Omnes in Viam Latinam

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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

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