All posts by The Old Philosopher

About The Old Philosopher

I am no longer an academic. I just had a lot of stuff from my career hanging about and decided I'd try to do something useful with it.

Monty Python: The Witch Argument

This post is about logic.  Consider the following argument from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). What kind of logic is being used here?  Where does it go wrong?  Does understanding logic make it any funnier for you?


CROWD:  A witch!  A witch!  A witch!  A witch!  We’ve found a witch!  A witch! We’ve got a witch!  A witch!  A witch!  Burn her!  Burn her!  Burn her!  We’ve found a witch!  We’ve found a witch!
VILLAGER #1:  We have found a witch.  May we burn her?
CROWD:  Burn her!  Burn!  Burn her!  Burn her!
BEDEVERE:  How do you know she is a witch?
VILLAGER #2:  She looks like one.
CROWD:  Right!  Yeah!  Yeah!
BEDEVERE:  Bring her forward.
WITCH:  I’m not a witch!  I’m not a witch!
BEDEVERE:  Uh, but you are dressed as one.
WITCH:  They dressed me up like this.
CROWD:  Augh, we didn’t!  We didn’t…
WITCH:  And this isn’t my nose.  It’s a false one.
VILLAGER #1:  Well, we did do the nose.
BEDEVERE:  The nose?
VILLAGER #1:  And the hat, but she is a witch!
VILLAGER #2:  Yeah!
CROWD:  We burn her!  Right!  Yeaaah!  Yeaah!
BEDEVERE:  Did you dress her up like this?
VILLAGER #2 and 3: No.  No.
VILLAGERS #2 and #3:  No.
VILLAGER #1: (feeling guilty) Yes.
VILLAGER #2:  Yes.
VILLAGER #1:  Yes.  Yeah, a bit.
VILLAGER #3:  A bit.
VILLAGERS #1 and #2:  A bit.
VILLAGER #3:  A bit.
VILLAGER #1:  She has got wart. (He points at her wart.)
BEDEVERE:  What makes you think she is a witch?
VILLAGER #3:  Well, she turned me into a newt.
BEDEVERE:  A newt? (looking at him more closely)
VILLAGER #3:  uh, I got better.
VILLAGER #2:  Burn her anyway!
VILLAGER #1:  Burn!
CROWD:  Burn her!  Burn!  Burn her!
BEDEVERE:  Quiet!  Quiet!  Quiet!  Quiet!  There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
VILLAGER #1:  Are there?
VILLAGER #1:  What are they?
CROWD:  Tell us!  Tell us!
BEDEVERE:  Tell me, what do you do with witches?
VILLAGER #2:  Burn!
VILLAGER #1:  Burn!
CROWD:  Burn!  Burn them up!  Burn!
BEDEVERE:  And what do you burn apart from witches?
VILLAGER #1:  More witches!
VILLAGER #3:  Shh!
VILLAGER #2:  (after a moment) Wood!
BEDEVERE:  So, why do witches burn?
VILLAGER #3:  B–… ’cause they’re made of… wood?
BEDEVERE:  Good!  Heh heh.
CROWD:  Oh yeah.  Oh.
BEDEVERE:  So, how do we tell whether she is made of wood?
VILLAGER #1:  Build a bridge out of her.
BEDEVERE:  Ah, but can you not also make bridges out of stone?
VILLAGER #1:  Oh, yeah.
RANDOM:  Oh, yeah.  True.  Uhh…
BEDEVERE:  Does wood sink in water?
VILLAGER #1:  No.  No.
VILLAGER #2:  No, it floats!  It floats!
VILLAGER #1:  Throw her into the pond!
CROWD:  The pond!  Throw her into the pond!
BEDEVERE:  What also floats in water?
VILLAGER #1:  Bread!
VILLAGER #2:  Apples!
VILLAGER #3:  Uh, very small rocks!
VILLAGER #1:  Cider!
VILLAGER #2:  Uh, gra– gravy!
VILLAGER #1:  Cherries!
VILLAGER #2:  Mud!
VILLAGER #3:  Churches!  Churches!
VILLAGER #2:  Lead!  Lead!
CROWD:  Oooh.
BEDEVERE:  Exactly.  So, logically…
VILLAGER #1:  If… she… weighs… the same as a duck,… she’s made of wood.
BEDEVERE:  And therefore?
VILLAGER #2:  A witch!
VILLAGER #1:  A witch!
CROWD:  A witch!  A witch!…
VILLAGER #4:  Here is a duck.  Use this duck. [quack quack quack]
BEDEVERE:  We shall use my largest scales. [they all go over to a set of very large scales. The woman is placed on one and a duck is placed on the other.]
CROWD:  Ohh!  Ohh!  Burn the witch!  Burn the witch!  Burn her!  Burn her!
BEDEVERE:  Right.  Remove the supports!  [The woman and the duck balance each other on the scales.]
CROWD:  A witch!  A witch!  A witch!
WITCH:  It’s a fair cop.
VILLAGER #3:  Burn her!
CROWD:  Burn her!  Burn her!  Burn her!

The World We Live In

Welcome to For Philosophy.  I will be setting out some basic positions on various issues — though probably not what most people are used to.   I do not subscribe to the doctrine that there are two sides to every issue.  There are many more sides than two.  Of course, for those who can barely see one side, seeing two is a significant accomplishment.  Still, there’s no reason for others not to move beyond what limits some people.  That’s what I will be doing.

Just so you know, in addition to being an active participant in philosophical research, I have sufficient academic training to offer a blog on philosophical issues.  In some quarters I would be considered over-qualified.  At any rate, you can judge for yourself.  Just read on a bit.