The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

All other historical discussion, ancient or modern, falls here.
Post Reply
User avatar
Ben C. Smith
Posts: 8113
Joined: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:18 pm
Location: USA
Contact:

The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sun Nov 10, 2019 2:14 pm

I am posting this brief treatment of a logical fallacy so as to have it in writing in a form I can refer back to as needed.

The title for the 1983 movie The Ploughman's Lunch derives from a bit of modern lore summarized by the following bit of dialogue from near the end of the script:

Matthew: That food you're eating.

James: Yes.

Matthew: What would you call it?

James: I dunno. Ploughman's Lunch.

Matthew: Ploughman's Lunch. Traditional English fare.

James: Uh huh.

Matthew: In fact, it's the invention of an advertising campaign they ran in the early Sixties to encourage people to eat in pubs. A completely successful fabrication of the past, the Ploughman's Lunch was.

[Link.]

The claim that the Ploughman's Lunch, far from being a traditional part of the English culinary heritage, was merely the invention of such an advertising campaign was possible in 1983 because at the time the earliest relevant instance of the phrase listed in the Oxford English Dictionary came from 1970. Further searching in 2005-2006 was consonant with the claim, since an instance was discovered from 1960 in advertising materials associated with the Milk Marketing Board, materials designed to sell more milk in the UK in the form of British cheese.

The research, however, was far from complete. First of all, the combination of bread, cheese, and beer for the working class in Great Britain happens to far predate any advertising of these three staples together in the Sixties, and the status of the meal as pub fare is attested from in between the World Wars. Second, however, it turns out that, while the exact phrase ("the Ploughman's Lunch") may hail from a marketing campaign, that marketing campaign happened in the Fifties, not in the Sixties, and at the behest of the Cheese Bureau, not at that of the Milk Marketing Board. Furthermore, the phrase seems to have been a modification of a very similar phrase which was apparently in currency at the time, "the Ploughboy's Lunch." (Perhaps someone wanted the meal to sound more "manly.")

Whatever one may think of a national commodity board standardizing a name for a traditional meal, the notion that the Ploughman's Lunch, whether as a meal or as the name of a meal, is the result of an advertising campaign in the Sixties is false.

The notion is, in fact, itself the result of a logical fallacy which I might summarize as: the mistaking of the first extant instance of some phenomenon with the first historical instance of that same phenomenon. For a few years now I have liked to think of this error as the Ploughman's Lunch fallacy. Sometimes there are circumstances attending the first extant mention of a phenomenon which imply that it is also the first historical instance of that phenomenon, but not usually (especially in antiquity, as opposed to in modernity). In this case, while the use of terms such as "invention" or "fabrication" might make the purported origin of the Ploughman's Lunch sound like the results of critical historical inquiry, the truth is that the whole idea depends upon a recklessly uncritical dearth of historical methodology. It is one thing to admit that our first extant instance of something is all that we have (so far); it is quite another to draw inferences from that fact which necessarily entail it also being the first historical instance of that same thing.

The hard version of this fallacy, of course, is the assumption that the first extant instance of something is exactly equivalent to its first historical instance. But there is a soft version, as well, one which eschews that exact equivalence but still maintains that the first extant instance of something must be very close (whether conceptually or chronologically) to its first historical instance, that it may be fine to think there might be other instances nearby in the historical record, but to go any further afield would be folly. Someone indulging in the soft version of the above fallacy would probably be willing to give up on the Milk Marketing Board having originated the phrase in the Sixties in exchange for the Cheese Bureau having originated it in the Fifties instead; the "moral of the story" would be pretty much the same in either case. But to learn that a very similar title was actually current in at least one actual pub before even the Cheese Bureau got its hands on it is already a step beyond; and to learn that the meal itself is probably medieval in origin, and was certainly a part of pub culture before World War II, is a leap and a bound beyond even that. In fact, both versions (hard and soft) of the fallacy are fallacious. (I might add that, in my experience, both versions are also very frequently tied in to a preferred historical narrative on the part of the person buying into the fallacy; but such motivations are not an intrinsic or necessary part of the fallacy itself. Also in my experience, the fallacy tends to view all social classes through a singularly literary lens insofar as it relies heavily upon written records, even though, historically speaking, most of humanity has not left much of a written trace, and the lower classes especially are less likely to have left literary remains than the upper classes.)

