Definitions

ipse dixit

Ipse-dixitism

An ipse-dixitism is an unsupported or dogmatic assertion; it is a term sometimes used to point out a missing argument.

Someone guilty of perpetrating an ipse-dixitism does not explicitly define it as an axiom, and certainly not as a premise, but often appears presented in syllogistic form, as: "The economy needs more scientists, so expansion of science education will boost the future economy". The proposition rests on an ipse-dixitism unless the speaker gives reasons why "the economy needs more scientists".

Origin

Cicero, in De Natura Deorum (I, 10), refers to Pythagoras's students debating, saying "ipse dixit", that is, "he said it himself", speaking of Pythagoras, whose authority they considered strong "even without reason".

Etymology

Jeremy Bentham adapted the Latin "Ipse dixit" ("He himself said [it]") into the word ipse-dixitism, which he coined to apply to all non-utilitarian political arguments. He believed that all such arguments (especially from 'natural laws') boiled down to unsupported assertions, and represented "conviction syndromes". This accounts for the word's usage in its modern sense. The earlier use of Ipsedixitism by the Averroists had a separate meaning, as their dialectic method.

Typical causes

  • An ipse-dixitism offers a self-referential appeal to authority. As in:
    • "Trust me..."
  • A naïve ipse-dixitism lacks intentionality, such as:
    • The ipse-dixitism is an implicit assumption, accidentally made explicit.
    • The ipse-dixitism presumes general agreement, as in a homily.
    • The ipse-dixitism is unstated dogma, or "believed to be" a matter of fact, for example: "As a human carcinogen, DDT must be banned worldwide."
  • The ipse-dixitism appears as a stubbornly unsupported repetition of a disputed claim, asserting the user's power or disinterest in objections.
  • The ipse-dixitism can result from deliberate sophistry, attempting to smuggle assertions into an argument.

Ipsedixitisms appear in discourse as though absolutely no supporting argument seems necessary. One motivation for not supporting declarations is the hope that it will make the declaration less visible, particularly in an obfuscated chain of mathematical or legal reasoning. For instance, the 1998 Indiana tax court labelled a particular formula for rejecting tax adjustment appeals as the "apotheosis of ipse-dixitism", because the Court saw no evidence that this formula reliably converted tax assessors' criteria into the conditions necessary for appeal-rejection (the connection had simply been stated as a bald ipse-dixitism in an obscure tax code sub-section).

Non-ipse-dixitisms

Modern dictionaries dramatically narrow the class by associating it with arbitrary, dogmatic belief, implying that the argument has been repeated after having been challenged.

For reasons of concision, assertions in slogans and sound bites rarely cite sources, or supporting argument, but they do not automatically class as ipse-dixitisms if taken out of a context which offered some sort of support for them.

To rank as an ipse-dixitism a statement must appear without the semblance of an argument. The presence of any defense — even by fallacy or fraud — except self-reference precludes classifying an assertion as an ipse-dixitism.

Ipse dixit

The prescriptive linguist Robert Lowth called the examples of English usage on which he based his 1762 prescriptions "ipse dixits" to appeal to the authority of the writers he quoted, which has a slightly different sense and exemplifies an argument by example. However, the Latin phrase is still used in a literal translation, and as a synonym for Ipsedixitism; Mr A says that something is true because he says it is, and B tells C that this isn't good enough because only Mr A's own words back him up.

Rhetorical remedies

If faced with naïve Ipsedixitism, one may resort to Socratic Irony, as this approach can encourage dogmatists to elaborate away from simple re-assertion of dogma, or to realize that they may have made assumptions.

"When I use a word” Humpty Dumpty said, "...it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less."

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

See also

Footnotes

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