‘No one would go to Hitler’s funeral if he was alive today’ – Ron Brown MP, demonstrating a weakness in logic.

Source: p 191, How the Law Works, by Gary Slapper

The author didn't reveal the logical problems. How many are there? What are they?

I bolded the protasis, which is false. Thus, a false antecedent implies anything (See also Google) => this conditional sentence is vacuously true. So what is illogical?

  • 11
    Well, for starters, if he was still alive, he wouldn't need a funeral. Aug 22, 2014 at 12:39
  • Do you think Brown meant, "No one would go to Hitler's funeral if he died today?" Aug 22, 2014 at 19:31
  • 1
    Careful, the sentence is a counterfactual conditional. The logic is different than for material implication. Aug 23, 2014 at 3:42
  • @DanChristensen: No: please see mfile.narotama.ac.id/files/Law/How the Law Works/Chapter 10 Miscellany.pdf.
    – user8572
    Dec 23, 2015 at 21:40
  • 1
    @DanChristensen: "If he died today" is very likely what he meant, but not what he said. There was a major (funny) logical problem in what he said.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 24, 2015 at 22:46

3 Answers 3


Assuming Brown really meant "No one would go to Hitler's funeral if he died today."

Students of logic may be tempted to say that since Hitler actually died 69 years ago, the statement would be true since anything follows from a falsehood. But we are being asked, in effect, what if he actually died only just today? We could not apply the false antecedent rule because we would not have previously assumed that he had died many years before.


I would like to offer a possibility.

The phrase in question is not to be taken literally at all. It does have a specific meaning: It states that "Hitler does not have any followers in the contemporary world." Stated clearly, it is now a proposition that is either true or false about our world. In the real world it happens to be false. (Just read the news). In the space of "all possible worlds," it's conceivable that it might be true in some world. We don't live in that world.

Now, the literal string "No one would go to Hitler’s funeral if he was alive today" is not a proposition. That is, it cannot sensibly be assigned a truth value. That's because there are too many things wrong with it. If he were live he wouldn't need a funeral. If he were alive last week and died six days ago and is being buried tomorrow, would people show up? You can't make sense of the question without explaining the context. What do you mean Hitler was alive a week ago? Has he been continuously alive since the 1940's? Is he reincarnated or revivified? Is everything else about our world the same? How could that be?

You see that to even attempt to assign a T or F to that statement in some possible world; you'd have an endless sequence of questions as to what the statement means. It's too vague. The referents are not resolvable.

I don't know if this corresponds to any particular philosophical theory. But I did come to know recently that not all statements are propositions; and sometimes philosophers even argue about whether a particular statement is a proposition. And this disagreement happens very frequently in the realm of counterfactuals.

So I would say that the original literal statement is neither true nor false and could never be true or false. But if you rephrase it so as to make its meaning clear: "Hitler has followers in the modern world," then it is a proposition that may be true or false.


If Hitler was alive today then he would be 126 years old, having spent 70 years in jail. In that situation, just like figures of Guy Fawkes are burnt every year in Britain, one could imagine that people would celebrate Hitler's funeral every year, desperately waiting for the real thing.

People would go to Hitler's funeral not to celebrate his life, but his death.

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