Ben.
ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ

User avatar
Ben C. Smith
Posts: 8113
Joined: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:18 pm
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sun Nov 10, 2019 2:15 pm

A concept related to the OP (in a balancing sort of way) is that of an idea being "in the air" at a particular time and/or place:

Paul Hartog, "1 Corinthians 2:9 in the Apostolic Fathers," in Intertextuality in the Second Century, edited by D. Jeffrey Bingham & Clayton N. Jefford, page 123:

As an illustration, consider the phrase “speaking truth to power,” an adaptation of the title of a book published by the American Friends Service Committee in 1955: Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence. The volume was widely discussed in the press and media, both secular and religious. The saying has since become commonplace. In fact, the phrase has become so increasingly popular that now there is a whole shelf of books bearing such a name: Aaron Waldavsky’s Speaking Truth to Power (Little, Brown, 1979); Manning Marable’s Speaking Truth to Power (Westview, 1996); Anita Hill’s Speaking Truth to Power (Doubleday, 1997); Paul A. Bové’s Edward Said and the Work of the Critic: Speaking Truth to Power (Duke University Press, 2000); Kerry Kennedy Cuomo and Eddie Adams’s Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World (Crown, 2000); Sipho Seepe’s Speaking Truth to Power (Vista University, 2004); J. Deotis Roberts’s Bonhoeffer and King: Speaking Truth to Power (John Knox, 2005); the multiple-authored Speaking Truth to Power (Oxford University Press, 2008); Mignette Y. Patrick Dorsey’s Speak Truth to Power (University of Alabama Press, 2010); and, Walter Brueggemann’s Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture (Westminster John Knox, 2013). And this list is by no means comprehensive!

Let us imagine a duo of contemporary authors today who subtitle their own book on whistle blowers in the corporate workplace as Speaking Truth to Power. Are our hypothetical authors “adapting” the original American Friends Service Committee book title by changing “speak” to “speaking”? Or could they be “adapting” Cuomo and Adams’s title or Dorsey’s title through the same alteration? Are they changing Bové’s title by dropping the phrase about Edward Said or changing Roberts’s title by dropping the reference to Bonhoeffer and King? Are they influenced by Waldavsky’s or Hill’s book more than the original 1955 study because the more recent books by Waldavsky and Hill statistically far outsold the 1955 original (and the verbal parallel is more exact)? Or, as one could obviously wonder, are they really even citing or quoting anyone else in particular at all? One might perhaps argue that our hypothetical authors have indeed been influenced in some sense by the 1955 book (at least indirectly and unconsciously) by means of living in the socio-cultural milieu that carries the tradition along—even though they are not necessarily “citing” it. If one were to inquire of the exact source of the book’s title, however, the authors may not even be able to pinpoint a singular source. This may be an acute example of a phrase becoming part of the cultural air one breathes, but the scenario illustrates our point.

Hartog claims that the phrase "speaking truth to power" originated precisely in 1955 as part of the title of a Quaker book. He may be correct; as I mentioned in the OP, in modern history it is more often possible to demonstrate that the first extant instance is also the first historical instance than it is in ancient history (mainly because of the relative paucity of sources from antiquity compared to from modernity). Let us assume for the sake of argument that Hartog has not himself fallen into the Ploughman's Lunch fallacy (I have not checked his claims at all). In this case the concept of "speaking truth to power" seems to have spread across certain arenas of modern culture to the extent that we can say that it was "in the air," so to speak. Sometimes an idea becomes so prevalent that nobody needs to have any idea what its first expression happened to be. It is culturally available practically to anyone living in the culture at issue.

