Today I witnessed a fairly common exchange on a particular listserv of which I am a member. Member A made a contribution that Member B deemed inappropriate for the subject-matter of the list. Member B passed judgment on Member A’s contribution and asked Member A to take the discussion off-list to another, more suitable forum. Member A wrote back. Various accusations were exchanged. This went on (“reply all” style) for a few more rounds. I took no joy in witnessing this and deleted subsequent emails.
I admit, though, that I was fascinated by an especially colorful post by Member A that managed to use no fewer than five Latin phrases:
- ad hominem
- argumentum ad misericordiam
- petitio principii
- non causa pro causa
- ignoratio elenchi
And the poster wasn’t even a law professor!
I’m no rhetoric scholar or philosopher. I’m not strong in my Aristotle or high school Latin, so investigate I did. Ad hominem (directing the argument at the person, not the idea) was a familiar phrase. The others were not.
See if you can match the following descriptions to the corresponding Latin phrase above. Answers below the fold.
- confusing not the cause for what is the cause
- irrelevant conclusion
- begging the question
- confusing appeals for sympathy with actual evidence
P.S. I love the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (here).
Here are the answers:
argumentum ad misericordiam – “when appeals for sympathy or pity are mistakenly thought to be evidence“
petitio principii – begging the question
ignoratio elenchi – irrelevant conclusion
non causa pro causa – confusing not the cause for what is the cause