From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"I can see nothing" – Alice

"My, you must have good eyes" – Cheshire Cat

--Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Related e



An absurdity is a thing that is extremely unreasonable, so as to be foolish or not taken seriously, or the state of being so. "Absurd" is an adjective used to describe an absurdity, e.g., "this encyclopedia article is absurd." It derives from the Latin absurdusm meaning "out of tune", hence irrational. The Latin surdus means "deaf", implying stupidity. Absurdity is contrasted with seriousness in reasoning. In general usage, absurdity may be synonymous with ridiculousness and nonsense. In specialized usage, absurdity is related to extremes in bad reasoning or pointlessness in reasoning; ridiculousness is related to extremes of incongruous juxtaposition, laughter, and ridicule; and nonsense is related to a lack of meaningfulness.


Demarcation between absurdity and sound reasoning

Medical commentators have criticized methods and reasoning in alternative and complementary medicine and integrative medicine as being either absurdities, or being between evidence and absurdity, often misleading the public with euphemistic terminology such as the expressions "alternative medicine" and "complementary medicine", and calling for a clear demarcation between valid scientific evidence and scientific methodology and absurdity.

Humor and point making

Theory of humor, Absurdist humor
"I can see nothing" – Alice in Wonderland
"My, you must have good eyes" – Cheshire Cat

Absurdity is used in humor to make people laugh or to make a sophisticated point, for example in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky", a poem of nonsense verse, originally featured as a part of his absurdist novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872); Carroll was a logician and parodied logic using illogic and inverting logical methods.

Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges used absurdities in his short stories to note points. Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is considered absurdist by some.

Absurd reasoning is often used in comedies.


Psychologists study how humans adapt to constant absurdities in life.

Absurdity in advertisement

Absurdity is used in advertising, where it has been found to moderate negative attitudes toward products and increase product recognition.

Doctrine of absurdity

The doctrine of absurdity refers to any strict interpretation of something to the point of violating common sense, e.g., following religious dictates, such as in pharisaism (emphasizing or observing the something's exact rules or words, but not its spirit).

The absurdity doctrine, also known as the "Scrivner's Error" exception, is a legal theory under which American courts have interpreted statutes contrary to their plain meaning in order to avoid absurd legal conclusions. It is contrasted with

"The common sense of man approves the judgment mentioned by Pufendorf [sic. Puffendorf], that the Bolognian law which enacted 'that whoever drew blood in the streets should be punished with the utmost severity', did not extend to the surgeon who opened the vein of a person that fell down in the street in a fit. The same common sense accepts the ruling, cited by Plowden, that the statute of 1st Edward II, which enacts that a prisoner who breaks prison shall be guilty of a felony, does not extend to a prisoner who breaks out when the prison is on fire – 'for he is not to be hanged because he would not stay to be burnt'."

Reduction to Absurdity: Reductio ad absurdum in polemics, logic and mathematics

Reductio ad absurdum, reducing to an absurdity, is a method of proof in logic and mathematics, whereby assuming that a proposition is true leads to absurdity; a proposition is assumed to be true and this is used to deduce a proposition known to be false, therefore the original proposition must have been false. It is also an argumentation style in polemics, whereby a position is demonstrated to be false, or "absurd", by assuming it and reasoning to reach something known to be believed to be false or to violate common sense; e.g., as used by Plato to argue against other philosophical positions.


"I believe because it is absurd" --Tertullian

Absurdity is cited as a basis for some theological reasoning about formation of belief and faith, such as in fideism, an epistemological theory that reason and faith may be hostile to each other. The statement "Credo quia absurdum" ("I believe because it is absurd") is attributed to Tertullian from De Carne Christi, as translated by philosopher Voltaire. According to the New Advent Church, what Tertullian actually says in DCC 5 is "... the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd."

In the 15th century, the Spanish theologian Tostatus used what he thought was a reduction to absurdity arguing against a spherical earth using dogma, arguing that a spherical earth would imply the existence of antipodes, which would be impossible since this would require either that Christ to appeared twice, or that the inhabitants of the antipodes would be forever damned, which he claimed was an absurdity.

Andrew Willet grouped absurdities with "flat contradictions to scripture" and "heresies".


Absurdity has been used throughout western history regarding foolishness and extremely poor reasoning to form belief.

Ancient Greece

In Aristophanes' 5th century BC comedy The Wasps, his protagonist Philocleon learned the "absurdities" of Aesop's Fables, considered to be unreasonable fantasy, and not true.

