For Argument’s Sake

I am not an irascible person, but there are some things that are guaranteed to annoy me more than a little…and bad arguments are sure to set my temper on hair trigger.

When I was younger, so much younger than today…  when I first started to discuss things with those around me, I had a friend. Well, not a friend exactly, but a companion who was utterly clueless.  He was a waster of a debater. He would attempt to argue his case, which was invariably a weak one. When challenged, he would recite the letters “Q.E.D”, and sit back with a smug look. If asked to elucidate, he might expand this to “Quod erat demonstrandum”, but would not (as I recall) go as far as translating it into English. This mantra was presumed, in his dim enlightenment, to transform a weak argument into an unanswerable one. And in a way it did, because you can’t argue with complete idiocy.

Among the unintelligent, such forms of words are substitute for thought. The frightening thing is how often you come across other examples like ” This is the twenty-first century” and  “It is the slippery slope”. These two are frequently heard when two earnest morons are discussing a moral issue. The phrases normally attach to the progressive and conservative views respectively, and are regarded as clinching the argument; both are equally devoid of meaning. These are the clichés of discussion, along with ” The exception proves the rule”, which is true only in a very limited semantic sense, but weak debaters use the phrase to attempt to prove almost anything. Anything except a negative of course, because   as we all know “You can’t prove a negative” I don’t know who first put forward this bizarre concept, but I would like to ask them why not. According to the philosopher Karl Popper, a negative is about the only thing we can prove.

Joseph Mason


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