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.


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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 24, 1995