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Non Sequitur

by Hans Bluedorn

Consider this quote:

"There are some truths which are so obvious that, for this very reason, they are not seen or at least not recognized by ordinary people. They sometimes pass by such truisms as though blind, and are most astonished when someone suddenly discovers what everyone really ought to know." Adolf Hitler in "Mein Kampf"

It is my opinion that Adolf Hitler was a man who - while he may not have had much intelligence - seemed to get along fine without it.

The above quote may strike the point down a little deeper. How could he say something is obvious, yet say it is not recognized by the commoner simply because it is obvious?

The definition of obvious is: "Easily discovered, seen, or understood; readily perceived by the eye or the intellect; plain; evident." It seems to me that, if something is obvious then, by definition, it would have to be readily perceived by people everywhere. And if ordinary people are not noticing or realizing it, it can't be obvious to them.

This is the fallacy of non sequitur, the Latin words for "does not follow." A non sequitur describes a catch-all fallacy where the conclusion just does not follow from the given premises.

The term "non sequitur" is most often used when a statement openly contradicts itself and makes no sense. If no other title can be ascribed to an argument's logical irregularities, but the conclusion plainly does not follow from the premises, we can call those irregularities a non sequitur just for lack of any other title.

Example: I think I would make a good diplomat to China. I have a very good record in dealing with minorities.

This statement makes no sense, but since no other fallacy title can be found to cover it, it is a non sequitur. Foreigners that are minorities in America are not minorities in their home country. Consequently, having a reputation for dealing with minorities over here would not have much sway where these minorities are two billion strong.

Likewise, with Adolf Hitler. When common people are not recognizing something, it is because it is not readily recognizable to them - it is not obvious to them. What is obvious to one person is not obvious to another. Our quote is a contradiction in terms.

While Adolf Hitler is doing a bad job of it, possibly what he is trying to communicate is this: there are things that are obvious to him that are seemingly not so obvious to the common people, and so, when Hitler enlightens them to these ideas, they suddenly say, "why did we not see this before." However, Hitler does not say this. We may give him the benefit of the doubt and claim this irregularity to a mistake of the translation into English (I don't know German and can only speculate), the fact remains, the statement does not make sense - it is a non sequitur by fault of Adolf Hitler or the translator.

Another example of a non sequitur was given to me by Ted Holt, of Corinth, Mississippi. It came from a news report on the internet describing a particularly well-preserved archaeological excavation site in Georgia.

"It's very unusual to find a site in this good of a state," said David Brewer, an archaeologist with National Park Service. "This is one of the best unexcavated sites in the world." "Augusta Chronicle"

Hmm. Let's think about this for a minute. If this is one of the best unexcavated sites in the world, where are all the other unexcavated sites, and what is the state of these sites? Of course they have not been excavated yet. But, if all the other sites have not been excavated yet, how do you know this one is the best?

This reminds me of the fellow who wondered what the highest mountain in the world had been before Mount Everest was discovered.

Similarly, the statement that this archaeological site is one of the best unexcavated sites in the world makes no sense; it contradicts itself, because until they excavated it, how did they know what was there?

How do you deal with a non sequitur? Point out the contradictions and absurdities as they become obvious. Perhaps you can come up with a parallel example that makes the absurdities painfully obvious. If you think the perpetrator committed the non sequitur by mistake, give them opportunity to re-express themselves.


From The Wizard of Oz:

"DOROTHY: Are you doing that on purpose, or can't you make up your mind?

"SCARECROW: That's the trouble. I can't make up my mind. I haven't got a brain. Just straw.

"DOROTHY: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?

"SCARECROW: I don't know. But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they?

"DOROTHY: Yes, I guess you're right."

When I first heard this, I thought it was well said and very true–a quote that could be aptly placed in one of those volumes of quotable quotations. "Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they?" I think I know a few of them.

But this thought - even though it comes from the Scarecrow, and consequently should not be taken too seriously (he hasn't any brain) - has one flaw: It has a logical irregularity.

What is it?

Send your answers - and reasons for your answers - to me and I'll print the best ones next time.

Here are several fallacies to get you started:

1. Hasty Generalization: Criticizing something without a sufficient sample:

Ex: All Fords are bad. I once owned a Ford and it was junk.

Ex. I don't think anybody lives in North Dakota. Everybody I ever talked to who was from there doesn't live there anymore.

2. Equivocation: Changing the meaning of a key term in mid-argument:

Ex: Those are my reasons for doing it, but, since you never listen to reason, you'll ignore them.

Ex: If the English don't drive on the right side of the road, what are they doing on the wrong side?

3. Red Herring: Changing the topic or wandering from the subject deliberately, in order to confuse an issue:

Ex: Taking illegal drugs can't be bad. There are lots of people that benefit from them.

Ex: Gun manufacturers should do something about all those guns they have lying around. My grandson was brutally murdered last summer by another kid with a gun.

4. Fallacy of Composition: Arguing that the whole possesses the qualities of its individual parts:

Ex: This will be a very good pie; I used only the best ingredients.

Ex: This team has very good players, it's bound to be a good team.

5. Appeal to Ignorance: Saying something is true because it hasn't been proven false:

Ex: You can't prove you didn't steal that car, so you must be guilty.

Ex: No evidence has been found that there isn't life on other planets. Therefore, we are not alone in the universe.

Copyright February 16, 2001, all rights reserved. 20377 views

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