Introduction to Logic
Ignoratio Elenchi: Ignorance of the Refutation
Abstract: Ignoratio elenchi, or
“irrelevant conclusion,” is broadly defined as any incorrect
argument which reaches an evidentially irrelevant conclusion. Historically,
the fallacy is more narrowly defined as an irrelevant counterargument to
a thesis which does not prove the thesis mistaken. In practice,
ignoratio elenchi functions as a “catch-all”
category of any fallacy of relevance not specified as one of
the specific traditional fallacies of relevance. The fallacy is analyzed
here with a variety of specific examples and compared to several similar
fallacies, including the fallacies of non sequitur, red
herring, and straw man.
Ignoratio Elenchi (irrelevant
conclusion): the fallacy of proving a conclusion not evidentially pertinent
and quite different from that which was intended or required and thus
missing the point at issue.
- Ignoratio elenchi is the fallacy committed when
an argument proves or attempts to prove a different conclusion from what
was supposed to be the point of the proof either through intentional
or inadvertent irrelevancy.
In the more rarely used strict sense of the term, the fallacy occurs
when what is intended to be proved is not the contradictory of an opponent's
assertion; instead, a conclusion other than the contradictory is reached.
The fallacy occurs when, e.g., your argument “answers”
the wrong point, so the error in reasoning is “ignorance of the fact
that your Conclusion would not contradict his Conclusion.”
The employment of ignoratio elenchi is most persuasive
in extended argumentation when the train of reasoning used in evading the
question makes it difficult to follow and maintain attention.
- So, there are two related views of this fallacy: (a) the traditional
view is based on a disputation (or dialectical exchange) where a
disputant neglects a proper refutation which should prove the contradictory
of an opponent's thesis and instead endeavors to establish a different and
unrelated point, and (b) the more recent wider view of simply an argument
for a conclusion different from what was claimed.
- It's important to point out that in dialogical argumentation an
ignoratio elenchi fallacy can occur even if the
counter-argument is sound. In such a case, the counter-argument is termed
“fallacious” not because it is internally fallacious but
because it is irrelevant to the refutation of the thesis of the dispute.
Richard Whately describes an example of this type of
ignoratio elenchi (when viewed from a dialogical point
of view): the story of King Cyrus as a boy and the two coats. Again,
note how the fallacy results from mistaking the question at issue:
“One of his schoolfellows, who was tall and stout, had a
coat that was too small for him; and proposed to a smaller boy,
whose coat was much too big for him, to make an exchange. But
the other refused; whereupon the bigger boy took away the coat by
force, and left his own in exchange; and Cyrus, on being appealed
to, decided in favor of the exchange. He had judged rightly which
coat best fitted each boy; but this was not the real question;
which was, whether it was right to take away another's property
without his consent.”
A sound argument can be set up to demonstrate that the exchange of
coats was proper because each boy maximizes utility by owning a
fitting coat. However, this outcome is beside the essential point at
issue: viz. whether it's just to take another person's property
- Criterion of Relevance: The fact that no theoretical
definition or sufficient condition of relevance (or “logical
relatedness”) is established for informal fallacies is a
central difficulty for identifying instances of this fallacy.
Arguments and statements can be related in many different ways —
not just in terms their topical subject matter.
However, as a matter of practice, it is doubtful that a formal
analysis of relevance is possible. For our course our criterion
of relevance necessary to avoid an ignoratio
elenchi will be the requirement that any evidentiary
argument must either uphold or contravene supporting statements
for the thesis at issue. Consequently, if any premise of an
argument provides evidential support of either a proper denial
or affirmation of a thesis in dispute, then the premise is
thereby relevant, and the argument cannot be classified as an
ignoratio elenchi; instead, the argument is
be termed an argumentum ad rem: “the
direct or ostensive proof [or disproof] of the thesis, or problem,
or main point in question.”
State Univeristy of New York Press, 1999), xx.
Yet, I see no reason some contextual effects might not be relevant or
that a straw man response can be logically relevant.
Nevertheless, current usage of ignoratio elenchi is
wider than the traditional refutative or dialogical usage. In the more
general, contemporary use, relevance or non-relevance, if not obvious,
is determined on an ad hoc basis of the material evidentiary
support of a conclusion.
