Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Parable about Reasoning

Once upon a time (note the mythical cast) there was a man who thought he was dead. His concerned wife and friends sent him to the friendly neighborhood psychiatirst. The psychiatrist determined to cure him by convincing him of one fact that contradicted his belief that he was dead. The fact the psychiatrist settled on was the simple truth that dead men do not bleed, and he put the patient to work reading medical texts, observing autopsies, etc. After weeks of effort, the patient finally said, "All right, all right! You've convinced me. Dead men do not bleed." Whereupon the psychiatrist stuck him in the arm with a needle, and the blood flowed. The man looked with a contorted, ashen face and cried, "Good Lord! Dead men bleed after all!"
[John Warwick Montgomery, "Wagering on the Death of God," The Suicide of Christian Theology, Trinity Press (Newburgh IN: 1996) p. 122.


  1. Dave M7:47 PM

    Is there a name for this fallacy? It looks like "no true Scotsman" but here he's giving up the general claim rather than the particular one.

  2. branemrys9:37 PM

    I don't think it's a fallacy; the only thing that's wrong with the man's reasoning is that he remains certain throughout of the false proposition that he's dead, and the joke, of course, is due to the fact that at the end he's still more certain that he's dead than he is of the claim that dead men don't bleed. But it would have been reasonable to do this with any very certain truth; it's just the weirdness of starting out by classifying "I am dead" as one of them that makes this case odd.

    Of course, we have all sorts of 'fallacy names' for things that aren't really fallacies in the sense of reasoning errors, so there might actually be one; I don't know off the top of my head of any one that would fit.


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