Tackling the Thermian argument

The Thermian argument so themed by its creator Dan Olsen, is an invention to shut down people who use in context defenses to in his words “shut down critics of fictional works”. The argument is that criticism of a fictional world, is in embryo the criticism of the decisions made by the creators of that world. (You can find his video here)

I’m inclined to accept the logic of the argument as it seems to be fairly valid, here is how I would structure it:

Major premise: All fiction is made by a creator.

Minor premise: The creator has full control over a work of fiction he or she produces.

Conclusion: All fiction is the result of the creators control. 

The argument that Mr. Olsen is making is to make the creator of fiction inseparable from that fiction. So, for instance “I’m not criticizing the amount of foul language in “Gran Torino” I’m criticizing the director, writer, actors, key grip, and anyone else involved for allowing that amount of foul language in the movie.” 

This eliminates the need to defend a criticism of a work from arguments about that work. Such as “This makes sense in context of the work”. However, it kind of doesn’t because the argument works both ways.

If criticism of a fictional work is the criticism of the decisions made by the creator of that work. Then criticisms of the criticism is criticism of the person who made the original criticism. Furthermore, the “thermian argument” is in reality a defense of the decisions made by the creator, anchored in the original work.

The reductio ad absurdum of Mr. Dan Olsen’s argument in this video is:

  • Criticism of the world is in fact criticism of God (if you believe in god)
  • Criticism of a culture is in fact criticism of the people within that culture.
  • Criticism of religion is in fact criticism of the people who support and maintain the religion.

Just to show how fallacious and ridiculous Mr. Olsen’s argument is, take a look at this painting by Jackson Pollock:

Thermian argument 2

I could say a lot of things about it, however, I’m going to play out an argument:

Person 1: My 7 year old could have painted that, it’s just paint splattered on a canvas, it looks like the floor after I painted my house last time and spilled paint all over the place.

Person 2: Well, actually the style is called abstract impressionism, it sprung out from surrealism and makes perfect sense when put in context of the development of painting focused on subconscious or automatic painting, based in creating art that is viewer dependent.

Person 1: You are just making a Thermian argument.

Of course, a rebuttal to the argument I’ve spent the last 400 or so words on is possible, in that a person could argue that I unfairly generalized and employed the argument outside of its intended sphere. That it’s only meant to deal with artistic expression in context of art, taken to mean writing, film or video-games. I suppose that is a fair criticism, however it misses the point, that art is an artist sharing their imitation with us, in good ways and in bad ways. Context matters, without Blofeld, you have no James Bond, without Mr. Hyde you don’t really have a decent novel, without the “first night” rule in “Braveheart”, you lose the characters motivation and without what I think was a very upsetting scene in “Law Abiding Citizen” you have no plot.

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