- Note that in formal logic, valid arguments are a property of
the formal structures of statements, rather than the material
content or subject matter of those statements. A formally valid
argument can turn out to be an informal fallacy of
ignoratio elenchi whenever the argument is
irrelevant to the thesis or whenever the premises are irrelevant
o the conclusion or the conclusion is irrelevant to the premises.
E.g., in symbolic logic the formal argument …
is a valid argument form. So, therefore, an argument such as …
∴ p ∨ q
The cat is on the mat.
is valid formally in that if the premise is true, the conclusion
is necessarily true as well. “The earth is flat” is part
of the conclusion, but statement is irrelevant to the statement
“The cat is on the mat.” (Relevance logics have been
developed with a view to avoid these failures of relevance.)
∴ The cat is on the mat or the earth is flat.
- Finally, it should be noted that in disputation, if the
argument used to support a thesis is demonstrated to be mistaken,
the demonstration does not prove the conclusion false — it
only shows the argument to be incorrect. To demonstrate that a
statement has not been proved does not prove that the statement is
false. (Q.v, the ad
- Non Sequitur, Red Herring, and Straw Man
Fallacies as Subtypes: Ignoratio elenchi is usually considered
broader in focus than the non sequitur, red herring, or
the straw man fallacies. (Although, various logicians use some of these
A non sequitur fallacy
occurs whenever a conclusion does not logically follow from its premises.
Even if both premises and conclusion are true in a non
sequitur, the fallacy occurs because the premises do not logically
support the conclusion.
Many logicians from the 19th century onward define non
sequitur as occurring whenever a conclusion does not follow from
its premises; so any formal fallacy is also a non
Arguments are sometimes given with an unexpressed premise when the
premise is assumed so obvious that it need not be stated. Such an
argument can be mistakenly taken for a non sequitur.
Consider the following argument set up here from a critical reasoning
It is important that we provide our students with a quality education.
The textbook author argues this argument is irrelevant reason or
∴ We should require every student to study a foreign language.
“There were no reasons given as to why studying a foreign
language should be a required part of a quality education.
The conclusion did not follow from the reason that was
Following Paul Grice's conversational implicature, if we have no reason
to suppose a speaker is not cooperative, the speaker expects that it
is within the competence of the listener to understand what was said.
Since the listener has no reason to suppose the speaker violates the
maxim to be relevant, the listener looks for ways the speaker's comments
The implicit premise for the argument at issue, which should should
suggest itself to anyone with an open mind, is the
plausible assumption that foreign language study is necessary for a quality
education. So, applying the principle of charity, the argument could be:
All subjects necessary for a quality education should be required.
Both premises can be questioned, so the argument might not be sound, but
by this analysis, the argument is not a fallacy of irrelevant reason or
[Foreign language study is a subject necessary for a quality education.]
∴ Foreign language study should be required.
A red herring fallacy occurs when
attention is diverted from the real question at issue by
introducing an argument on a different subject leading to a
topically irrelevant conclusion. In disputations, the use of
a red herring fallacy is an attempt to redirect attention away
from an adversary's argument by proving an unrelated
often stimulating conclusion.
The red herring fallacy differs from the straw man fallacy in that the
opponent's argument is not misrepresented &mash; it's just ignored.
Consequently, the red herring is distracts attention from the argument
under consideration by segueing to a different issue as a distractive
digression misdirecting the argument. Both red herring and straw man
fallacies occur most often in a dialogue or a disputation
If the “red herring” presents no argument, but
confines itself as a distractive diversion to a different topic,
then it's a rhetorical distraction, not a fallacy occurrence. A
fallacy in this course is defined
as an incorrect argument.
A straw man fallacy occurs when a locutor's
position is intentionally or unintentionally misrepresented and then
deceptively rejected as if it were the original argument. So the result
is that a different position from the one initially advanced is more
- Just as a constructed figure of straw is easily knocked down, so
likewise an argument inadequately restated as an implausible
misrepresentation is readily refuted.
- In contrast to an ignoratio elenchi, where the
conclusion of an argument is intentionally misrepresented
thereby enabling a straightforward refutation, a straw man
argument intentionally (or even unintentionally) misrepresents the
argument thereby ensuring artless refutation.
