Wikipedia:Horns of a dilemma

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WP:BULL redirects here. For historical information, it used to redirect to a different essay, about how Wikipedia needed "less bull, more writing" and all admin candidates should be required to create at least one featured article before receiving admin access. That essay has since been deleted.



Phædrus (Pirsig's name for his old self) was confronted by his academic peers and presented with a dilemma.

A dilemma, which is Greek for "two premises", has been likened to the front end of an angry and charging bull.

Phædrus, however, because of his training in logic, was aware that every dilemma affords not two but three classic refutations, and he also knew of a few that weren't so classic... He could take the left horn .... Or, he could take the right horn.... Or he could go between the horns and deny that (there are only two choices).

In addition to these three classical logical refutations there are some "illogical", rhetorical ones. Phædrus, being a rhetorician, had these available too.

One may throw sand in the bull's eyes. It's an old rule of logic that the competence of a speaker has no relevance to the truth of what he says, and so talk of incompetence (is) pure sand. Socrates, that ancient enemy of rhetorical argument, would have sent Phædrus flying for this one, saying, "Yes, I accept your premise that I'm incompetent on the matter.... Now please show an incompetent old man what (your argument) is."

One may attempt to sing the bull to sleep. Phædrus could have told his questioners that the answer to this dilemma was beyond his humble powers of solution, but the fact that he couldn't find an answer was no logical proof that an answer couldn't be found. Wouldn't they, with their broader experience, try to help him find this answer?

A third rhetorical alternative to the dilemma... (is) to refuse to enter the arena...(and claim that logic does not apply to the matter).

(Phædrus) chose to respond to this dilemma logically and dialectically rather than take the easy escape of mysticism.... I think first of all that he felt the whole Church of Reason was irreversibly in the arena of logic, that when one put oneself outside logical disputation, one put oneself outside any academic consideration whatsoever. Philosophical mysticism, the idea that truth is indefinable and can be apprehended only by nonrational means, has been with us since the beginning of history. It's the basis of Zen practice. But it's not an academic subject. The academy, the Church of Reason, is concerned exclusively with those things that can be defined, and if one wants to be a mystic, his place is in a monastery, not a University. Universities are places where things should be spelled out.

— adapted from Pirsig, Robert M. (1974). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0-688-00230-7.


Throughout his book, Pirsig refers to his old self—the one before electroshock destroyed his personality—as Phædrus, to indicate this complete break of self. It is fair to say that the above adaptation presents Phædrus' view; Pirsig differs.

Many people are not above the tools of rhetoric. We throw sand at critics, calling them names or labeling their criticism as rude, therefore meaningless. The correct response is, Sorry; will you rephrase my point so as to remove any rudeness? Then answer it. We sing lullabies, begging "wiser" Wikipedians from Jimbo on up to resolve our disputes or endorse our foolishness. We find many ways to avoid substantive discussion—discussion of the issue raised—instead, we find ways to divert discussion onto metaissues of procedure, precedence, phrasing, place, and politeness. As a last resort, we say that we—whoever we are—simply know better than anyone else.

Wikipedia is both an encyclopedia and a community devoted to producing this encyclopedia. An encyclopedia is a corpus of fact, not opinion, not mystic truths. Thus our community must abide within Pirsig's "Church of Reason" as an academic entity. Logic and rationality alone set the standard for what we do here. To refuse to discuss a topic squarely—to refuse to look the bull straight in the eye—is to forgo all consideration.