An open letter to the axiomatically retentious.

[size=84] This is an open letter which I am penning on the behalf of myself and anyone else who agrees with my sentiments. “For the philosopher who want to make an impassioned plea for reason, but doesn’t have the time!”[/size]

My fellow in reason,

Philosophy is the reason why we’re here on this board, having this discussion. Most people would, with a little thought, define philosophy as the logical formulation, contemplation and discussion of ideas. Some (perhaps you!) will disagree with this, saying that there are other ways to approach philosophy, that there are different ways to come by knowledge. Unfortunately, when pressed for explanation of this knowledge, proponents of these ways of thinking end depressingly often with one of the following intractable statements:
"Ah, that is simply the case, because…

  • I think so."
  • Everybody thinks so."
  • God thinks so."
  • The LSD fairies told me so."

…or some variation on the above. Feel free to substitute “beleive” for “think” wherever appropriate.

Now, it’s no skin off my back if you beleive these things. I expect it’s important to you or you wouldn’t be defending it with such fervour. My problem is this; when you take an axiom and say it’s so simply because it is, that’s the end of the conversation… or at least it should be. Unfortunately it doesn’t usually work out that way, and that’s why I’m writing this letter.

Everyone comes to this discussion board with certain preconceptions, myself no less than you. That’s part of the push and shove of rational disputation, and nobody’s going to think less of you for it. The ideal is that if you volunteer an idea it will be considered, and if you are asked to justify it you will be prepared to do so or concede it. This works to everyone’s advantage- the conversation progresses, and hopefully everyone gets something out of it.

If, on the other hand, you refuse to concede a point by doggedly sticking to a beleif which you hold too dear to let slide, the conversation languishes. Those who are still involved in reasoned debate are obliged to try to pry you out of your mental shell or, unfortunately, ignore you point-blank. That’s not fun for anyone, and more to the point, it obstructs the kind of reasoned and enlightened debate that I think we’d all like to encourage.

If I have addressed this letter to you, it is because you have stated some beleif or another which you’ve refused to justify rationally or admit arguments against. So what I’m going to do is this: I’m going to ask you genuinely and without malice, to do one of the following.

  1. Justify yourself: Best of all, stay with the conversation, give us reasons why you hold the position you do, let it be discussed and questioned. We want to have an argument, that’s why we’re here- but there’s a difference between an argument and a flaming row.

  2. Concede: If you can’t defend your argument, think about conceding. Admitting fault takes courage, and most people will think more of you for conceding a point well argued than resorting to circular argument. Maybe you could think of this this way: you’re not admitting that what you think is wrong, you’re just admitting that you think isn’t logical. Do it for the conversation.

  3. Leave: If neither one of the above appeals to you, I don’t expect this will, but I’ll ask anyway: For the sake of those who want to conduct a reasoned conversation, remove yourself from the thread. You’ll feel better for it. You could water something or, I don’t know… play squash.

I guess that’s it. Of course, this is the internet and you’re free to say what you will where you will. There’s no moderation on these boards on the basis of rationality, so nobody is going to come and smack you on the bottom for disregarding everything in this letter. For the sake of community and enjoyable debate then, I’m asking you to please help us keep the ball rolling on this discussion. Don’t dig in your heels, go with it.

In the name of reason, my friend.

Sean E, aka Phaelix

This is of course a thread, and inevitably people are going to post replies. I’m trying not to step on too many toes here, but perhaps some kind of discussion on how the letter could be improved would be nice? I’m certainly open to editing to make it more useful to anyone who wants to use it.

Make it more entertaining, and don’t be afraid to express how resentful you feel towards others.


Welcome to the board. A well-written letter. Few people disturb my axioms when I present them; perhaps you will. Sometimes, i think, they just find my notions antiquated and I find theirs unreasonable. Impasse.

Myself, I seldom send a conceding post because I thought such posts to be board-clutter. Perhaps I could re-phrase a writer’s idea if I agree with him/her? But if everyone did it (using a categorical imperative here) the board would be full of posts saying nothing but “Right on” or “I totally agree”. I thought such posts were discouraged on the board.

Anyway, welcome again to he board. I hope to have some fruitful conversations with you.

my real name

There should be no cause for resentment if there is politeness – and humility.

By the way –

"Ah, that is simply the case, because…

  • I think so." – accepted by Descartes
  • Everybody thinks so." – accepted by Aristotle
  • God thinks so." – accepted by metaphysicians (since that’s what God thinks)
  • The LSD fairies told me so." – accepted by Berkeley…or was that AT Berkeley?


all well and good, phaelix, but i happen to enjoy raping people out of their shells.

Personally, I find this to be the rub. I do not accept logic to be the sole determiner of truth. It gets us just so far on its own, then it stops. Without some further scaffolding, we end up looking only at our own navels.