- The ignoratio
elenchi answers to the wrong point in a refutation; the straw
man reconstructs a wrong argument to refute. Often in practice the
distinction between ignoratio elenchi and straw man
is dispensable. In
any case, whenever either fallacy is intentionally committed, the
the principle of charity is violated.
- Other lesser-named fallacies similar to these which can be subsumed
under the ignoratio elenchi fallacy include:
disproof of a converse statement
subject changing (elenchi mutatio)
shifting ground (where a new argument is begun prior to the completion
of an argument under examination),
ignoring the issue,
and ignorance of the refutation.
These fallacies are all types of ignoratio elenchi and
are classified as such in this course.
In a legal context, these types of responses given to a question are
- Premises in an ignoratio elenchi have no direct
relation to the claim at issue. In this sense of the term, almost any
fallacy or relevance could be considered an instance of
- In general, an ignoratio elenchi occurs when an
argument purporting to establish a specific conclusion is directed,
instead, to proving a different conclusion. The responding argument can
itself be valid, but the use of argument is considered fallacious because
it missed the point at issue. For example:
“To argue that a particular branch of study — [the study
of mathematics] — should not be included in the curriculum
of our schools, on the plea that it will never earn ‘bread and
butter’ for nine-tenths of those who study it, would be a
typical instance of the fallacy.
Even when mathematics is not be used in future employment, the study
developed analytical skills and is required for other essential aspects of
- As noted above, Aristotle's use of ignoratio elenchi
is narrower than our contemporary usage. For Aristotle, an
elenchus is a syllogistic refutation of an
adversary's position establishing the contradictory of a thesis (hence, a
negative dialectic). So, literally, ignoratio elenchi means
“ignorance of the contradictory of the adversary's conclusion. With
Aristotle, an ignoratio elenchi can occur only in the
context of disputation where an opponent does not prove the contradictory
of the argument being disputed.
This view of ignoratio elenchi continued with the
medieval author Peter of Spain and the English theologian Henry Aldrich
whose influential logic text Artis Logicæ Compendium
influenced Richard Whately
who, in turn, extended the application of the fallacy to a somewhat wider
sense of “irrelevant conclusion” more in keeping with present day
usage which more or less began with Fowler in the mid-1800s:
“Whenever an argument is irrelevant to the object which a speaker
or writer professes to have in view, it is called an ignoratio
Currently the term ignoratio elenchi describes a
a putative refutation which proves or attempts to prove a thesis
different from that which it claims to disprove, and, for that reason,
ignoratio elenchi has a different scope of application
from that of the non sequitur which describes any
conclusion of an argument not logically following from its premises.
Moreover, an ignoratio elenchi can be a valid argument
(whose conclusion is not what is required); whereas, a non
sequitur is always invalid.
FIG. 1. Historical Frequency of Use of “ignoratio elenchi” and “non sequitur” in Google Books 1740-2000.
Ignoratio elenchi is traditionally used
as a "catch-all" classification for fallacies of irrelevance not properly
classified under more specific fallacies of relevance.
Identifying fallacies of relevance such as ad hominem,
ad populum, and so forth as ignoratio
elenchi, although correct, is imprecise.
So, in general, ignoratio elenchi arises from a
misunderstanding of the proper way to refute the argument being contested.
- The ignoratio elenchi is often persusaively effective
in oral political argumentation. Often listeners in such a venue are easily
distracted by the confidence and resolve of a speaker.
- Also, this fallacy can be effective as a persuasive technique when coupled
with the ad populum fallacy. The emotional situation in a crowd can often
be distracting and can result in overlooking the logical import of what is said.
- Some Common Examples of Ignoratio Elenchi:
There are many ways to evade a question. Some of the fallacious
techniques to change or shift the focus of an argument are listed
below together with a perfunctory example. It is essential to point
out that these examples apply to short “one-off” arguments
and do not necessarily apply to parts of extended argumentation for a
thesis such as those found in essays, books, debates, trials, disputations,
and the like. A major
disadvantage to the examples given in textbooks and with these notes is
that most ignoratio elenchi occurrences in writing and
speech are extended arguments.
Few logic texts point out that many instances of a purported
ignoratio elenchi can when considered in the
wider context of an extended argument not only be relevant but also
effectively add evidence probabilistically or inductively to the
elenchus or counter-thesis being refuted.
