Thursday, March 12, 2009


apodictic [ap-uh-DICK-tick]
adj. expressing absolute certainty; incontestable because of having been demonstrated or proved to be demonstrable

[From Greek apodeiktikós ("proving fully"), combining apo- ("separate") + deiktikós (able to be proved")]

When I was having coffee yesterday afternoon, the 1948 movie Key Largo came up. It starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, among others. Probably because I saw that film around the time I took a class on the director Howard Hawks, who directed Bogie and Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1945) and The Big Sleep (1946), I thought Key Largo was a Hawks film. I was sure of it. I said apodictically at Peet's, "Hawks directed that movie. I took a class on Howard Hawks when I was an undergrad!" Turns out, my apodicticity was misplaced. Key Largo was a John Huston film. Hawks had nothing to do with it.

In Aristotelian (or Socratic) logic, apodictic propositions are those which can be demonstrably proven. "Two plus three is five" is apodictic, because you could take two pencils in one hand and three in the other and put them together to show you have five. A self-evident proposition is apodictic: "I am bald." Dialectic propositions, by contrast, are not self-evident, but can be proved by argument. Wikipedia: "In classical philosophy, dialectic is a form of reasoning based on the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments, advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of such an exchange might be the refutation of one of the relevant points of view, or a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue."

In a 2005 piece in his magazine, The National Review, William F. Buckley, Jr. cites the misplaced apodicticity of the Bush Administration with regard to its claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction:
It's correct that there is political commotion mounting in opposition to the Iraq war. It is important to distinguish between two kinds. One, which is gaining attention, centers on misrepresentations. The so-called Downing Street Memo is cited. This records an exchange at 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002, at which, it is said, the representatives of Mr. Bush made it clear that the president had resolved to proceed against Iraq irrespective of what the U.N. might do.

Rejecting that account, the Bush people have said that the invasion was not finally planned until after the appeal to the United Nations by Secretary of State Powell on February 5, 2003.

The revisionist line is saying that the war should not have taken place and that many who gave it support were deceived by apodictic claims from the White House that the enemy had weapons of mass destruction.

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