a portion of them were, it would be an enormous amount of revenue.

    BENNETT: Maybe, maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as -- abortion disproportionately occur among single women? No.

    CALLER: I don't know the exact statistics, but quite a bit are, yeah.

    BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both -- you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well --

    CALLER: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.

    BENNETT: Well, I don't think it is either, I don't think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.
    October 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKeyser Soze
    You're right, that's a great one, Keyser. It shows a hazard of ad absurdum--just mentioning the absurdity may be reprehensible.

    Also, Bennett commits a logical error: the "fallacy of the undistributed middle." You'd actually reduce crime more by killing every white baby.

    Oops. Was that offensive?

    October 4, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Naturally you would reduce crime by more if you aborted all the white babies... there are more of them. You could reduce it even further by aborting all the babies, and even more if you just killed everyone. The obvious point is that - for whatever socioeconomic reasons - we can expect more crime-per-head from the population of black babies than the white babies.

    There's no logical fallacy in saying 'black babies', and it's actually MORE effective to illustrate the point than 'white babies' or 'all babies', because those are patently absurd (rendering extinct the majority) instead of a frightening notion (rendering extinct the minority - ask the Native Americans).
    April 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterQuarterstaff

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.

    My response is on my own website »
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.