- The purported argument attempts to prove a wholly
different statement than that related to the question at
issue. The essential terms of the claim are changed (i.e.,
elenchi mutatio, “changing the
question”). An example:
“Is the soul immortal? It is proved, or attempted
to be proved, that the soul has not always been, and
therefore, it is not eternal.” [italics deleted]
That is, the original claim is not that the eternal soul
is “infinite in past and future duration,” but
that it is “infinite in future duration”
- The responding fallacious argument attempts to prove
an issue not denied or affirmed in the original argument.
“Thus, if a person should undertake to prove the
existence of ghosts, and should only prove some unusual
noises and appearances during the night, he would exemplify
this kind of fallacy.
Rather than prove the existence of ghosts, mysterious
occurrences are shown. Since these occurrences are not in
question, the issue has been changed.
- The given argument rhetorically provides an emotion or
a sentiment rather than a real conclusion. Example:
“Is the person at the bar guilty or not [?] … A
counsel might prove the heinousness of the crime charged,
the dreadful aggravations in this case, the need for making
public example of such a wretch …”[italics
These outcries miss the point of proving the accused's guilt.
- The original argument is misrepresented by refuting
only part of the topic: i.e., the refuting conclusion
drawn is only part of what is required. A minor point is
sometimes addressed, and the fallacious reasoner concludes the
original view is completely overcome. Thomas Reid provides
this example from John Locke's criticism of Nicholas Malebranche's
metaphysical distinction between Idea and Sensation:
“… Locke [neglects] the Cartesian opposition
of Idea and Sensation altogether, been guilty of an
egregious mutatio elenchi in his strictures
of the Cartesian doctrine of Extension, as the essential
attribute of body.”
Thomas Reid argues here that John Locke criticizes Malebranche
by imputing to him a Cartesian doctrine Malebranche did not hold.
- The original argument is misrepresented by attempting to prove
something more general than that which is required — the
fallacious argument proposed in reply is only vaguely applicable
in resolution of the controversy. Example:
”[E]ighty-seven Port Royal nuns refused to denounce
[Jansenism] in spite of its condemnation by two papal bulls.
… When Archbishop Pérefixe demanded that the
nuns sign the formula … the nuns [stated] such matters
were “above their profession and their sex.’
… [The nuns signed] the formula with this heading[:]
they ‘espouse absolutely and without reserve the faith of
the Catholic Church’
In effect, the nun's overarching statement implied to the Archbishop
they were religious, not Jansenist, since the Archbishop viewed these
beliefs incompatible. Yet, the nuns remained Jansenists since they
viewed the beliefs compatible.
- The issue under discussion is sidestepped by the irrelevant
weighing of alternatives. E.g., a critic misrepresents the
arguments of a locutor by raising a litany of collective objections or
criticisms and concludes that the alternative issues are too complex
for solution. Objections to almost any argument can be raised, but
the crux is whether or not the objections are telling and are not
simply rhetorical or whether or not other arguments outweigh
those objections. The truth of a conclusion is not determined by the
number of answerable objections that can be raised.
”Ilhan Omar is one of the four Democratic congresswomen of
color who Mr. Trump told to ‘go back’ to their
original countries. … [When] asked how he would feel if
someone told the first lady, who is from Slovenia, to go back
to her country [the president said] ‘Well if you go back
into the four congresswomen, the things they've said about our
country are terrible, what they've said about Israel are just
terrible. … I don't know I can't say for sure but certainly
a lot of people say they hate our country and I think it's a
disgrace what they've said. … And then you have these people
I think Omar I find it hard to believe but I hear Omar today put
in or yesterday put in a sanctions bill against Israel and other
things beyond sanctions. So when I hear that, you just can't talk
about our country that way. And when people are angry at them I
fully understand it.”
President Trump's ignoratio elenchi is bundled with
an implicit ad populum, an ad hominem,
and hearsay. Simply to point out the existence of objections is not a
fallacy per se, but simply pointing out objections in the absence
of counterobjections to reach a default conclusion is fallacious. In public
discussions or debates, raising objections can overwhelm an opponent since
only a limited number of objections can be effectively answered within the
- The contrary is erroneously thought to be proved from
the falsity of the contrary
of the point at issue. (Contrary statements can both be false
but cannot both be true).
Also, a fallacy occurs if it is thought that the failure of establishing
a specific conclusion is proof of the opposite conclusion.
