Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fallacies, Pathetic and Otherwise

Loyal Drunkard Allie Cat commented on my last post.

Not going to lie, it made me cry a little.

Her comment, should you not care to clink on the link, referenced the literary device known as the pathetic fallacy.

And the pathetic fallacy, should you not care to click on that link, refers to the literary device wherein inanimate objects are portrayed as having human emotions or experiences.

You know, like when clouds are sullen, or winds are mournful, or streets are hungry, or dump trucks stand in judgment of our wrongs. Possibly I'm reaching with that last one.

Or, you know, fully half of Dylan's
"Visions of Johanna."

The thing is, it's a confusing name. Because "pathetic" in this case doesn't suggest "sad" or "pitiable" or "unworthy of understanding," to name a few popular interpretations of the word. Instead it represents the classic etymology of the term, the root of which is "pertaining to feelings for others," as in "empathetic" or "sympathetic." Or, in the case of a pathetic fallacy, to portray trees, or clouds, or other non-human things as experiencing or embodying human emotions.

With that tiny bit of education, the word "pathetic" makes perfect sense.

But I have a problem with the term "fallacy."

Fallacy means a failure of logic, a null proposition, a voided argument. It means, in a word, wrong.

Is there something wrong with ascribing living, breathing, human emotions to things and abstract concepts?

That's what "fallacy" suggests, amiright?

Straight from Google, yo.

So I guess it's a fallacy to say, for instance:

That a minority can be oppressed or misunderstood;

That a social movement can be proud or determined;

That an institution can be corrupt;

That a political campaign can act maliciously;

That an electorate can be ignorant, or oblivious, or gullible;

That a war can be prudent;

That a murder can be moral.

All of these things are fallacies.




  1. Umm... I really don't recall replying to your last post. But I've been taking xanax before bed, so... Hang in there. : - )

  2. I'm usually not one to quibble--in fact I generally avoid conflict, although if you disagree I'll admit you may be right. Anyway I do think that examples such as minorities, social movements, institutions, etc. are composed of people.
    Such expressions may really be examples of either synecdoche or metonymy. Or something else entirely. I always get those two mixed up and even with Google's help I'm still not entirely sure I understand the definition of either.

  3. It was Chris, not Allie, who made that comment. No wonder Allie didn't recall making it.

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