Samy Dana, economic journalist

Image_Marcio Costa


When tautological utterances come from people with a certain reputation, they convey the feeling of intellectual cheating.

Samy Dana, an economist and radio commentator, caught the internet's attention when he posted on a social network an explanation of the usefulness of the new R$200,00 banknote announced by the government this week. The reason for the comment to have turned into mockery is the fact that, taken in isolation, the publication does not add any new data or knowledge despite all the verbiage.

If taken together with other posts that Dana published, it is possible to understand that the economist said that, despite the popularization of cards and other digital modalities, such as payment applications online, many people still use paper bills to carry out transactions. Therefore, the availability of a R$ 200,00 note would serve to reduce the amount of paper bills that these people have to carry with them.

However, outside of this context, the phrase led to great ridicule on the network. Before commenting on the reason for this, I reproduce below the words that generated the mockery:

“If you need to pay a two hundred reais bill, today you need two hundred, four fifty, ten twenty, twenty ten, forty five or even one hundred two reais bills, among other combinations. can replace all these operations”

The reason for the mockery is obvious: the phrase has an instructive tone and carries a certain air of “authority” or “an expert on the subject explains”; after all, it was said by a professor of higher education, with a doctorate, etc. This explanatory posture is highlighted by “today this is how it works…tomorrow it could be different”. However, despite the pomp, prayer does absolutely nothing for anyone. That's because what Dana does is nothing more than what we did in math class in elementary school and what I learned (more or less!) under various names: “factoring”; “decomposition into prime numbers”; "greatest common divisor", etc. Claiming that a 200 note can be split into two hundred notes; four out of fifty; ten out of twenty and so on, it just means saying that 200 is divisible by 100, which is 2; by 50, which is 4, by 20, which is 10, and so on. The reason for the mockery, then, is given by the supposed “authority” that explains what anyone knows.

This situation immediately reminded me of one of the most well-known concepts of the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804). This is the “analytical judgment”, exposed by the philosopher in his famous Critique of Pure Reason (1781)

Kant presented in the mentioned work three types of judgments: analytical, synthetic beforehand and synthetics a posteriori. Roughly and briefly, analytical judgments are those expressed by mere analysis, without adding any new information. Synthetic judgments, on the contrary, add new information to the utterance. if they go beforehand, this new information is reached before the sensible experience, if they are a posteriori, are reached after sensible experience.

Thus, for example, if I state that “water is wet” I am only decomposing or withdrawing an idea that was already contained in the other. This is the analytical judgment. However, to be sure that the water is cold or hot, I need to touch or taste it. In this case, it is a synthetic judgment a posteriori. Finally, I can know that water reaches the boiling point when it reaches a temperature of about 100°C without having to experiment with all the water in the world. This is the synthetic judgment has owned, the icing on the cake Critique of Pure Reason.

Analytical judgments, when developed in the way Samy Dana does, become “tautologous” arguments. Tautology is the repetition, for rhetorical purposes, of the same statement, but with different words. So I can say, for example, that there are corpses in the cemetery, but all the corpses are dead and none of the dead are alive. Ultimately no important information was added.

While in the realm of logic and rhetoric analytic judgments approach tautology, in linguistics it embraces certain types of pleonasms and redundancies. This happens when, for example, I say “equal halves”; “town councilor”; “public purse”.

All these situations are commonplace and are present in our way of thinking and talking on a daily basis. In times of exposure on social networks, it is no wonder that we are increasingly getting “slips” from experts. After all, at any moment a professor Pasquale can slip up and make a post with some deviation from the cultural norm. Situations like this “pop” due to views and shares. However, they do not completely disqualify those who pronounce them, or who post them. It is worth, of course, to have a few laughs, make some memes and realize that anyone is subject to slipping in reasoning.

The point is that when tautological utterances come from people with a certain reputation, they convey the feeling of intellectual cheating. When a lot is said without saying anything and when we realize that the argument simply does not develop and does not progress, despite the chatter, we get the feeling that we are facing a “deceitful ruse”. Perhaps Dana failed to follow the old biblical advice according to which “in much speaking there is no lack of transgression” (Prov. 10:19) and that “when praying, do not use vain repetitions, like the Gentiles, who think that by much speaking they will be heard” (Mt. 6:7).

Samy Dana's post, however, was at least helpful in providing one more example of Kant's analytic judgment. If I were still a professor, this would certainly be a beautiful way to exemplify the Kantian concept of analytical judgment. It was only for this reason that I wanted to “share with people other than myself” these considerations about what happened.

*Flávio Gabriel Capinzaiki Ottonicar is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at UFSCar.

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