“Maybe the two most famous opposing views on this debate
are those of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hobbes
describes humans as ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’,
needing society and rules to reign in their instincts in order
to thrive; later Rousseau openly criticised him, arguing instead
that man would be gentle and pure without the corruption of
greed and inequality caused by the class system imposed by our
An ignoratio elenchi would occur if from the falsity of
Hobbes' belief, Rousseau concludes that people are essentially good.
Both views could be false; that is, people neither innately are born good
- An argument shifts the grounds of the argument being
examined and to some other more familiar subject.
“When an opinion is propounded, we find people attacking
it on the ground of its traditional character, its being nothing
new, or its bearing, real or supposed, upon existing interests
To say that an argument is not new or in antiquated is not to
say that the argument is mistaken.
Or, to take another example, many international and national leaders
lament by means of example, the increase of ill-mannered speech
among U.S. politicians. Such an argument is thought discounted by the
contention that this contention is nothing new: foreigners have always
referred to U.S. citizens of being discourteous and inconsiderate
- The argument, in effect, disproves a statement which is not
Thus, when in a discussion one party vindicates, on the ground
of general expediency, a particular instance of resistance to
Government in a case of intolerable oppression, the opponent may
gravely maintain that ‘we ought not to do evil that good
may come:’ a proposition which of course had never been
denied, the point in dispute being ‘whether resistance in
this particular case were doing evil or not.’”
Many people assume the truth of an aphorism in oral discourse since
the evaluation of its appropriateness to the argument at hand would
cause momentary inattention to the continuing discourse.
- Finally, as Francis Bacon states, “Not to resolve, is to resolve,
[an action].” Whately
“[W]ithout considering whether more and weightier objections
may not lie against their own schemes … their opponents
have this decided advantage over them, that they can urge with great
plausibility, ‘we do not call upon you to reject
at once whatever is objected to, but merely to suspend your
judgment and not come to a decision as long as there are reasons
on both sides:’ now since there always will be reasons
on both sides, this non-decision is practically the very
same thing as a decision in favour of the existing state of
things; the delay of trial becomes the equivalent to an
acquittal.” [italics original]
In this case, leaving open the question shifts back the burden of proof
to the objector.
- The key for argument evaluation of ignoratio elenchi
fallacies is the determination as to whether or not an appeal used in the
argument is relevant to the conclusion. Relevance in arguments is
established by material evidential connection of the premises with the
Trudy Govier defines “positive relevance” as one
statement counting in favor of the truth an another statement, and Douglas Walton defines
“probative relevance” as a statement playing some part in proving
or disproving another statement.
Material evidential relevance, probative relevance, and positive relevance
are similar concepts with some differences.
So, one statement is irrelevant to another statement if and only if the first
statement does not does provide evidence for or against the second statement.
- Consider how to assess relevancy in the following example based on
the final release of the last U.S. embassy hostages held in Iran in
“The 52 former hostages are seen as national heroes. I
consider them survivors. A hero is one who is admired for his
achievements and qualities. Therefore, the true heroes are those
servicemen who volunteered for the failed rescue mission.”
Ms. Coyne's conclusion indicates that the finally released 52 former
U.S. hostages are not true heroes, but the servicemen who failed
the rescue attempt are true heroes. The “achievements
and qualities” of the servicemen are due to their courage, nobility
of purpose, and risk of life in the rescue attempt, — not the
outcome of the attempt. Similar qualities are attributed to the survivors
who were held for over 14 months by the Iranians.
- Rather than directly proving that the 52 former hostages are not heroes,
by means of misdirection, Ms. Coyne conceals the dubious assumption
that the withheld hostages cannot be admired for their achievements and
qualities since they are (just) survivors.
The statement that the soldiers are heroes implies nothing whatsoever
as to the “achievements and qualities,” i.e., the
heroism of the survivor hostages and thus is evidentially irrelevant.
- How to Respond to an Ignoratio Elenchi with
Examples of Ignoratio elenchi in Personal Disagreements:
- In order to address and demonstrate the nature of the fallacy, the
question at issue stated in argument form is compared side-by-side
with the elenchus, or supposed refutation:
“Refutations … must … be met by examining the
conclusion in light of its contradictory and seeing how the same
term shall be resent in the same respect and in the same relation,
manner and time.”
