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An absurdity is a thing that is extremely unreasonable, so as to be foolish or not taken seriously, or the state of being so. "Absurd" is an adjective used to describe an absurdity, e.g., "this encyclopedia article is absurd." It derives from the Latin absurdum meaning "out of tune", hence irrational. The Latin surdus means "deaf", implying stupidity. Absurdity is contrasted with seriousness in reasoning. In general usage, absurdity may be synonymous with ridiculousness and nonsense. In specialized usage, absurdity is related to extremes in bad reasoning or pointlessness in reasoning; ridiculousness is related to extremes of incongruous juxtaposition, laughter, and ridicule; and nonsense is related to a lack of meaningfulness. Absurdism is a concept in philosophy related to the notion of absurdity.
- 1 Demarcation with sound reasoning
- 2 Humor and point making
- 3 Psychology
- 4 Doctrine
- 5 Reduction: reductio ad absurdum in polemics, logic and mathematics
- 6 Theology
- 7 History
- 8 In rhetoric
- 9 Technical use in existentialism, philosophy of language, logic, and computer science
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Demarcation with sound reasoning
Medical commentators have criticized methods and reasoning in alternative and complementary medicine and integrative medicine as being either absurdities, or being between evidence and absurdity, often misleading the public with euphemistic terminology such as the expressions "alternative medicine" and "complementary medicine", and calling for a clear demarcation between valid scientific evidence and scientific methodology and absurdity.
Humor and point making
"I can see nothing" – Alice in Wonderland
- "My, you must have good eyes" – Cheshire Cat
Absurdity is used in humor to make people laugh or to make a sophisticated point, for example in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky", a poem of nonsense verse, originally featured as a part of his absurdist novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872); Carroll was a logician and parodied logic using illogic and inverting logical methods. Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges used absurdities in his short stories to note points. Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is considered absurdist by some.
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
"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'."
Reduction: reductio ad absurdum in polemics, logic and mathematics
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. 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.
"I believe because it is absurd"— Tertullian
Absurdity is cited as a basis for some theological reasoning about formation of belief and faith, such as in fideism, an epistemological theory that reason and faith may be hostile to each other. The statement "Credo quia absurdum" ("I believe because it is absurd") is attributed to Tertullian from De Carne Christi, as translated by philosopher Voltaire. According to the New Advent Church, what Tertullian actually says in DCC 5 is "... the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd."
In the 15th century, the Spanish theologian Tostatus used what he thought was a reduction to absurdity arguing against a spherical earth using dogma, arguing that a spherical earth would imply the existence of antipodes, which would be impossible since this would require either that Christ has appeared twice, or that the inhabitants of the antipodes would be forever damned, which he claimed was an absurdity.
Absurdity has been used throughout western history regarding foolishness and extremely poor reasoning to form belief.
Plato often used "absurdity" to describe very poor reasoning, or the conclusion from adopting a position that is false and reasoning to a false conclusion, called an "absurdity" (argument by reductio ad absurdum). Plato describes himself as not using absurd argumentation against himself in Parmenides. In Gorgias, Plato refers to an "inevitable absurdity" as the outcome of reasoning from a false assumption.
Aristotle rectified an irrational absurdity in reasoning with empiricism using likelihood, "once the irrational has been introduced and an air of likelihood imparted to it, we must accept it in spite of the absurdity. He claimed that absurdity in reasoning being veiled by charming language in poetry, "As it is, the absurdity is veiled by the poetic charm with which the poet invests it… But in the Epic poem the absurdity passes unnoticed."
Renaissance and early modern periods
Michel de Montaigne, father of the essay and modern skepticism, argued that the process of abridgement is foolish and produces absurdity, "Every abridgement of a good book is a foolish abridgement… absurdity [is] not to be cured… satisfied with itself than any reason, can reasonably be."
Francis Bacon, an early promoter of empiricism and the scientific method, argued that absurdity should not always be laughed at, since it is a necessary component of scientific progress, where bold new ways of thinking and bold hypotheses often led to absurdity, "For if absurdity be the subject of laughter, doubt you but great boldness is seldom without some absurdity."
