Reductio ad absurdum [Latin: “reduce to the absurd”] is a method of argumentation said to
- prove a statement to be true by demonstrating the contradiction, absurdity and therefore impossibility that would result if it were untrue
- prove a statement to be false by taking its assertions and implications to their logical endpoint
Example for the first type of reductio ad absurdum
And its falsification: I think, therefore I am not.
Here one can ask: If a person thinks that she or he does not exist, who is doing the thinking?
By falsifying the original statement, the ensuing absurdity apparently proves the original statement to be true.
The depth psychologist Carl Jung uses a form of reductio ad absurdum to try to refute the Buddhist notion of no-self; that is, the Buddhist idea that individuality is an illusion. Jung asks: Who experiences the bliss of Nirvana if no self is present to experience it?
This might seem clever and amusing but Buddhists could reply that the center of consciousness merely shifts from illusory individualism to actual totality.¹
Example for the second type of reductio ad absurdum
Consider the argument, sometimes heard today, that it’s okay to do crime because everyone is a sinner and the whole world is corrupt.
If one takes that to its logical conclusion we get:
It’s not okay to do crime because if the whole world didn’t resist sin, corruption and crime we’d have violent, lawless chaos.