Ad hoc

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Ad hoc means thrown together (literally, to this). In modern usage, this phrase has two fairly distinct meanings, depending on whether it is being used in argumentation or government.


[edit] In argumentation

Ad Hoc is a debating tactic in which an explanation of why a particular thing may be is substituted for an argument as to why it is; since it is therefore not an argument, it is not technically a fallacy, but is usually listed as one because it is a substitution for a valid argument. It is similar in form to moving the goalposts, but protects the argument by adding additional speculative terms rather than changing the meaning of existing ones.

Users of ad hoc claims generally believe the excuses and rationalisations serve to shore up the original hypothesis, but in fact each additional speculative term weakens it. This is both due to the speculations being based simply on the faith that there might be an explanation, and because each additional term makes the hypothesis weaker according to the principle of parsimony.

In fiction writing the term "plot spackle" is used to describe the same method, where additional terms are made up to pave over the cracks in a plot. This is also common in Biblical inerrancy arguments, where speculative terms will be added as it becomes clear that the plain text is contradictory or otherwise undesirable. This rather obviously changes the Bible from "inerrant" to "inerrant if you make a great many assumptions in a precise way which follows no logical pattern."

Many creationists and woo pushers use ad hoc explanations to magic away evidence that contradicts their underlying beliefs, rather than revising those beliefs. For example, many alternative medicines have been disproved or shown to be merely placebos, but believers will make up excuses as to why the controlled and properly conducted experiment was wrong. Some homeopaths, for instance, will cry that the succussion process was carried out incorrectly (as if 9 bangs rather than 10 makes all the difference), or that (inexplicably) it is impossible to do a "double-blind" test on homeopathy. Creationist explanations for how the Grand Canyon is explained via the global flood while similar canyons aren't seen everywhere are hilariously varied and entirely ad hoc.

[edit] Examples

  • Truther: Look at all the hand signs on Music/Video games/TV shows! There's no doubt the Illuminati exists!
  • Rational Thinker: Those hand signs are completely different than what you described them to be. (Explains the "Rock-on" gesture, the "A-OK" sign, and the V-Sign)
  • Truther: Well that's the perfect cover up for what they really mean!

Here, the Truther has his evidence debunked. However, he refuses to accept this, and thus decides to cover it up with an unfalsifiable claim.

Another example:

  • Rational Thinker: If the Illuminati exists, why are there so many Youtube videos exposing them?
  • Conspiritard: Because they know if they keep them up, people will not believe the videos!

Explanation: Here, the Ad Hoc contradicts the idea that the Illuminati doesn't want anyone to know about them.

Note that Ad Hoc arguments can be very easy to fall for. It is important not to.

[edit] Politics

In politics, ad hoc refers to the creation of "temporary" committees or processes to handle new situations - similar to the valid uses of ad hoc arrangements described above, the situations are new, so can't really be dealt with in any other way. In some cases, notably due to laziness, these temporary creations end up becoming permanent. The constant "ad hoc tinkering" often creates solutions that work well in the short term, but end up creating a system that no one would have intentionally devised, given the time to work it out properly at the beginning. However, due to path dependency, it's basically impossible to go back and redesign the whole system from scratch. Instead, people make small ad hoc changes to the system again, and the process continues, with each new implementation causing a sort of partially-directed evolution of government.

[edit] Legitimate and common uses

Ad hoc explanations are not always an illegitimate exercise; if a new phenomenon is discovered, early explanations are likely to be technically ad hoc until experimentation or study can be conducted on it. In this sort of use and more general use, ad hoc arrangements are unavoidable because no one can predict the unpredictable (except maybe Derren Brown) - e.g., examiners putting ad hoc arrangements on exam marks because they didn't predict a spelling error, or role-players making up rules as they go along because the source book never said what to do if a Level 12 Sorceress cast that spell from that location while this rule was in effect under those rules in that building, which just produces a silly result. In science or when investigating pseudoscience, it is important to make sure that ad hoc claims are falsifiable and repeatable.

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