For example, consider the following summary of a disagreement:
[Medic]: “The man is unfit to travel, because he has a
Comparison: “Being unfit to travel” is not necessarily
connected with being a soldier but is necessarily connected with serious
illness. So the statement that a man is a soldier does not obviate the
statement that when seriously ill he is fit to travel.
[Captain:] ”The man is fit to travel, because he
is a soldier.”
- On occasion, the lack of a clear and distinct response to an
argument can lead to a charge of Ignoratio Elenchi.
What follows is an example where a less than straight-forward apology
became an incipient event in one thread of a complex conflict in the
storied controversy which began between Mr. Kingsley and Dr. Newman:
Mr. Kingsley states in an article in a Macmillan's
“Truth, for its own sake, had never been a virtue with the
Roman clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the
whole ought not be …“
Dr. Kingsley responds to the magazine:
”There is no reference … to any words of mine …
in justification of this statement. … I do wish to draw the
attention … to a grave and gratuitous slander …
To which Mr. Kingsley replies in a letter to Macmillan's:
“Dr. Newman has by letter expresst, in the strongest terms,
his denial of the meaning which I have put upon his words. It only
remains, therefore, for me to express my hearty regret at having so
seriously mistaken him.”
This should have been the end to the matter, but Dr. Newman expected
the “slanderous” statement to be withdrawn. Instead, Mr.
Kingsley's response was seen as an ignoratio elenchi,
namely the regret that Dr. Newman had misunderstood the statement —
not the regret that Dr. Newman had never made such a statement.
From this point on, the disagreement only intensified as one of the greatest
“ungentlemenly” controversies of the nineteenth century.
- Ignoratio Elenchi Examples: Practice for
- Read and analyze the following passages. whether or not you judge
an ignoratio elenchi fallacy to be present in the
- “In 2016, the U.S. government announced that Harriet Tubman
will become the face of the $20 bill. If you need proof that America
can still get it right, there it is.”
- “It is incredibly simple to gain body fat. In fact, it is so
basic that it commonly happens without intent; even worse, it happens
when a person is trying to avoid fat gain. Surely, if a problem arises
so naturally and simply, the solution must be equally simple and
- “Secretary of State John Kerry says that there is less
violence than usual in the world right now. Meanwhile the Director
of National Intelligence, James Clapper, says the opposite, that
terrorism is more violent and dangerous than ever. Since Clapper
is Director of National Intelligence, maybe Kerry should have the
title Director of National Stupidity.“
- “Five years ago, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
ordered manufacturers of extended-release and long-acting (ER/LA)
opioids to offer clinicians training on how to prescribe the drugs for
pain to prevent patients from getting addicted or overdosing.
Now the FDA is proposing an expansion of that educational mandate
for opioid makers — to teach physicians how to manage pain
with yoga, cognitive therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, and other
‘Nobody has overdosed from too much mindfulness,’ said
Corey Waller, MD, who chairs the legislative advocacy committee of the
American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), in an interview with
Medscape Medical News.”
- “You've probably heard the New York mayor has proposed a
ban on selling supersized, sugary drinks. Here's what I want to
respectfully say to Mayor Bloomberg: ‘Really?’ Terrorist
cells might be lurking about and multiplying like bacteria on a dish
sponge, homeless people are sleeping in alleys and Mayor Bloomberg
is in a tizzy about Big Gulps being sold at the 7-Eleven?”
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has chosen to appoint women
to half the positions in his Cabinet.
Why did he do it? ‘Because it's 2015,’ the new PM said.
- “Now, what else would stamp a murder as being a most
atrocious crime? … It may be that the state's attorney would
think that it was particularly cruel to the victim because he was
a boy. Well, my clients are boys, too, and if it would make more
serious the offense to kill a boy, it should make less serious
the offense of the boys who do the killing.”
- “My point is that scientists got obsessed with the
Mediterranean diet in large part because it's a great place to go for
- “The Trump administration is being sued over
its plans to include a question about citizenship in the 2020
Census, which California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D)
says ‘is not just a bad idea — it is illegal.’
No, it's not. There is nothing wrong with asking about
citizenship. Canada asks a citizenship question on its census.
So do Australia and many other U.S. allies.”
”We request your help in compiling a book which recalls
memories from our parents' first 50 years of marriage. On the
enclosed sheet, we ask that you write one memory or event
that you have shared with them, and return it to us by April 25.
