The UVic Writer's Guide

Argument Of The Beard

This is a paradoxical argument which derives from the impossibility of answering the question "How many hairs does a man have to grow before he has a beard?" Since there is no specific number at which an unsightly clump of hairs becomes a beard, the argument is that no useful distinction can be made between a clean-shaven man and Santa Claus.

Another way of expressing the fallacy is in the argument that there is no harm in removing one hair from a beard since it will not stop it being a beard; the argument is superficially convincing until you realise that eventually the beard will indeed disappear, even if it is plucked one hair at a time.

Thus the argument of the beard suggests that there is no difference between those things which occupy opposite ends of a continuum, because there is no definable moment at which one becomes the other: day and night, or childhood and adulthood, for example. This fallacy often turns up in essays that discuss such subjects as the appropriate age for drinking, voting, or driving.

Topics About Logic and Argument
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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 24, 1995