A Whackadoodle lesson, prompted by my student, regarding reductio ad absurdum arguments and how they are not logical fallacies. Including an excerpt from George Conway’s satirical essay about Trump and cookies.
She pulled out her phone and began typing before speaking, “I think that I have found the perfect example of reductio ad absurdum for my logic assignment, and I want your opinion.”
“Okay,” I offered carefully. I’d been tutoring her since she the pandemic began, and she was beginning to surpass me.
“It was printed in the Washington Post as a satirical essay by this famous guy named George T. Conway III, but I think his essay is really a reductio ad absurdum argument.”
“Hit me with it,” I told her.
“Well, I won’t read the whole thing cause it’s kind of long, just my favorite parts. The article is called, Trump didn’t take the cookies. Nope. Never. Why ask? Let me see if I can find the part I wanted to show you.”
She thumbed through her phone for a while while I waited until she finally began to read:
Cookie jar? What cookie jar? I don’t have a cookie jar because I don’t have any cookies.
If there’s a cookie jar, you put it there to frame me.
There were no cookies in the jar anyway.
You put the cookies in the jar. People saw you. It was on Fox News.
In fact, you ate the cookies.
But they weren’t really cookies; they were crackers or something.
Some of the cookies you put in the jar, planted in my house and then took back from me are in fact my special, “privileged” cookies, and I herewith demand their IMMEDIATE return.
I gave the cookies back to you when you first asked for them.
If only you had nicely asked for the cookies back, I would have given them to you. Instead, you broke into my cookie jar, and you rummage through my wife’s clothes.
It’s my cookie jar, so any cookies in the jar are mine. In fact, I had a Standing Order that any cookies in the jar automatically became mine when they went into the jar.
The jar, and the cookies in them, are PERFECT.
ALL cookies are mine, no matter where they are, because I had an Article II that put me in charge of EVERY cookie.
“He’s written more,” she said looking up, “but if people want to read the whole essay, they can check out the link. I just want to know if you agree that his argument is reductio ad absurdum.”
I held my hand out for her phone. “I’m gonna need to read the whole essay before I can answer,” I told her. Almost reluctantly, she handed me her phone. “While I am reading,” I added. “I want you to think about why you think his essay is reductio ad absurdum because I am gonna ask you for your argument as soon as I am done.”
I have to admit at this point that I am familiar with George T. Conway III. I first came across his work when his wife Kellyanne was serving as Senior Counselor to the Forty-fifth President. I found myself looking forward to reading his entire satirical essay.
“Okay,” I said, looking up once finished. “Share your argument. Why is this essay an accepted form of logical argument, and not simply a logical fallacy?”
“It’s not an ad hominin fallacy because he is not simply insulting the person making the argument. It’s not an ad absurdum fallacy because he isn’t just making fun of the argument. It must be reductio ad absurdum because he is actually using the same argument to show how ridiculous the argument is. He is reducing the argument, not the person, to ridicule. That makes it reductio ad absurdum. Am I right? That’s why reductio ad absurdum is consider a valid form of argument and not just another fallacy. It’s because it’s not about deflecting, or name calling, or saying ‘what about you’. It’s about showing that the argument itself is ridiculous.”
Like I said before, after over two years of tutoring, she is beginning to surpass me. These days all she needs is more confidence.
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