Ignoratio Elenchi

Author: Nishtha Mahajan, University Institute Of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh 


Ignoratio elenchi is a legal maxim that means, a fallacy while pitching an argument which may or may not be rationally valid but undoubtedly gives an irrelevant conclusion to the main matter in question. 


This legal maxim ignoratio elenchi has its origin in the Latin language, where ignoratio stands for ‘ignorance’ and elenchi means ‘refutation’. The maxim states the immateriality of an argument to the ongoing issue. 

Fallacy means a deceptive notion to an argument. Ignoratio elenchi is also a segment of fallacy. The occurrence of fallacy is when the conclusion which is to be proved is not the one that ought to be proved. It was Aristotle who recognised this fallacy- ignoratio elenchi. According to Aristotle, ignoratio elenchi arises when the nature of the argument is a refutation. Maybe the proof presented in a proposition is certainly valid but not related to the at hand proposition. 

The fallacy does not account for corresponding proves but for proving to assist the real issue so that no irrelevant conclusion is drawn from it. Though the fallacy concludes but skips the foremost point. ‘Missing the point is quite dominant in such type of fallacy. For instance, if a person is accused of murder and you prove that murder is brutal, it will be said to be ignoratio elenchi. This argument claims to demonstrate a fact which is not to be proved for the particular proposition. 

A popular example of this is red herring which refers to a piece of information that intends to distract and mislead from a relevant issue. 

Examples : 

  1. A stricter academic curriculum should be set for students to make them sharp-minded said a teacher. The principal suggested going for it as the school was in a financial crisis. Though the statement is in support but is unrelated to the chief point under examination. 
  2. The finance minister’s tax policy are up to mark but he is known to have an extra-marital affair. This is a case of ignoratio elenchi as the martial affair is immaterial to the matter of tax policy given.

In the case of Klatt v. Klatt [1] it was said that  “A term of logic, sometimes applied to pleadings and to arguments on appeal, which signifies a mistake of the question, that is, the mistake of one who, failing to discern the real question which he is to meet and answer, addresses his allegations or arguments to a collateral matter or something beside the point.[2]

Thus, ignoratio elenchi is defined as proving some fact that is not related to the dispute and further ignoring and refuting what ought to be proved. ignoratio elenchi is the ‘Fallacy of Logic’ and ‘Ignorance of Proof’.

Citations :

[1] Black’s Law Dictionary 673 (5th ed. 1979).

[2] Klatt v. Klatt, 654 P.2d 733, 738 n.1 (Wyo. 1982)