Tag Archives: absurdity

Doctrine of absurdity

The doctrine of absurdity refers to any strict interpretation of something to the point of violating common sense, e.g., following religious dictates, such as in pharisaism (emphasizing or observing the something’s exact rules or words, but not its spirit).

The absurdity doctrine, also known as the ‘scrivener’s error‘ exception, is a legal theory under which American courts have interpreted statutes contrary to their plain meaning in order to avoid absurd legal conclusions. It is contrasted with Reductio ad absurdum, reducing to an absurdity, is a method of proof in logic and mathematics, whereby assuming that a proposition is true leads to absurdity; a proposition is assumed to be true and this is used to deduce a proposition known to be false, therefore the original proposition must have been false.

“The common sense of man approves the judgment mentioned by Pufendorf [sic. Puffendorf], that the Bolognian law which enacted ‘that whoever drew blood in the streets should be punished with the utmost severity’, did not extend to the surgeon who opened the vein of a person that fell down in the street in a fit. The same common sense accepts the ruling, cited by Plowden, that the statute of 1st Edward II, which enacts that a prisoner who breaks prison shall be guilty of a felony, does not extend to a prisoner who breaks out when the prison is on fire – ‘for he is not to be hanged because he would not stay to be burnt’.”

It is also an argumentation style in polemics, whereby a position is demonstrated to be false, or “absurd”, by assuming it and reasoning to reach something known to be believed to be false or to violate common sense; e.g., as used by Plato to argue against other philosophical positions.

 

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Poe’s Law

Poe’s law is a kind of paradox which states that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent (even just a smiley), it is impossible to tell the difference between a sincere expression of extreme views and a parody of those views.  This is because the actual views and their parody both seem equally irrational or absurd.

Poe’s Law was formulated by the writer Nathan Poe in August 2005. The law emerged at the online Creation & Evolution forum.  Like most such places, it had seen a large number of creationist parody postings. These were usually followed by at least one user starting a flame war (a series of angry and offensive personal attacks) thinking it was a serious post and taking it at face value.

The law caught on and has since slowly become an Internet meme. Over time it has been extended to include not just creationist parody but any parody of extreme ideology, whether it be religious, secular, anti-science, conspiracy theorist or just totally bonkers.  We even find it a problem in the Skeptics in Australia Facebook group, where it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the poster is joking or not.  That’s why we ask people to include their own comment instead of just providing a link.

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A ‘Poe’ as a noun has become almost as ubiquitous as Poe’s Law itself. In this context, a Poe refers to either a person, post or news story that could cause Poe’s Law to be invoked. In most cases, this is specifically in the sense of posts and people who are taken as legitimate, but are probably a parody.  The use of the term is most common in online skeptical and science-based communities.  Many blogs, forums and wikis will often refer to the law when dealing with cranks of any stripe.

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Filed under Paradoxes