January 27, 2013

The Madman Fallacy

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 1:27 am

I would like to introduce what I have for a long time called the madman fallacy. Of the informal variety, most people have encountered the madman fallacy before. The name of the fallacy is inspired by the following quote from G. K. Chesterton:

If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment” [Orthodoxy (WaterBrook Press, 2001, p. 17]

One commits the madman fallacy when, in a debate or critical-dialogue context, one’s argument or response to an argument is so outrageously unreasonable, illogical, ill-informed, malformed, or unintelligible that it leaves one’s opponent speechless or befuddled, and so seemingly defeated.

RadarHere’s another way to think about the madman fallacy. Think of arguments as having radar screens, delimiting the logical space of point-counterpoint possibilities. Within the context of an argument, logical responses will register somewhere on the radar screen. But when your opponent’s response just doesn’t mentally register, there’s a good chance you’re the victim of the madman fallacy. (Of course, it’s always possible that the response is logical and you are the dense one. That’s why it’s important to know who you’re dealing with—the madman fallacy is rarely committed by men who are not mad.)



  1. ” Why do I say numbers are physical *holds up three fingers* because I have an example right here!”


    Comment by Chris — January 27, 2013 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  2. What about false madmen fallacies? Let’s just say someone brings up a completely novel point that astound me and I’m speechless. It’s like playing battleship and the dude has a killer scheme and where he has ships lined up in such a way that is entirely deceiving, so as you hit and believe you may have sunk a ship, you don’t. It’s entirely logical, you are just shocked by the creative way in which he set his ships up. It’s not that you are dense, just that you had never been introduced to the idea. If you had known prior to the argument that point that would be raised, you could have responded. So rather than the point itself being the crux of the confusion, it is the novelty of the point that astounds you.

    Comment by sorentmd — January 28, 2013 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

    • I don’t see those as false madmen fallacies. The astounding response or move is still somewhere in the logical space of point-counterpoint possibilities in the context of the dialogue or game. Once the move is made, you can immediately see its relevance or brilliance, hence it registers. I never said we need be aware of everything within the relevant logical space!

      Comment by camcintosh — January 28, 2013 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

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