Hobbes' "Table of Absurdity"
Thomas Hobbes distinguished absurdity from errors, including basic linguistic errors as when a word is simply used to refer to something which does not have that name. According to Aloysius Martinich: "What Hobbes is worried about is absurdity. Only human beings can embrace an absurdity, because only human beings have language, and philosophers are more susceptible to it than others". Hobbes wrote that "words whereby we conceive nothing but the sound, are those we call absurd, insignificant, and nonsense. And therefore if a man should talk to me of a round quadrangle; or, accidents of bread in cheese; or, immaterial substances; or of a free subject; a free will; or any free, but free from being hindered by opposition, I should not say he were in an error, but that his words were without meaning, that is to say, absurd". He distinguished seven types of absurdity. Below is the summary of Martinich, based on what he describes as Hobbes' "mature account" found in "De Corpore" 5., which all use examples that could be found in Aristotelian or scholastic philosophy, and all reflect "Hobbes' commitment to the new science of Galileo and Harvey". This is known as "Hobbes' Table of Absurdity".
- "Combining the name of a body with the name of an accident." For example, "existence is a being" or, "a being is existence". These absurdities are typical of scholastic philosophy according to Hobbes.
- "Combining the name of a body with the name of a phantasm." For example, "a ghost is a body".
- "Combining the name of a body with the name of a name." For example, "a universal is a thing".
- "Combining the name of an accident with the name of a phantasm." For example, "colour appears to a perceiver".
- "Combining the name of an accident with the name of a name." For example, "a definition is the essence of a thing".
- "Combining the name of a phantasm with the name of a name." For example, "the idea of a man is a universal".
- "Combining the name of a thing with the name of a speech act." For example, "some entities are beings per se".
Although common usage now considers "absurdity" to be synonymous with "ridiculousness", Hobbes discussed the two concepts as different, in that absurdity is viewed as having to do with invalid reasoning, while ridiculousness has to do with laughter, superiority, and deformity.
Absurdity arises when one’s own speech deviates from common sense, is too poetic, or when one is unable to defend themselves with speech and reason. In Aristotle’s book Rhetoric, Aristotle discusses the situations in which absurdity is employed and how it affects one’s use of persuasion. The idea of a man being unable to persuade someone by his words is absurd. According to Aristotle, a speech should not be too poetic because it imports absurdity and tastelessness to a speech. Any unnecessary information to the case is unreasonable and makes the speech unclear. If the speech becomes too unclear; the justification for their case becomes unpersuasive, making the argument absurd.
Technical use in existentialism, philosophy of language, logic, and computer science
In existential philosophy
It is illogical to seek purpose or meaning in an uncaring world without purpose or meaning, or to accumulate excessive wealth in the face of certain death. Absurdity is used in existentialist and related philosophy to describe absurdly pointless efforts to try to find such meaning or purpose in an objective and uncaring world, a philosophy known as absurdism.
Thomas Nagel is another person who has analyzed the absurd. In his paper The Absurd, Nagel explains the perpetual absurdity of human life. Absurdity in life becomes apparent when we realize the fact that we take our lives seriously, while simultaneously perceiving that there is a certain arbitrarity in everything we do. He suggests never to stop searching for the absurd. Furthermore, he suggests searching for irony amongst the absurdity.
Theater of the Absurd
"Theater should be a bloody and inhuman spectacle designed to exercise (sic. exorcise) the spectator's repressed criminal and erotic obsessions.
In the philosophy of language
Philosopher G. E. Moore cites a paradox in that such statements as "I went to the pictures last Tuesday but I don't believe it" can be true, are (logically) consistent, and are not (obviously) contradictions. Wittgenstein observes that in some unusual circumstances absurdity itself disappears in such statements, as there are cases where "It is raining but I don't believe it" can make sense, i.e., what appears to be an absurdity is not nonsense.
Logic and computer science
Constant in logic
The "absurdity constant" is used in formal logic.
