Okay, Mark Thompson is back on the air in the SoCal radio market. THAT Mark Thompson. I’ve been listening to the program in a somewhat desultory and haphazard way, just to see if he’s going to be as easy to get concert tickets and other goodies as he used to be when he was partnered up with his (imho) less a-hole-ish buddy.
I haven’t drawn any conclusions yet on that question, but his current shenanigans are largely featuring his stated goal of becoming best friends with Kevin Spacey. To that end, last week, he played a short clip of dialog (or monologue, I guess) from The Usual Suspects, of which one of the salient lines was:
(Okay, it’s a rephrasing of an “observation” by Baudelaire; I first heard this specious bit of “philosophy” nearly twenty years ago, on a Paul Harvey broadcast).
The point is, it irritated me considerably, since, even before I cast off my belief in Abrahamic monotheism, I stopped believing in the existence of such an entity as “the Devil.” From the first time I heard it, I looked upon the statement as inane, facile, and lazy.
So, those are some adjectives that describe the statement’s failings. What I’m wondering, as one may surmise from the thread title, is: does this statement fall under some kind of classification, such as a fallacy of some sort?
It seems to bear at least some of the hallmarks of “begging the question,” but that doesn’t strike me as particularly satisfying. Is there a more accurate descriptor of such a “gotcha,” and are there any examples of other sayings that fit the classification?
I guess it depends on what has got your goat.
If the annoyance stems from incorrectly assuming the existence of the devil then it is a False Premise
If on the other hand the radio guy is doing the Devil’s work to rile you then it is probably Dramatic Irony but may also be a Fallacy due to the serious number of people still believing he exists.
There is no closed list of logical errors, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
I suppose it is a variant of the fundamental error contained in most conspiratorial theorising at some point - the absence of evidence of the devil/conspiracy/whatever logically is either neutral on the subject of the existence of the devil or suggestive of non-existence. Instead, the cliche treats the absence of evidence as affirmative proof of how clever the devil/conspirators are (and by implication affirmative evidence of their existence).
The actual phrase does not express itself as an argument for the existence of the devil, but it is fair to conclude that its failure to compose itself in that form is simply a rhetorical device, since if it was worded as an argument for existence, its failings would become self-evident.
Assuming that it should be construed as an argument for the existence of the devil, then another way of expressing the logical error is to classify it as a “question-begging” or circular argument - it assumes the existence of the devil (to be pulling a trick, the devil has to exist) as a step in the process of attempting to prove that existence.
It is, as you say, nonsense.
In The Usual Suspects it is a stealth brag, because Verbal really is the “devil” Keyser Soza. A modern equivalent for atheists would be “The greatest trick evil people have pulled off has been to convince people there is no such thing as evil.” Modern fundamentalists would say relativism.