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Reductio ad Voluntas

August 12, 2013

Wikipedia has a nice list of common fallacies to which I wish to add one of my own, but first some background. I always thought the fallacy known as Reductio ad Hitlerum, Latin for “reducing [something] to Hitler” was invoked too often by my rabbinic mentors, and now, as an adult, I find that too many otherwise qualified scholars invoke similar fallacious claims. My own Rebbe warned that a practice adopted by the faculty and students of another (rival?) Yeshiva was exactly what “the Conservatives wanted to do some years ago.” It disturbed me that he dismissed their position out of hand just because certain others may have suggested once doing so. Who knew? Perhaps the Conservatives were right? It is still frustrating to hear other halachic positions dismissed because they are or have been advocated by “Zionists,” “Sephardim,” or just plain “people we don’t hold by” [sic]. (Update: On that issue in particular, those individuals then came out years later and started advocati for homosexual marriages and intermarriage, among other clear prohibitions, and I have been humbled by my Rebbe’s foresight.)

I have been argumentative for most of my life, but I am also very interested in hearing and analyzing the opinions of others. I have found that respect for the opinions of others not withstanding, sometimes a group, even as small as a pair, must come to determine a single course of action, which usually in practice disregards the practical application of someone’s opinion. I can not count how many times I have had to argue friends and family out of doing dangerous or foolish things, but I have been mostly successful. However, there are those frustrating instances where a stubborn or foolhardy individual will hear my well-reasoned recommendation, and then declare something along the lines of “well, that’s what you want to do. I want to do the opposite,” thus reducing the dispute to a mere conflict of wills. The position I advocated is not judged on its merits; it merely represents what I want, and his position represents what he wants. Thus, the positions are of equal weight, and my disputant is certainly not obliged to have to choose to obey my will over his. In essence, he has reduced the logical argumentation of his disputant to the will of his disputant, a fallacy I believe would be called in Latin Reductio ad Voluntas, literally “reducing to [one’s] will.”


From → logic, original

  1. rafihecht permalink

    Let me guess: you’re referring to Rabbi B., right? I still remember him having said that the difference between Modern Orthodox and Conservative Judaism is about 25 years, give or take. I won’t honor that comment with a comment because I think it’s obvious how wrong it is on a global level. However, I also wouldn’t discount that analysis when referring to specific congregations and the direction they’re going (I’m referring more so to Avi Weiss’ Maharat program, but there are others).

    “I can not count how many times I have had to argue friends and family out of doing dangerous or foolish things…” Avi, most people are stupid. If not then there wouldn’t be a place in the Torah for a “Cheresh Shoteh V’Katan.” Just live your life and let others live theirs, at the same time dropping hints of wisdom. It’s their problem if they don’t listen to you. Follow your own inner voice.

  2. rafihecht permalink

    As the saying goes, the Oilem (Chassidish for “Olam’) is a Goilem (Golem) 🙂

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