Rule in logic
- Non sequitur (literary device)
- Ridiculous (general use)
- The Moon is made of green cheese
- Webster's Dictionary
- "Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Between Evidence and Absurdity", Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Volume 52, Number 2, Spring 2009, pp. 289–303, Edzard Ernst
- "Propagation of the Absurd: demarcation of the Absurd revisited", Wallace Sampson, Kimball Atwood IV, The Medical Journal of Australia, 183 (11/12)
- Wonderland Revisited, Harry Levin
- "to justify this 'absurdity' is the primordial object of this note", Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges, p. 39, 
- "On the Absurdity of Kafka's Works from Transformer", G Yan-li, Journal of Yunyang Teachers College, 2008
- The psychology of adaptation to absurdity: tactics of make-believe, by Seymour Fisher, Rhoda Lee Fisher, 
- "Effects of Absurdity in Advertising: The Moderating Role of Product Category Attitude and the Mediating Role of Cognitive Responses", Journal of Advertising, 2000, Leopold Arias-Bolzmann, Goutam Chakraborty, John C. Mowen, 
- "Pharisaic", Your Diciontionary.com
- "It was Pharisaic in its ritualism and… asceticism… proclaiming a doctrine of absurdity to the enlightened pagan", The Churches of the New Testament, George W. McDaniel, 1921
- Your Dictionary.com
- The Absurdity Doctrine, Harvard Law Review, John F. Manning, Vol.116, #8, June, 2003, pp. 2387–2486, 
- Statutory Construction and the "Absurdity Doctrine" or "Scrivener's Error" Exception, Francis G.X. Pileggi, 
- Avoiding Absurdity, Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 81, p. 1001, 2006, Glen Staszewski, 
- Dougherty, Veronica M., "Absurdity and the Limits of Literalism: Defining the Absurd Result Principle in Statutory Interpretation", 44 Am. U. L. Rev. 127, 1994–95 (purchase required for access to full article).
- K Mart Copr. V. Cartier, Inc., 486 U.S. 281 (1988) (Scalia concurring in part and dissenting in part), quoting U.S. v. Kirby, 74 U.S. 482, 487 (1868). 
- The History of Reduction to Absurdity, Yao-yong, 2006
- A Philosophical Dictionary: From the French, Voltaire
- On the Flesh of Christ, Fathers of the Church, New Advent
- The doctrines and practices of the Church of Rome truly represented, John Gother, 1593
- Absurdities – Webster’s Timeline Dictionary
- The Wasps, Parmenides
- Parmenides, Plato
- Gorgias, Plato
- Aristotle in Poetics, S.H. Butcher
- The Essays of Michel De Montaigne, Michel de Montaigne name
- Essays, Francis Bacon
- Martinich, Aloysius (1995), Hobbes Dictionary, Blackwell page 27, citing Leviathan 5.7.
- Leviathan, Chapter V.
- The Perception of Humor, Willibald Ruch, Emotions, qualia, and consciousness, Biocybernetics, VOl. 10
- How Many Feminists Does It Take To Make A Joke? Sexist Humor and What's Wrong With It, Memo Bergmann, Hypatia, Vol.1, Issue 1, March 1986
- Humor as a Double‐Edged Sword: Four Functions of Humor in Communication, JC Meyer, Communication Theory, Volume 10, Issue 3, pages 310–331, August 2000
- Honeycutt, Lee. "Aristotle's Rhetoric". Alpine Lakes Design. Retrieved October 28, 2014.
- Honeycutt, Lee. "Aritotle's Rhetoric". Alpine Lakes Design. Retrieved October 28, 2014.
- Wittgensteinian Accounts of Moorean Absurdity, Philosophical Studies, Volume 92, Number 3, John N. Williams, 
- A Constructive Approach to Testing Model Transformations, Theory and Practice of Model Transformations, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2010, Volume 6142/2010, 77-92, doi:10.1007/978-3-642-13688-7_6, Camillo Fiorentini, Alberto Momigliano, Mario Ornaghi, Iman Poernomo, 
- Classical harmony, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, Volume 27, Number 4 (1986), 459-482, Alan Weir
- Logic, methodology and philosophy of science: Proceedings, Patrick Suppes