We believe that loving memories they have shared with you, their
friends, would be the most treasured gift they could receive;
therefore, we request that no other gift be sent.” [“Dear
Abby,” The Index Journal (February 2, 1980),
- Finally it should be noted that one reason for a fallacy
identification of ignoratio elenchi rather than that
of a specific type of fallacy of relevance is the purported reasoning
in the example is not clear enough for a definitive assessment given
the context of the argument.
For example, the following passage can be plausibly analyzed in different
ways depending upon how the missing premises are supplied:
“One after another of our leaders and heroes managed to shame himself
in the past couple of decades. Americans have always been a little
skeptical of politicians, but Bill Clinton (and too many others of
both parties to name in recent years) invited outright contempt and
disgust. Baseball players and world champion bikers admit to doping
after vigorous and protracted denials. Best-selling historians and
journalists are caught plagiarizing. Teachers are having sex with
their underage students. Doctors are caught taking lewd photographs
of their patients. The Secret Service uses prostitutes. The most
decorated and esteemed military officer of our time is forced to
resign as CIA director after a sex scandal. One of the most admired
college football coaches in the nation is found to have kept silent
about child abuse. The Catholic Church as been profoundly tarnished
for failing to protect children from pedophile priests. So, for all
of us, even the non-Catholics, it will be a tonic, and possibly even
a little inspiring, if Pope Francis turns out to be just what he seems
“a truly Godly man who lives out his faith.’” [Mona
Charen, “Hoping for the Real Deal in Francis,”
Index-Journal 94 no. 322 (March 19, 2013), 6A.
From her list of selected examples of leaders and heroes who have flawed
character or behavior, the author argues to the unexpected conclusion
that it will be ‘a tonic and possibly even a little inspiring’
to learn that the newly selected pope is not flawed also.
One interpretation of the argument might be just to notice the biased
selection of flawed leaders and flawed heroes (without consideration of
honest and ethical leaders and heroes) and conclude the argument commits
a fallacy of cherry picking or biased selection.
The author might be presupposing that all of these examples point implicitly
to the generalization as a subconclusion that most leaders and heroes are
flawed. And then the author might be concluding from this that if the pope
turns out to be an exception to that generalization, it will be unexpected.
The fallacies of converse accident and accident might be plausibly argued.
But since there is no clear connection or relevance of the kinds of leaders
or heroes mentioned in the premisses with respect to the leader of the
Catholic Church, assuming the passage is argumentative, identification of
the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi seems appropriate.
It is perhaps more charitable to conclude that the “so” in the
last sentence is not a conclusion indicator and the author did not intend
the passage to be argumentative.
“[T]he leading varieties [of ignoratio elenchi:]
Alfred Sidgwick, Fallacies: A View of Logic from the Practical
Side (New York: D. Appleton, 1884), 188.
The varieties are endless …”
- [M]ildly denying that a certain thing is absolutely
- [B]oldly point out that something else is altogether
valueless, we are met by the answer that we ‘can't expect perfection.’
- [A]sserting that some doctrine lacks argument to
prove its truth, we are referred to excellent reasons for believing in
- [E]ndeavouring to trace the manner in which some
highly developed growth (e.g. conscience) originated, we are
supposed to be refuted by a mere description of its present nature.
- [D]isputing an argument, or an instance, we are
supposed flatly to deny the theory in support of which there were brought
- [M]aking some merely tentative suggestion we are
asked for definite proof.
Notes: Ignoratio Elenchi
Readings: Ignoratio Elenchi
Fabrizio Macagno and Douglas Walton, Interpreting Straw Man Argumentation
(Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 1017). doi:
Frans H. van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst, “Relevance Reviewed:
The Case of Argumentum ad Hominem,”
Argumentation 6 no. 2(May, 1992), 141-159. doi:
Walton, Douglas N. “Ignoratio
Elenchi: The Red Herring Fallacy” Informal Logic
2 no. 3 (1979), 3-7. doi:
Douglas N. Walton, “The Straw Man Fallacy,” Logic and Argumentation ed. Johan van Bentham, Frans H. van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst and Frank Veltman (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1996), 115-128.
Richard Whately, Elements of Logic (London:
J. Mawman, 1826), 187-202.
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