Argumentum ad argumenti longinquitatem

Time is short, folks. We don’t have all day to sit around and listen to arguments and puzzle through scholastic distinctions. Perhaps for this reason, some genius has come up with a new form of refutation:

“your argument is too long; mine is better because it’s shorter”

Here’s a recent version:


The length of such bills has been an argument against health care reform since 1993. We talked about this argument (in 2009) here.

I think it’s obvious (is it not?) that the length of our arguings have no direct relation to their quality. It’s not even a pragmatic indicator. Perhaps it even goes the other way. The longer an argument, the more likely it’ll be better (or address your objections!).

Anyhoo. What to call it? Sticking the with the Latinism popular among fallacy theorists: argumentum ad argumenti longinquitatem (argument against the length of an argument). Even the name of the fallacy is long. Get it?

5 thoughts on “Argumentum ad argumenti longinquitatem”

  1. Hi John,
    I think the long-short comparison line is a form of ad populum, which runs that the more complicated something gets, the less likely that one could understand it without effort. But solutions should be easy, reasoning should be obvious. So a short argument, a simple list of regulations, is preferable and more likely to be right.
    In this regard, the observation that another’s view is ‘complicated’ is a kind of criticism, one that implicates that the other has lost sight of the easier and clearer view. But, of course, this makes one’s defaults antithetical to nuance. (BTW: just ask John Kerry or Al Gore about how well nuance goes over with a voting populace.)

  2. Hey Scott,

    Good point about the Occam’s razor feature here. There’s a question, for instance if you consider the US Constitution, whether a simple set of rules is really a simple set of rules.

  3. I must admit that I have encountered subtle versions of this quasi-fallacy, and every time I did, I got angry. Sometimes that’s the point; if you expend a significant amount of effort meticulously crafting a rebuttal/argument in good faith only to be met with a variant of “Brevity is the soul of wit” in response, often they are trying to frustrate you to satisfy a trolling impulse while avoiding the hard work of rebutting the rebuttal/argument you laid out.

    It’s difficult not to draw one or more of the following conclusions in no particular order or likelihood: that person is trying to sound clever by quoting something vaguely famous and sophisticated-sounding; they are trolling, as mentioned; they are lazy and cannot muster the will to do the hard work of properly responding; they are busy and cannot spend the time to properly respond; they are insufficiently intelligent or insufficiently educated or both and are actually incapable of responding properly; I have been perceived as a troll, or I have somehow laid out such a sloppy or fallacy-ridden argument myself that it does not warrant a good-faith response; I am unwittingly beta-testing a debate AI and have triggered its default tl;dr response; I am facing a between-the-lines ad hominem attack—if brevity is the soul of wit, and my argument is not brief, then I must lack wit, and as wit and intelligence are popularly conflated so as to be considered synonymous, then that means I lack intelligence, and we all know how we can just dismiss the arguments of the unintelligent now, don’t we?

    I’ll respond separately as time permits with a rebuttal to your post. I will argue that your observation is correct that an argument’s soundness does not deteriorate with increasing length, but that that observation is badly misapplied in this particular instance to the health care debate and law and government more broadly.

    I don’t always post rebuttals to this blog, but when I do, I prefer to post long ones. None of those times were they met with derision due to their length. For that, I express my gratitude.

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