Plato often used "absurdity" to describe very poor reasoning, or the conclusion from adopting a position that is false and reasoning to a false conclusion, called an "absurdity" (argument by reductio ad absurdum). Plato describes himself as not using absurd argumentation against himself in Parmenides. In Gorgias, Plato refers to an "inevitable absurdity" as the outcome of reasoning from a false assumption.

Aristotle rectified an irrational absurdity in reasoning with empiricism using likelihood, "once the irrational has been introduced and an air of likelihood imparted to it, we must accept it in spite of the absurdity. He claimed that absurdity in reasoning being veiled by charming language in poetry, "As it is, the absurdity is veiled by the poetic charm with which the poet invests it… But in the Epic poem the absurdity passes unnoticed."

Renaissance and early modern periods

Michel de Montaigne, father of the essay and modern skepticism, argued that the process of abridgement is foolish and produces absurdity, "Every abridgement of a good book is a foolish abridgement… absurdity [is] not to be cured… satisfied with itself than any reason, can reasonably be."

Francis Bacon, an early promoter of empiricism and the scientific method, argued that absurdity should not always be laughed at, since it is a necessary component of scientific progress, where bold new ways of thinking and bold hypotheses often led to absurdity, "For if absurdity be the subject of laughter, doubt you but great boldness is seldom without some absurdity."

Hobbes' "Table of Absurdity"

Thomas Hobbes distinguished absurdity from errors, including basic linguistic errors as when a word is simply used to refer to something which does not have that name. According to Martinich: "What Hobbes is worried about is absurdity. Only human beings can embrace an absurdity, because only human beings have language, and philosophers are more susceptible to it than others". Hobbes wrote that "words whereby we conceive nothing but the sound, are those we call absurd, insignificant, and nonsense. And therefore if a man should talk to me of a round quadrangle; or, accidents of bread in cheese; or, immaterial substances; or of a free subject; a free will; or any free, but free from being hindered by opposition, I should not say he were in an error, but that his words were without meaning, that is to say, absurd". He distinguished seven types of absurdity. Below is the summary of Martinich, based on what he describes as Hobbes' "mature account" found in "De Corpore" 5., which all use examples that could be found in Aristotelian or scholastic philosophy, and all reflect "Hobbes' commitment to the new science of Galileo and Harvey". This is known as "Hobbes' Table of Absurdity".

  1. "Combining the name of a body with the name of an accident." For example, "existence is a being" or, "a being is existence". These absurdities are typical of scholastic philosophy according to Hobbes.
  2. "Combining the name of a body with the name of a phantasm." For example, "a ghost is a body".
  3. "Combining the name of a body with the name of a name." For example, "a universal is a thing".
  4. "Combining the name of an accident with the name of a phantasm." For example, "colour appears to a perceiver".
  5. "Combining the name of an accident with the name of a name." For example, "a definition is the essence of a thing".
  6. "Combining the name of a phantasm with the name of a name." For example, "the idea of a man is a universal".
  7. "Combining the name of a thing with the name of a speech act." For example, "some entities are beings per se".

According to Martinich, Gilbert Ryle discussed the types of problem Hobbes refers to as absurdities under the term "category error".

Although common usage now considers "absurdity" to be synonymous with "ridiculousness", Hobbes discussed the two concepts as different, in that absurdity is viewed as having to do with invalid reasoning, while ridiculousness has to do with laughter, superiority, and deformity.

Technical use in existentialism, philosophy of language, logic, and computer science

Absurdism in existential philosophy


It is illogical to seek purpose or meaning in an uncaring world without purpose or meaning, or to accumulate excessive wealth in the face of certain death. Absurdity is used in existentialist and related philosophy to describe absurdly pointless efforts to try to find such meaning or purpose in an objective and uncaring world, a philosophy known as absurdism.

Theater of the Absurd

"Theater should be a bloody and inhuman spectacle designed to exercise (sic. exorcise) the spectator's repressed criminal and erotic obsessions. --Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double

The Theater of the Absurd was a surrealist movement demonstrating motifs of absurdism.

Absurdity in the philosophy of language

Philosopher G. E. Moore cites a paradox in that such statements as "I went to the pictures last Tuesday but I don't believe it" can be true, are (logically) consistent, and are not (obviously) contradictions. Wittgenstein observes that in some unusual circumstances absurdity itself disappears in such statements, as there are cases where "It is raining but I don't believe it" can make sense, i.e., what appears to be an absurdity is not nonsense.

Logic and computer science

An absurdity constraint is used in the logic of model transformations.

The absurdity constant in logic

The "absurdity constant" is used in formal logic.

The absurdity rule in logic

The absurdity rule is a rule in logic, as used by Patrick Suppes in Logic, methodology and philosophy of science: Proceedings.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Absurdity" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools