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.