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Ad hoc

September 24th, 2009

Ad hoc ( for this purpose )

classification : informal


Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines Ad hoc – for the particular end or case at hand without consideration of wider application. In modern usage, this phrase has two fairly distinct meanings, depending on whether it is being used in argumentation or government.

Background and Examples

In argumentation, an ad hoc argument is one that is hastily constructed to support or explain something without any underlying sense or logical framework. This is not always illegitimate; if a new phenomenon is discovered, early explanations are likely to be ad hoc until experimentation or study can be conducted on it.

However, when used to support an argument or an explanation, it is seldom a solid argumentative strategy. Many creationists use ad hoc arguments to explain away evidence that contradicts their underlying beliefs, rather than revising those beliefs. The constant creation of new ad hoc arguments to undermine evidence is a good sign that they are not arguing in good faith.

In politics, ad hoc refers to the creation of “temporary” committees or processes to handle new situations. In many cases, 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. However, due to path dependency, it’s basically impossible to go back and redesign the whole system. Instead, people make small ad hoc changes to the system again, and the process continues. Example: Any US government agency you like, but particularly the whole US health care system.

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Categories: Logic