Another example of this is the modern charismatic/authoritarian concept of "seed faith," which I am pretty sure originated with Oral Roberts, but which I had heard of long before realizing that it came from Oral Roberts. It is a fixture in modern charismatic/Pentecostal culture. It is "in the air" and available to anyone partaking of that culture.
ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ

StephenGoranson
Posts: 286
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:10 am

Re: The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

Post by StephenGoranson » Sun Dec 22, 2019 4:55 am

FWIW

[A]
A free Briton's advice to the free citizens of Dublin. Numb. II.
>AUTHOR:
>Priscus, Helvidius.
>DETAILS:
>Dublin, [1748]. 15 pp. page 13
>
> Strange it is that Men should be found abject enough to tremble at
> the very Thought
>of speaking Truth to Power!
>
>And this (unconfirmed) snippet [British Newspaper Archive]:
>
>Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
>Tue 25 Nov 1924 p. 2 article
>Devon, England
>Correspondence. We do not necessarily endorse the opinions of our
>correspondents. We cannot enter into any discussion concerning
>rejected communications
>1921 Words [presumably read: prophet]
>
> " ophet speaking truth to power over selfishness and sloth,
> When silence falls such a voice, there ... ?


“The Ploughman’s Lunch” is the title of an illustration in which a woman is handing a ploughman a lunch, which may (?) be a sandwich.

Country Life [London], n.341, July 18, 1903, p. 81.

https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/ur ... XoggHk0&e=

User avatar
Ben C. Smith
Posts: 8113
Joined: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:18 pm
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sun Dec 22, 2019 8:02 am

StephenGoranson wrote:
Sun Dec 22, 2019 4:55 am
FWIW

[A]
A free Briton's advice to the free citizens of Dublin. Numb. II.
>AUTHOR:
>Priscus, Helvidius.
>DETAILS:
>Dublin, [1748]. 15 pp. page 13
>
> Strange it is that Men should be found abject enough to tremble at
> the very Thought
>of speaking Truth to Power!
>
>And this (unconfirmed) snippet [British Newspaper Archive]:
>
>Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
>Tue 25 Nov 1924 p. 2 article
>Devon, England
>Correspondence. We do not necessarily endorse the opinions of our
>correspondents. We cannot enter into any discussion concerning
>rejected communications
>1921 Words [presumably read: prophet]
>
> " ophet speaking truth to power over selfishness and sloth,
> When silence falls such a voice, there ... ?


“The Ploughman’s Lunch” is the title of an illustration in which a woman is handing a ploughman a lunch, which may (?) be a sandwich.

Country Life [London], n.341, July 18, 1903, p. 81.

https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/ur ... XoggHk0&e=


Very interesting! Thank you.
ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ

User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 2842
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

Post by DCHindley » Wed Dec 25, 2019 6:13 pm

I noticed that the ladies dresses seemed "French" and that the picknic basket held a bottle of wine, not a pail of beer. The lady is handing the smiling plowman a bag, which could contain any type foods, really. There are indentations in the dirt that suggest modern traction engines were in use, so why is this a "ploughman?"

The photo referenced in earlier post entitled "The Plowman's Lunch" was by French photographer Emil Fréchon, who was supplying the UK edition of Country Life Magazine with photos from about 1901 until his death in 1921. He also sold prints of his work to whoever was buying. He lived part of the year in England and the other part in Algeria or Pas de Calais France starting around 1887. The Photo as originally published was named "Team of Boulonnais Horses, c.1900" in one source I found. The origin would probably be Pas de Calais, France.

That means that a picture of French peasants toting wine and tending to a man who leads a team of draft horses, even though the farm clearly had a traction engine (the wheel impressions of these early steam engines can clearly be seen, and criss-cross tread pattern has not value except as part of a traction engine, which would obviate the need for a plowman) became the illustration of a typical ploughman (farm laborer) of the English upper crust estates eating his lunch.

