Previous Month | RSS/XML | Current | Next Month


December 31st, 2018 (Permalink)

Recommended Reading

Instead of watching a boring parade on television, why not ring in the New Year by catching up on your reading? Here are some recent articles that may be of interest to Fallacy Files visitors:

December 25th, 2018 (Permalink)

A Puzzle for Santa Claus

A few days before Christmas, Santa Claus needed to pick up some last-minute toy-making supplies. So, Santa and two of his elves hooked up a reindeer team to his sleigh and took off for the closest Toys R Us1. It was a foggy morning but, unfortunately, Rudolph was too ill to guide the sleigh2.

After picking up the supplies, Santa and the elves climbed back into the sleigh for the return flight to the North Pole. Taking off in the sleigh, which was heavy with supplies, the reindeer team barely made it over the trees. The sleigh itself banged into a tree, dumping Santa and the two elves out into its branches3. Thankfully, they were not seriously hurt in the fall, but the stupid reindeer flew off with the sleigh, leaving Santa and the elves stranded4. So, Santa and his two companions were faced with the long trek on foot back to his North Pole headquarters.

After climbing down from the tree and walking many miles over the frozen tundra5, the three came across a vast crevasse in a glacier6. It was too wide to jump across and stretched off both east and west as far as the eye could see7. If they had to walk around it, they might be too late to finish their preparations for Christmas Eve. How were Santa and the two elves to get back to the North Pole in time? Was there some way to get to the other side?

Fortunately, there was an old, dead tree buried in the ice at the edge of the crevasse. The tree was on the same side as our three heroes, and a big limb stuck out over the canyon. Now, you might think that they could climb the tree, then crawl out on the limb to the other side. However, the branch only reached about halfway across the gap, and it would still have been too far for any of them to jump.

Perhaps they could run out to the end of the branch, jump up and down on it like a diving board, thus getting enough momentum to launch themselves across to the other side. But the limb was barely strong enough to hold Santa's weight as it was, and jumping on it would surely break it, plunging him into the abyss. Each of the elves weighed half what Santa weighed, but could they make it to the other side? If they fell short, they would fall into the crevasse. Santa decided that it was too risky.

Luckily, there was a long vine that hung down from the end of the tree branch, and its other end was wrapped around the trunk of the tree. The vine was just long enough to reach the edge of the crevasse on both sides. Santa could easily grasp the end of it, then swing like Tarzan across to the far side, but that would strand the two elves on the near side of the cleft. Without someone to swing on it, the vine would not swing far enough back to the near side so that the elves could grab it. Then, it would end up hanging straight down above the canyon where it would do no one any good.

However, Santa could still swing across the gap, then walk the rest of the way to the North Pole alone. If the sleigh and reindeer were there, he could fly back and pick up the two elves. So, Christmas would be saved.

Still, is there some way that all three of our heroes can use the vine to swing across the crevasse?



  1. This was, of course, before Toys R Us closed all its stores.
  2. He had a cold so his nose was brighter red than usual.
  3. The sleigh lacks seatbelts, unfortunately.
  4. There's no cellphone reception in the Arctic Circle, so they couldn't call for help.
  5. What is tundra, anyway, and why is it always frozen?
  6. Global warming.
  7. The fog had lifted by that time.

December 14th, 2018 (Permalink)

Rule of Argumentation 1: Appeal to reason!

Reasonís victories are almost never final. It is always surrounded by unreason, which is always more popular. Reason is the stout resistance, the flickering lamp in the darkness, the perpetual underdog, the stoic connoisseur of defeat, the loser that dusts itself off and fights another day.1

This is the first entry on the first rule in the series on rules of argumentation introduced last month2. The rule is simple: treat those you argue with as rational human beings by appealing to their reason. To do otherwise is to treat people as "its", as things, rather than as fellow rational beings. You might wonder what else you might appeal to and the answers are many:

Using reason is risky: there's no guarantee it will work. When you appeal to reason, some will come back at you with appeals to faith, authority, or emotion. When those fail to work, they may appeal to force. Be brave! To quote the philosopher Immanuel Kant: "Sapere aude!"7

Next month: Rule 2.


  1. Leon Wieseltier, "Reason and the Republic of Opinion", The New Republic, 11/11/2014.
  2. See: Rules of Argumentation: Introduction, 11/18/2018.
  3. See below.
  4. The most general related fallacy is: Appeal to Misleading Authority.
  5. The most general related fallacy is: Emotional Appeal. There is a named subfallacy for most emotions.
  6. The related fallacy is: Appeal to Force.
  7. Translation: "Dare to use your reason!" (Latin). See: Immanuel Kant, "What is Enlightenment?", accessed: 12/13/2018. "Sapere aude!" is sometimes translated as "Dare to know!", which doesn't make much sense and apparently isn't an accurate translation. "Sapere" seems to mean something closer to "think" than to "know". Ehrlich gives "dare to think independently" as a translation. See:
    • Eugene Ehrlich, Veni, Vidi, Vici: Conquer Your Enemies, Impress Your Friends with Everyday Latin (2001).
    • Thomas Mautner, Editor, A Dictionary of Philosophy (1996).

Solution to a Puzzle for Santa Claus: Here's how Santa solved the problem:

First, the two elves grasped the vine together, jumped off the edge of the crevasse, swinging across to the far side. Since together they weighed about the same as Santa, neither the vine nor the limb broke.

Second, one of the elves, still holding on to the vine, swang on it back to the near side where Santa waited. Then, Santa took the vine from the elf and swang on it across to the far side. The elf on the far side then took the vine from Santa, swinging back to the near side where his fellow elf waited.

Finally, the two elves once again grasped the vine together and swang across the great divide to the far side, where Santa waited. Now, all three companions were across the crevasse. As a result, they were able to make it back to the workshop in time to prepare all the toys for Christmas. The End.

This puzzle is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to actual elves, living or dead, is coincidental. No reindeer were harmed in the making of this puzzle.

Previous Month | RSS/XML | Current | Next Month