The term “Reductio ad Absurdum” is actually not usually described as a fallacy when used correctly; rather, it is a legitimate form of argument in logic and philosophy. A Reductio ad Absurdum (“reduction to absurdity”) is an argument that refutes a proposition by showing that it leads to an absurd or impractical conclusion. The technique involves assuming a statement to be true and then showing that such an assumption leads to a contradiction or an absurdity, therefore demonstrating that the original statement must be false.
However, when misapplied or misused, it can become fallacious. This happens when the argument exaggerates or distorts the original proposition, effectively setting up a Strawman argument to knock down. In such cases, the argument doesn’t actually prove that the original statement leads to an absurdity; rather, it shows that the exaggerated or distorted version does, which is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
Example of fallacious use:
Person A: “We should implement a higher minimum wage so people can afford the cost of living.”
Person B: “If we raise the minimum wage, then companies will start paying everyone a million dollars an hour, and then money will become worthless, and society will collapse!”
Here, Person B is misusing Reductio ad Absurdum by taking Person A’s argument to an absurd extreme that was not implied or suggested by the original statement. In doing so, they are setting up a Strawman version of the argument and then knocking it down, which doesn’t actually address the merits or issues of the original proposition.
So, while Reductio ad Absurdum is a legitimate technique when used properly to show that a statement leads to a logical contradiction or an absurd result, it can become fallacious when it misrepresents or exaggerates the statement it purports to refute.