Appeal to Extremes

(also known as: reductio ad absurdum [misuse of], slippery slope fallacy [form of])

Description: Erroneously attempting to make a reasonable argument into an absurd one, by taking the argument to the extremes.

Logical Form:

If X is true, then Y must also be true (where Y is the extreme of X)

Example #1:

There is no way those Girl Scouts could have sold all those cases of cookies in one hour.  If they did, they would have to make $500 in one hour, which, based on an 8 hour day is over a million dollars a year.  That is more than most lawyers, doctors, and successful business people make!

Explanation: The Girl Scouts worked just for one hour -- not 40 per week for a year.  Suggesting the extreme leads to an absurd conclusion; that Girl Scouts are among the highest paid people in the world.   Not to mention, there is a whole troop of them doing the work, not just one girl.

Example #2:

Don’t forget God’s commandment, “thou shall not kill”.  By using mouthwash, you are killing 99.9% of the germs that cause bad breath.  Prepare for Hell.

Explanation: It is unlikely that God had mouthwash on his mind when issuing that commandment, but if he did, we’re all screwed (at least those of us with fresh breath).

Exception: This fallacy is a misuse of one of the greatest techniques in argumentation, reductio ad absurdum, or reducing the argument to the absurd.  The difference is where the absurdity actually is -- in the argument or in the reasoning of the one trying to show the argument is absurd.

Here is an example of an argument that is proven false by reducing to the absurd, legitimately.

Big Tony: The more you exercise, the stronger you will get!

Nerdy Ned: Actually, if you just kept exercising and never stopped, you would eventually drop dead.  There is a limit to how much exercise you should get.

Tip: People very often say stupid things.  Sometimes it is easy to reduce their arguments to absurdity, but remember, in most cases, your goal should be diplomacy, not making the other person look foolish.  Especially when dealing with your wife -- unless you really like sleeping on the couch.


-1 #1 Anon, please 2012-09-20 19:30
The last argument, with Big Tony and Nerdy Ned, isn't actually a legitimate argument. Just as in the mouthwash example, Big Tony was probably talking about to a limit. Just because he didn't mention that there is a limit to your size, doesn't mean he doesn't know it. Obviously there is a limit to how big you can get, how much exercise you can do, etc... just as there is a limit to what you can kill and get away with, morally speaking. I hope this makes sense to you, but it does to me. If you can explain why it would be correct, I'd love to here it.
+3 #2 Bo Bennett 2012-09-20 19:54
Thanks for the comment. Yes, it is reasonable to assume that Big Tony understands that there are limits in mind. But Big Tony is also incorrect in his theory of "the more the better" when it comes to exercise. Exercise has a point of diminishing returns given the need for a recovery period. Ned has taken Tony's argument to the absurd to demonstrate Ned's point.

Your point is well taken, and perhaps I could have chosen a less debatable example. If you have one, feel free to share!
0 #3 mikey 2013-12-13 19:52
Yeah, that last example is also an appeal to extremes. Tony's statement is to the nerdy nonexerciser, and hes saying cumulative exercise helps.

Ad absurdum would apply the assumption as mutually agreed it means, then reaching a contradiction. Such as, "if rocks had no weight, they would float in the air"

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