My guess would be that in the original, the "ploughman" was actually the driver of a team of draft horses which would pull a cart with shotgun wielding hoity-toity types through fields to take shots at partridges scared to flight by dogs. They have to eat too I suppose. Jolly good fun, yes? However, I was able to locate several pictures of old steam type traction engines pulling a thresher, with a team of horses alongside hauling a wagon to receive the threshed grain. Dang-it!
Last edited by DCHindley on Wed Dec 25, 2019 6:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
Ben C. Smith
Posts: 8113
Joined: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:18 pm
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Dec 25, 2019 6:38 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Wed Dec 25, 2019 6:13 pm
I noticed that the ladies dresses seemed "French" and that the picknic basket held a bottle of wine, not a pail of beer. The lady is handing the smiling plowman a bag, which could contain any type foods, really.
That is the trouble with the absolutely earliest known usages of this phrase: it may simply be no more than the sum of its parts — a lunch fit for a plowman — rather than a lunch specifically of bread and cheese and possibly beer.
ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ

Roger Pearse
Posts: 384
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 10:26 am

Re: The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

Post by Roger Pearse » Wed Jan 01, 2020 3:34 pm

I like the idea of calling this "the Ploughman's Lunch fallacy"! I had to point out to someone on twitter on the other day that some text was the first *surviving* gospel commentary; not necessarily or even probably the first one.

User avatar
Secret Alias
Posts: 12563
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2015 8:47 am

Re: The Ploughman's Lunch fallacy.

Post by Secret Alias » Mon Jan 06, 2020 5:41 am

Roger I love you but you are an apologist. It's like asking a fanatic Italian who spends his time storming into Italian restaurants around the world to maintain orthodoxy to consider whether parmigiano cheese tastes good on fish or seafood. This is not the same thing. The canonical gospels won out. Yes. But if you look carefully at Justin's account of Marcion - yes it says that he was STILL alive at the time of the composition of the Apology but that he was sent forth by devils at the time of the ascension and - by implication - was rendered immortal by the demonically-inspired magic of Simon's student Menander (cf the baptism of eternal life in Tertullian's De Anima I believe). In other words, the report that Marcion was a second century was only partially true. He was also widely reported to be not only a first century heretic but also an apostolic witness of Simon and Peter and the apostles (Clement, Marutha). How we deal with this information is telling. Of course orthodox apologists like yourself are going to say 'since Justin reports that he was STILL alive c. 147 CE that's the truth and the 'alive in the apostolic age' stuff is false. I on the other hand look at Tertullian and see how desperately the Church Fathers resisted giving Marcion an apostolic or first century origin because they knew it would give his tradition authority. In other words, Justin wouldn't have allowed for Marcion to have been active since the ascension if he could have avoided it. He said this because it was widely acknowledged (cf the rejection of Marcion by John in the Latin prologues to John). But give me a break that there is no reason to suspect that the Marcionite gospel was earlier than the orthodox ones. It certainly is possible that the canonical gospels and their 'biography' of a man named Jesus are first. But it is more likely IMHO that the heretical portrait of a supernatural Jesus who came down from heaven, entered into a Jewish congregation, announced the 'antitheses' (Matt 5:21 - 48) enraged the congregants who cornered him near a precipice and tried to push him over only to either (a) pass through him or (b) have him fly out of the way so they passed through and died falling over the precipice (cf Baarda Flying Jesus). This type of gospel was shared by Marcion and the tradition of Justin Martyr and accounts for the strangely muffled argument which lies at the core of Against Marcion. Irenaeus and Tertullian transformed that argument into a Luke-based argument against Marcion when it was originally a gospel harmony-based account hence the frequent reference to Matthew throughout.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Post Reply