Non Sequitur: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of Non Sequitur
  • 0:32 Formal Logic
  • 1:42 Examples of Non Sequiturs
  • 2:06 Non Sequiturs in the Courtroom
  • 2:53 Comedy of the Absurd
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Non sequiturs are statements and conclusions that defy the basic rules of reason. In this lesson, we will learn how non sequiturs are commonly used in logic, law, and comedy.

Definition of Non Sequitur

The transmission in my car is acting up again. Therefore, you have to read the book by Friday.

What? That doesn't make any sense. How did we get from the premise of my transmission acting up to the conclusion that you have to read the book by Friday? These two sentences are an example of a non sequitur.

The Latin words non sequitur literally mean 'it does not follow.' There is a divide between the premise and the conclusion, which results in something called a fallacy. Simply put, the conclusion does not follow the premise.

Formal Logic

A non sequitur is all about taking a giant logical jump that is totally unreasonable. Okay, let's say that I wanted to prove that all dogs are good herders. In formal logic, we start with at least two premises. This is followed by a conclusion that is based on those premises.

Premise 1: My Corgi is an excellent herder.
Premise 2: My Corgi is a dog.
Conclusion: Therefore, all dogs are excellent herders.

Even though both Premise 1 and Premise 2 are correct, it doesn't guarantee that the conclusion is correct. This non sequitur takes a leap between the first two premises to draw a conclusion that simply isn't true. The conclusion is making the false assumption that since my Corgi is a good herder, then all dogs are good herders. Logically speaking, we cannot take a definite truth and turn it into an all-encompassing generalization.

Here are a couple more examples:

  • Brian is athletic. Brian is Canadian. Therefore, all Canadians are athletic.
  • Mark Twain is hilariously funny. Mark Twain is a writer. Therefore, all writers are hilariously funny.

Examples of Non Sequiturs

Non sequiturs can also be assumptions that are not necessarily true. In these cases, there doesn't have to be two or more premises. All the statements below still take that giant leap which defies basic reason.

  • Marilyn drives a Mercedes. Marilyn must be wealthy.
  • His apartment building is huge. His apartment must also be huge.
  • Billy is eating broccoli. Billy must love to eat vegetables.

Non Sequiturs in the Courtroom

It's important to note that even if the conclusion is true, if the argument is erroneous, then the non sequitur is still considered a fallacy. We see the use of the non sequitur argument used a lot in the practice of law.

Let's say I'm a prosecutor trying to get a murder conviction. I provide the jury with the following argument: 'The murder took place at Vito's Pizza. The defendant works at Vito's Pizza. Therefore, the defendant must have committed the murder.'

Now, it may very well be that the defendant is guilty, that he did commit the murder. However, the defense lawyer should not have a difficult time nullifying the above argument and declaring it invalid because it's a non sequitur. Just because the defendant worked at Vito's Pizza, and the crime took place there, doesn't prove he's guilty.

Comedy of the Absurd: Theater

The use of non sequiturs as a literary device in comedy is quite common. Because non sequiturs can be taken to an extreme and absurd level, they can easily become humorous, especially in a surrealist sort of way.

We often see this sort of surreal absurdist comedy in the theater. For example, characters may run off one non sequitur after another for comedic effect. Note how it's funny because we can't possibly anticipate what the next line is going to be.

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