I am prepared to admit that what I believe cannot be deduced purely by logic, but I still maintain that my beliefs are reasonable. So I do not regard making this statement as “conceding”. In other words, I think there is a world of difference between saying that what I think is not logical*, and saying that it is not reasonable.


  • Of course, the phrase “is not logical” has too many perjorative overtones, so I would phrase it differently; but I understand they way you meant it in the context of your post.

Nicely worded letter Phaelix.

Even though I’m a bit of a “When in doubt, fall back on empty rhetoric” man myself - I agree with your sentiments.

Though I’d add a clause or two along the lines of rather than just booting over someone’s pet sand-castle for no other reason than it’s poor construction and lack of butressing - give them a hand in building it better, if you think it has any glimmer of truth or insight, or even involves a decent question somewhere along the line.

I get depressed at the lack of synthesis in threads, too often it comes down to “I say this” - “your wrong - it’s that” - and never, “well - perhaps it’s a bit of that, with a bit of this for good measure…” as you say - people tend to forget that the purpose of discussion is actually get somewhere, discover something.

Anyway - welcome to ILP.


Golden Curry- I will try to reword the letter to make it a little more jovial. As for the resentment… I’m really trying not to keynote that. This is an appeal to people’s better nature, not a vitriolic diatrabe. Increase the love and all that.

My Real Name- I don’t know about conceding being board clutter… I’d think that unless you’ve cemented your ideas into place before beginning the conversation, there’s a good chance you’ll run into something that challenges the argument you’ve put forward. You can always say “no, you’re right- in fact, on that point…” and pick up the ball and run with it… but just ignoring points on which you’ve been in error makes a thread hard to read… and does little to endear you the people you’re talking with. … 06#1671406

Ad hominem arguments? Already? But we only just met!

Likewise looking forward to fruitful disputation!

Zenofeller- Sometimes I do too… I just find it a bit depressing that it never seems to work. Ideologues will be ideologues, I’m afraid. As the cold hard reason approach tends to alienate, I thought I’d try a more personal appeal.

Tab- I think I’ve participated in some threads with you before, I’ve not noticed you being overly fond of empty rhetoric. I guess there are some threads that just scream for it.

I like your idea about appeal to the other side of the debate as well… I’ll add something like that… when I have the energy :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks for your comments, all of you.

I’m sorry, did my defence of different logics sound ad-hominem to you? They were intended to be arguments from authority, not ad -hominem. (except for Berkeley) And none were leveled at you.


Gosh, is my face red. Point conceded! :smiley:

To be fair, they’re the same fallacy back to front… it’s easy to get them mixed up!

Do you mean respect of source and insult of source are both falacious? One of them is certainly kinder. You want a source that is usually correct be likened to the source that is usually wrong, when the wrong one might be right occasionally, and that which is usually right might see farther than you do on a subject one might have no or little knowledge or opinion on?

I have to agree with mrn,
That was an example of argumentum ad verecundiam, not ad hom.
Stll, fallicious logic is fallicious logic

“I. Argumentum ad Verecundiam: (authority) the fallacy of appealing to the testimony of an authority outside his special field. Anyone can give opinions or advice; the fallacy only occurs when the reason for assenting to the conclusion is based on following the improper authority.”

I thought this was a fallacy! It’s like appealing to Freud (a psychologist) for moral or philosophical advice. Or to an atheist about God.

My examples, however, were experts in their fields. Plus i meant them tongue-in-cheek as there is more to say about their positions’ correctness than can be said in a single line.


I f you read a little deeper, you will see that citing an expert on a subject that is heavily debated also qualifies as an appeal to authority fallacy.
You can say it is so because such and such says it is so, but that alone does not make it so.
Especially on a subject like philosophy, where there is very very little hard data and opinion magically qualifies as expertise, through use of another great fallacy of logic - ad numerum

I’m not sure what we’re arguing about. Were any of the terms I remarked on heavily debated? Why should a quote become less or more powerful just because a question is “heavily debated”? Why did you mention ad numerum – did I include a survey?

To quote a person does not make the quoted thing to be, but may be a link to another’s knowledge of something we do not understand.

There is a difference between all these fallacies (to the expert, to the people), and dialectic. When beginning dialectic (to establish first principles), taking account of what the people or the wise generally think is true is a basic clue as to where to start – with what is reasonable to common sense or to study – insofar as a connection in reason can be made.

I mean that they are both appeals to character and/or reputability, one for, the other against. At any rate, we’re well off the beaten track now. Can we perhaps euthanase the discussion on named fallacies?

Many topics on the board live on into senile old age, forgetting their topic name…but they are generally regarded with fondness anyway without being “euthenised”.

But if you wish to end discussion on this tangent, as you wish.


Merely because I’d like to be able to come back to and refer to this thread at later dates without it segue-ing into an abtruse and lengthy digression. No doubt we’ll have the chance to lock horns elsewhere. Cheers.

True. It might distract from your original post. Vale bene.