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Reductio Ad Absurdum Satire Essay

There are several techniques that you can employ in order to create a satirical piece. The most common one is irony, which is the use of words with double meaning or the meaning of words is opposite of the literal or expected meaning. Some people make use of caricature, which is the exaggeration for comic or satiric effect of the subject to achieve a ridiculous or grotesque effect. There is also the use of burlesque, which refers to making a discrepancy between the words and situation or character to make the subject appear silly, such as in the case of a fool speaking like a king. There is also the technique of reduction, which is the devaluation or degradation of a victim through belittling him by change in size, change in clothes, or destruction of a symbol. Author Jonathan Swift is fond of using the technique of "reductio ad absurdum," in which the author agrees with the basic assumptions that he wants to satirize by pushing them to a logically ridiculous extreme. This exposes the foolishness of the original assumption.

In logic, reductio ad absurdum (Latin for "reduction to absurdity"; or argumentum ad absurdum, "argument to absurdity") is a form of argument which attempts either to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion, or to prove one by showing that if it were not true, the result would be absurd or impossible.[1][2] Traced back to classical Greek philosophy in Aristotle's Prior Analytics (Greek: ἡ Εις άτοπον απαγωγή, translit. hê eis atopon apagôgê, lit. 'reduction to the impossible'),[2] this technique has been used throughout history in both formal mathematical and philosophical reasoning, as well as in debate.

The "absurd" conclusion of a reductio ad absurdum argument can take a range of forms, as these examples show:

  • The Earth cannot be flat, otherwise we would find people falling off the edge.
  • There is no smallest positive rational number, because if there were, then it could be divided by two to get a smaller one.

The first example argues that denial of the premise would result in a ridiculous conclusion, against the evidence of our senses. The second example is a mathematical proof by contradiction which argues that the denial of the premise would result in a logical contradiction (there is a "smallest" number and yet there is a number smaller than it).[3]

Greek philosophy[edit]

This technique is used throughout Greek philosophy, beginning with Presocratic philosophers. The earliest Greek example of a reductio argument is supposedly in fragments of a satirical poem attributed to Xenophanes of Colophon (c.570 – c.475 B.C.E.).[4] Criticizing Homer's attribution of human faults to the gods, he states that humans also believe that the gods' bodies have human form. But if horses and oxen could draw, they would draw the gods with horse and oxen bodies. The gods cannot have both forms, so this is a contradiction. Therefore, the attribution of other human characteristics to the gods, such as human faults, is also false.

The earlier dialogues of Plato (424 – 348 B.C.E.), relating the debates of his teacher Socrates, raised the use of reductio arguments to a formal dialectical method (Elenchus), now called the Socratic method[5] which is taught in law schools. Typically Socrates' opponent would make an innocuous assertion, then Socrates by a step-by-step train of reasoning, bringing in other background assumptions, would make the person admit that the assertion resulted in an absurd or contradictory conclusion, forcing him to abandon his assertion. The technique was also a focus of the work of Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.E.).

Greek mathematicians proved fundamental propositions utilizing reductio ad absurdum.[6]Euclid of Alexandria (c. mid 3rd - 4th centuries B.C.E.) and Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287 – c. 212 B.C.E.) are two very early examples.

Principle of non-contradiction[edit]

Aristotle clarified the connection between contradiction and falsity in his principle of non-contradiction, which states that a proposition cannot be both true and false.[7][8] That is, a proposition and its negation cannot both be true. Therefore if a proposition and its negation (not-Q) can both be derived logically from a premise, it can be concluded that the premise is false. This technique, called proof by contradiction has formed the basis of reductio ad absurdum arguments in formal fields like logic and mathematics.

See also[edit]


  1. ^"reductio ad absurdum", Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged (12th ed.), 2014 [1991], retrieved October 29, 2016 
  2. ^ abNicholas Rescher. "Reductio ad absurdum". The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 21 July 2009. 
  3. ^Howard-Snyder, Frances; Howard-Snyder, Daniel; Wasserman, Ryan (30 March 2012). The Power of Logic (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN 0078038197. 
  4. ^Daigle, Robert W. (1991). "The reductio ad absurdum argument prior to Aristotle". Master's Thesis. San Jose State Univ. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  5. ^Bobzian, Suzanne (2006). "Ancient Logic". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  6. ^Joyce, David (1996). "Euclid's Elements: Book I". Euclid's Elements. Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Clark University. Retrieved December 23, 2017. 
  7. ^Ziembiński, Zygmunt (2013). Practical Logic. Springer. p. 95. ISBN 940175604X. 
  8. ^Ferguson, Thomas Macaulay; Priest, Graham (2016). A Dictionary of Logic. Oxford University Press. p. 146. ISBN 0192511556. 

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