A Critique of Impure Reason

UPDATE AND RETRACTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly included the allegations that Vox Day is an author, editor, and publisher. Upon reading the objections of an individual using the handle “TangoMan” and having given the matter careful consideration, I have realized that this was uncalled for. I do hereby retract the allegations that I so thoughtlessly repeated. Others may call Mr. Day by whatever names they please, but I will do my best to eschew such terms.

UPDATE #2: Per another correction from TangoMan, I would like to amend this post to note that Vox Day is an ineffective editor. Let this stand as a reminder that even in the most heated debate, there are some things that both sides can agree on. I applaud TangoMan for holding me to the fire on this point.

I apologize for the second correction, and I will try to be more clear about this in the future: let no one insinuate that Vox Day is any kind of an author or publisher, but he is one heck of an ineffective editor, and I’m sure TangoMan and I would both vigorously debate anyone who says otherwise.

TangoMan, I have your back on this.


Rabid Puppy ringleader Vox Day likes to try to distinguish what he calls his “dialectical” mode of discourse from mere rhetoric. He claims that his use of syllogism elevates his arguments above rhetoric and into the realm of pure reason, though in fact the opposite is the case: syllogisms, employed in the way that he uses them (when he bothers to construct one rather than just dropping the word “syllogism” into a post to demonstrate that he knows it) is a perfect tailor-made tool for the delivery of rhetoric.

Now, syllogisms are a form of deductive reasoning. In their simplest Aristotlean format, they consist of a general premise, a specific case, and a conclusion. Formally, the first two are known as the major premise and minor premise, but I prefer to use more descriptive terms.

Both the general premise and the specific case in a syllogism are assumptions; they are held to be true. The syllogism does nothing to prove either one of them, offers no evidence in support of them. Thus, syllogisms are most likely to produce true results when dealing with broad, sweeping axioms of life. The classic example is: “All men are mortal (general premise), and Socrates is a man (specific case), so Socrates is mortal (conclusion).”

A syllogism, in short, is a tool for extrapolating from known facts. It’s the kind of deduction that each one of us makes constantly without realizing we’re doing it. No one needs to say that Socrate is mortal; it is enough to understand that Socrates is a man and that valar morghulis, as they say dans la belle Essos. Breaking it down into a formal syllogism is more helpful for understanding how we make deductions than it is for understanding how Socrates came to die.

The syllogism does not care about the truth or falsehood of its premises. It works on the assumption that they are true. The reasoning portion of it is usually quite elementary.

Let me show you an example:

Start with the premise “SJWs always lie.”

Add the specific case “Alexandra Erin is an SJW.”

Pause to allow for various “reasoned, dialectically-minded” Rabid Puppies to quote that out of context as proof that I admitted I’m a lying SJW.

Resume and draw the conclusion, “Alexandra Erin always lies.”

Pause again, same reason.

Resume again.

Now, I’ll admit that the above is an airtight Aristotlean syllogism. Given the stated premises, that is the correct deduction to make. It is as simple and clear and inescapable as 3 + 1 = 4.

But is it true?

Is it reasoned?

No. An equation only gives you what you put into it. If you need to know how many quarters Tommy and Timmy have between them and you pull numbers out of the air, you will get the right answer only by coincidence. 3 + 1 = 4 is mathematically correct, but if Tommy has 2 quarters and Timmy has 7, then the number 4 means nothing to you in this situation.

If you start a syllogism with rhetorical premises, you reach a rhetorical conclusion. Vox freely admits that his oft-repeated line of “SJWs always lie.” is only rhetorically true (which you might recognize is just a fancy way of acknowledging it isn’t true). It’s a statement of rhetoric. The act of labeling someone a “Social Justice Warrior” is also similarly an act of rhetoric. You’re slapping a brand on someone and hoping it affects the way people see them.

If you take two pieces of rhetoric and put them through the form of a syllogism, you arrive at a conclusion that is also nothing more than rhetoric.

Or to put it more succinctly: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

But to someone who is both invested in believing you and invested in believing themselves to be intelligent, reasoned, and calculating, it is elegant and attractive garbage. You’re describing what you’re doing with big, lofty words like “dialectic” and “syllogism” and “Aristotlean”, after all. You can show people the inescapable mathematical logic of if A and B, then AB, knowing that no one in your audience will bother to ask how you arrived at A and B. They’re taken as given. The form of the syllogism not only does not require you to question A or B, it doesn’t work if you do. As soon as you delve into examining the premises, you’re no longer engaging in syllogism.

The fact is that Vox stoops to engage in the actual construction of syllogism fairly rarely, compared to how often he simply bloviates on in a purely rhetorical fashion while peppering his speech with whatever words best flatter his and his loyal readers’ intellects. But even when he does, he’s not engaging in actual dialectic but mere rhetorical sophistry. He starts with unvarnished garbage as a premise, and so he arrives at a similarly tarnished conclusion.


In short, it’s mere intellectual wankery. Every time he says the word “syllogism”, what you should be hearing is “silly jism”.