Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Ad Culum Fallacy

Several years ago, philosopher Keith Parsons announced he was retiring from the field of theology, dismissing the area as a "fraud." Edward Feser, a fellow philosopher and a theologian, understandably took offense. Time has passed, tempers have cooled, and Edward Feser, in response to a post from Parsons, politely asked four questions directly related to that post. Parsons response in the combox was:
On second thought, after looking at your "straightforward questions" my answer is: Nah. I was expecting an invitation to a civil academic discussion, but I find that you are still in personal attack mode. My only response will be to assure you that you have not hurt my feelings at all. I think you are a horse's ass, and the disdain of your ilk is of no concern to me at all. Indeed, I consider it a badge of honor. Please do write more nasty things about me for the amusement of your ignorant and boorish followers. It makes my day when I piss off people like you guys.
The back and forth became a bit more heated after that, nearly all the insults flying from Parson's side. I commented:
The argumentum ad culum equi, the so-called "horse's ass fallacy" or, simply, "the ad culum," is a fallacious attempt to prove one party is being unadmirably rude by being unadmirably rude. Typically the first party is not, in fact, being unadmirably rude, leading to the general puzzlement of many and often all spectators. E.g., a typical instance of the ad culum may proceed as follows:  
Party 1: I realize we've gotten off to a bad start, but can we put that aside and have an intelligent and hopefully constructive exchange? 
Party 2: Stop insulting me, you horse's ass.  
The traditional ad culum allows for several (in principle, infinite) iterations, as:  
Party 1: I don't see how I'm being insulting--could you perhaps point out where you think I've been less than polite? 
Party 2: I thought I told you to stop insulting me, you horse's ass.  
Party 1: Hmm. I guess... well. That is to say.. well, I, uh, I'm not sure I quite see your point.  
Party 2: (points at Party 1 and then points to picture of horse's ass) 
Party 1: ... ok.  
Following the equine-caudal nomenclature, each iteration of the ad culum is typically called a "swish."  
Also known as Parsons's Parry, after the philosopher Keith Parsons, who first deployed the fallacy in debate with fellow professor Edward Feser. Three swishes were attested to in that circumstance, but further study has found many instances in the history of philosophy with more. Particularly notable is Schopenhauer's dismissal of Hegel as: 1. a camel's hump; 2. an ox's anus; 3. a goose's gizzard; 4. an auroch's vas deferens; 5. a squid's inkbag; 6. a caribou's nethers; and, finally; 7. a ferret's taint. Equally famous is Russell's exchange with Bergson, the language of which is too crude to repeat here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Works Cited

And there we have it – the moment of supreme agony on the raft, taken up, transformed, justified by art, turned into a sprung and weighted image, then varnished, framed, glazed, hung in a famous art gallery to illuminate our human condition, fixed, final, always there. Is that what we have? Well, no. People die; rafts rot; and works of art are not exempt. The emotional structure of Géricault’s work, the oscillation between hope and despair, is reinforced by the pigment: the raft contains areas of bright illumination violently contrasted with patches of the deepest darkness. To make the shadow as black as possible, Géricault used quantities of bitumen to give him the shimmeringly gloomy black he sought. Bitumen, however, is chemically unstable, and from the moment Louis XVIII examined the work a slow, irreparable decay of the paint surface was inevitable ‘No sooner do we come into this world,’ said Flaubert, ‘than bits of us start to fall off.’ The masterpiece, once completed, does not stop: it continues in motion, downhill. Our leading expert on Géricault confirms that the painting is ‘now in part a ruin’. And no doubt if they examine the frame they will discover woodworm living there.

Barnes, Julian. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Works Cited

Back in the stateroom with the Swedes and the Japanese, Franklin remembered a TV series about psychology he’d once been asked to present. It had folded directly after the pilot, a loss nobody much regretted. One item in that show reported an experiment for measuring the point at which self-interest takes over from altruism. Put like this, it sounded almost respectable; but Franklin had been revolted by the actual test. The researchers had taken a female monkey who had recently given birth and put her in a special cage. The mother was still feeding and grooming her infant in a way presumably not too dissimilar from the maternal behaviour of the experimenters’ wives. Then they turned a switch and began heating up the metal floor of the monkey’s cage. At first she jumped around in discomfort, then squealed a lot, then took to standing on alternate legs, all the while holding her infant in her arms. The floor was made hotter, the monkey’s pain more evident. At a certain point the heat from the floor became unbearable, and she was faced with a choice, as the experimenters put it, between altruism and self-interest. She either had to suffer extreme pain and perhaps death in order to protect her offspring, or else place her infant on the floor and stand on it to keep herself from harm. In every case, sooner or later self-interest had triumphed over altruism.

Barnes, Julian. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters