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Encyclopedia > Argument from ignorance

The argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam ("appeal to ignorance" [1]) or argument by lack of imagination, is a logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise is true only because it has not been proven false or is only false because it has not been proven true. It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Fallacy. ... Look up Premise in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, François Lemoyne, 1737 For other uses, see Truth (disambiguation). ... False is the antonym of the adjective true. ... False is the antonym of the adjective true. ... When someone sincerely agrees with an assertion, they might claim that it is the truth. ...


The argument from personal incredulity, also known as argument from personal belief or argument from personal conviction, refers to an assertion that because one personally finds a premise unlikely or unbelievable, the premise can be assumed not to be true, or alternately that another preferred but unproven premise is true instead.


Both arguments commonly share this structure: a person regards the lack of evidence for one view as constituting proof that another view is true. The types of fallacies discussed in this article should not be confused with the reductio ad absurdum method of argument, in which a valid logical contradiction of the form "A and not A" is used to disprove a premise. Look up argument in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: reduction to the absurd) also known as an apagogical argument, reductio ad impossibile, or proof by contradiction, is a type of logical argument where one assumes a claim for the sake of argument, derives an absurd or ridiculous outcome, and then concludes that the original assumption... Broadly speaking, a contradiction is an incompatibility between two or more statements, ideas, or actions. ... Look up Premise in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Contents

Overview

Commonly in an Argument from Personal Incredulity or Argument from Ignorance, the speaker considers or asserts that something is false, implausible, or not obvious to them personally and attempts to use this gap in knowledge as "evidence" in favor of an alternative view of his or her choice. Examples of these fallacies are often found in statements of opinion which begin: "It is hard to see how...," "I cannot understand how...," or "it is obvious that..." (if "obvious" is being used to introduce a conclusion rather than specific evidence in support of a particular view).


Argument from ignorance

The two most common forms of the argument from ignorance, both fallacious, can be reduced to the following form: Look up fallacy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

  • Something is currently unexplained or insufficiently understood or explained, so it is not (or must not be) true.
  • Because there appears to be a lack of evidence for one hypothesis, another chosen hypothesis is therefore considered proven.

Examples:

  • "You can't prove God doesn't exist, so God exists"
  • "You can't prove God does exist, so God doesn't exist"

This must not be confused with the simple, logically acceptable statement:

  • "There are so many definitions of god that the word god can mean a variation of things"

Argument from personal incredulity

Two common versions of the argument from personal incredulity are:

  • "I can't believe this is possible, so it can't be true." (The person is asserting that a proposition must be wrong because he or she is (or claims to be) unable or unwilling to fully consider that it might be true, or is unwilling to believe evidence which does not support her or his preferred view.)
  • "That's not what people say about this; people instead agree with what I am saying." (Here the person is asserting that a proposition must be inaccurate because the opinion of "people in general" is claimed to agree with the speaker's opinion, without offering specific evidence in support of the alternative view.) This is also called argumentum ad populum.

An argument from personal incredulity is the same as an argument from ignorance only if the person making the argument has solely their particular personal belief in the impossibility of the one scenario as "evidence" that the alternative scenario is true (i.e., the person lacks relevant evidence specifically for the alternative scenario). This article does not cite any references or sources. ...


Quite commonly, the argument from personal incredulity is used in combination with some evidence in an attempt to sway opinion towards a preferred conclusion. Here too, it is a logical fallacy to the degree that the personal incredulity is offered as further "evidence." In such an instance, the person making the argument has inserted a personal bias in an attempt to strengthen the argument for acceptance of her or his preferred conclusion. For other senses of this word, see bias (disambiguation). ...

(Also see similar arguments: wisdom of repugnance and argument from emotion)

The wisdom of repugnance is a phrase describing the notion that an intuitive (or deep-seated) negative response to a thing (e. ... Appeal to emotion is a logical fallacy wherein the arguer (who is using this fallacy) takes advantage of emotion to prove his or her argument. ...

Burden of proof

An important aspect of the ad ignorantiam argument is establishing the burden of proof. While this concept is discussed in the law section of this page, it is important to realize that establishing the burden of proof is important in other arenas as well. All logic follows from presuppositions (axiomatic statements, see axiom). These presuppositions are not provable but are assumed as true. In the common law, burden of proof is the obligation to prove allegations which are presented in a legal action. ... This article is about a logical statement. ...


Inductive usage

Inductive usage refers to the extension of an argument to support a wider generalization of a hypothesis, principle, scientific theory, or universal law. Many such uses of the Argument from Ignorance are considered fallacious, especially in academic papers which are expected to be rigorous about their key premises and empirical foundations. However, in some cases (such as that which the noted author Irving Copi describes below) where affirmative evidence could reasonably be expected to be found, but following careful unbiased examination, this evidence has still not been found, then it might become expedient, and sometimes even prudent, to infer that this might suggest (though it does not prove, deductively, it suggests inductively) that the evidence does not exist. Or, where the speaker can reasonably assume that all sane people will agree with a premise (e.g. "The sky is blue"), then he might decide it is unnecessary to provide evidence supporting that assertion; however, these issues (to which epistemological foundationalism is closely related, and with which it is also closely intertwined) are still debated. Aristotle appears first to establish the mental behaviour of induction as a category of reasoning. ... For the term in the context of mathematical logic, see Generalization (logic). ... Look up Hypothesis in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In mathematics, theory is used informally to refer to a body of knowledge about mathematics. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Fallacy. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Academic publishing. ... For the medical term see rigor (medicine) Rigour (American English: rigor) has a number of meanings in relation to intellectual life and discourse. ... Look up Premise in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A central concept in science and the scientific method is that all evidence must be empirical, or empirically based, that is, dependent on evidence or consequences that are observable by the senses. ... Irving Marmer Copi (born Copilowish, July 28, 1917 – August 19, 2002) was an American philosopher, author, and logician. ... For other senses of this word, see bias (disambiguation). ... Deductive reasoning is the process of reaching a conclusion that is guaranteed to follow, if the evidence provided is true and the reasoning used to reach the conclusion is correct. ... This article is about induction in philosophy and logic. ... This article or section should include material from Episteme Epistemology (from the Greek words episteme=science and logos=word/speech) is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, origin and scope of knowledge. ... ...


Description

Irving Copi writes that: Irving Marmer Copi (born Copilowish, July 28, 1917 – August 19, 2002) was an American philosopher, author, and logician. ...

The argumentum ad ignorantiam [fallacy] is committed whenever it is argued that a proposition is true simply on the basis that it has not been proven false, or that it is false because it has not been proven true. He adds, A qualification should be made at this point. In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence despite searching, as positive evidence towards its non-occurrence. (Copi 1953)

To support this, one might add a third case, the argument that something is false or true because the speaker cannot (or finds it hard to) conceive otherwise. This argument by lack of imagination is sometimes expressed in the form "Y is absurd (because I can not imagine it), therefore it must be untrue," or "It is hard to see how..." [ie I personally cannot see, or lack imagination, how], and is sometimes confused with the logically valid method of argument, reductio ad absurdum. A logical argument using reductio ad absurdum would be framed as "X logically leads to a provably impossible (absurd) conclusion, therefore it must be false." In reductio ad absurdum, it is necessary to show that accepting X implies a contradiction (such as "not X", or "Y and not Y" for some other proposition Y). In an argument from ignorance, the speaker asserts "X implies not Y", where Y is believed to be, but cannot be proven, true, rather than something which is provably contradictory. Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: reduction to the absurd) also known as an apagogical argument, reductio ad impossibile, or proof by contradiction, is a type of logical argument where one assumes a claim for the sake of argument, derives an absurd or ridiculous outcome, and then concludes that the original assumption...


Copi's argument concerns the Y condition; That in this case of "X implies not Y" for some other proposition Y, some weight must be given to the probability that the speaker's evaluation of Y is correct. For example, if proposition X is "This man was shot", and proposition Y is "There was no bullet", the speaker's qualification to assert condition Y must be considered. A coroner who had examined the body is most likely qualified to draw this conclusion, but an eyewitness is probably unqualified.


Argument from personal incredulity is very similar, e.g. "I am unable to believe/understand X, therefore it must be false."


Examples

  • "The solar system must be younger than a million years because even if the sun were made of solid coal and oxygen it would have burned up within that time at the rate it generates heat." (An argument from ignorance, from 19th Century encyclopedias[citation needed], based on the assumption that because there was no means known at that time of producing heat more efficient than coal, this logically put a limit on the Sun's possible age. In fact in the 20th Century with the discovery of radioactivity and nuclear fusion, the sun's age was more correctly dated at many billions of years old instead. The 'ignorance' in this case was assuming that no fuel source could be more efficient than coal and oxygen.)
  • "If polar bears are (the) dominant (predator) in the Arctic, then there would seem to have been no need for them to evolve a white-coloured form of camouflage." In his book Probability of God, Anglican Bishop Hugh Montefiore casts doubt on neo-Darwinian evolution with that statement. This argument was addressed by the evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker, who wrote that if the writer had thought to imagine a black polar bear trying to sneak up on a seal in the Arctic, he would see the evolutionary value of such fur. The ignorance in this case was assuming that no other purpose could be served.

Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ... Sol redirects here. ... (19th century - 20th century - 21st century - more centuries) Decades: 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s As a means of recording the passage of time, the 20th century was that century which lasted from 1901–2000 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar (1900–1999 in the... Radioactivity may mean: Look up radioactivity in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... The deuterium-tritium (D-T) fusion reaction is considered the most promising for producing fusion power. ... This article is about the animal. ... The modern evolutionary synthesis (often referred to simply as the modern synthesis), neo-Darwinian synthesis or neo-Darwinism, brings together Charles Darwins theory of the evolution of species by natural selection with Gregor Mendels theory of genetics as the basis for biological inheritance. ... This article is about evolution in biology. ... Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS (born March 26, 1941) is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular science writer who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. ... Cover illustration by the zoologist Desmond Morris The Blind Watchmaker is a 1986 book by Richard Dawkins in which he presents an explanation of, and argument for, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. ...

Law

In most modern criminal legal systems there is a presumption of innocence, and it is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove (usually "beyond reasonable doubt") that a defendant has in fact committed a particular crime. It is a logical fallacy to presume that mere lack of evidence of innocence of a crime is instead evidence of guilt. Similarly, mere lack of evidence of guilt cannot be taken as evidence of innocence. For this reason (among others), western legal systems err on the side of caution. Simply the act of taking a defendant before a court is not adequate evidence to presume anything. Courts require evidence of guilt to be presented first, adequate for the court to find that the charge has been substantiated-- i.e., that the prosecution's evidentiary burden has been met-- and only after this burden is met is the defense obliged to present counterevidence of innocence. If the burden of proof is not met, that does not imply that the defendant is innocent. Hence, in such a case, the defendant is found "not guilty", except in Scotland, where the jury also has the option to return a verdict of not proven. The term criminal law, sometimes called penal law, refers to any of various bodies of rules in different jurisdictions whose common characteristic is the potential for unique and often severe impositions as punishment for failure to comply. ... Presumption of innocence is a legal right that the accused in criminal trials has in many modern nations. ... In the common law, burden of proof is the obligation to prove allegations which are presented in a legal action. ... This article is about the country. ... Not proven is a verdict available to a court in Scotland. ...


Also, as a hypothetical example of an "argument from personal incredulity," defined above, suppose someone were to argue:

  • I cannot imagine any way for Michael Jackson to have slept with young boys without having sex with them.
  • Therefore he must be guilty of the crime of statutory rape.

Merely because the person making the argument cannot imagine how scenario "A" might have happened does not necessarily mean that the person's preferred conclusion (scenario "B") is correct. As with other forms of the argument from ignorance, the arguer in this instance has arrived at a conclusion without any evidence supporting the preferred hypothesis, merely for lack of being able to imagine the alternative. Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958), commonly known as MJ as well as the King of Pop, is an American musician, entertainer, and pop icon whose successful career and controversial personal life have been a part of pop culture for the last three decades. ... This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ...


The same principles of logic apply to the civil law, although the required burdens of proof generally are different. As well, these principles of logic apply to the introduction of a given component of a legal case by either a complainant or a defendant. That is, the mere lack of evidence in favor of a proposition put forth by a party in a legal proceeding (e.g., the assertion "she couldn't have left the house and returned in time to do X..." is offered without evidence in support) would not properly be taken as evidence in favor of an alternative explanation (e.g., "she did leave the house and return in time to do X...").


Science

Unexplained phenomena are an indication that a particular scientific theory does not provide a satisfactory model sufficient to explain or predict all outcomes. For example, the wave theory of light does not explain the photoelectric effect, though it successfully predicts the results of the double-slit experiment. However, later theories based around quantum mechanics provide an adequate explanatory model of both. For other uses, see Phenomena (disambiguation). ... In mathematics, theory is used informally to refer to a body of knowledge about mathematics. ... Surface waves in water This article is about waves in the most general scientific sense. ... A diagram illustrating the emission of electrons from a metal plate, requiring energy gained from an incoming photon to be more than the work function of the material. ... Slit experiment redirects here. ... For a less technical and generally accessible introduction to the topic, see Introduction to quantum mechanics. ...


It is a logical mistake to assert that because a phenomenon is unpredictable by current scientific theories, that a better scientific theory cannot be found that provides an adequate natural explanatory model for the phenomena in question; and that therefore, one must assert that the only viable explanation of the unexplained phenomena is the supernatural action of God. This variant is known as the God-of-the-gaps argument. For other uses, see Phenomena (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Phenomena (disambiguation). ... The God of the gaps refers to a view of God deriving from a theistic position in which anything that can be explained by human knowledge is not in the domain of God, so the role of God is therefore confined to the gaps in scientific explanations of nature. ...


However, it is also logically incorrect to assume that because a theory does explain all known relevant phenomena, it must be correct. The fact that no counter-examples are known to exist is not in itself proof of a given theory, since there is always the possibility of some yet-to-be-observed counter-example. For example, there are no known phenomena that are inconsistent with the Big Bang theory. This by no means constitutes definitive proof that the universe actually did originate with the Big Bang. According to the Big Bang theory, the universe originated in an infinitely dense and physically paradoxical singularity. ...


This is a criticism often levelled against the scientific community: scientists often do proceed as if a given theory - the Big Bang theory in this example - were definitively true. The defense is one of practicality: although in strict logical terms the assumption of correctness is fallacious, it is highly impractical (if not impossible) to devise experiments or evaluate data with absolutely no assumptions at all; science must have some set of base assumptions from which to operate. This article does not cite any references or sources. ... The Duhem-Quine thesis (also called the Duhem-Quine problem) is chiefly about being unable to test a theory in isolation, and that in practice testing a theory requires one or more background assumptions (also called auxiliary assumptions or auxiliary hypotheses). ... From the late 1800s the word paradigm refers to a thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context. ...


References

  • Irving M. Copi & Carl Cohen, Introduction to Logic. Prentice Hall College Div; 10th edition (1998). ISBN 0-13-010202-4.
  1. ^ Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

See also

The fallacy of appealing to lack of proof of the negative is a logical fallacy of the following form: X is true because there is no proof that X is false. ... Stephen Colbert announces that The Wørd of the night is truthiness, during the premiere episode of The Colbert Report. ... The God of the gaps refers to a view of God deriving from a theistic position in which anything that can be explained by human knowledge is not in the domain of God, so the role of God is therefore confined to the gaps in scientific explanations of nature. ... Ignoratio elenchi (also known as irrelevant conclusion or irrelevant thesis) is the formal fallacy of presenting an argument that may in itself be valid, but doesnt address the issue in question. ... Ad Lapidem is a logical fallacy where someone dismisses a statement as absurd without giving a reason why it is supposedly absurd. ... The logical fallacy of accident, also called destroying the exception or a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid, is a deductive fallacy occurring in statistical syllogisms (an argument based on a generalization) when an exception to the generalization is ignored. ... Look up ad nauseam in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... The argument from silence (also called argumentum a silentio in Latin) is generally a conclusion based on silence or lack of contrary evidence. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... The base rate fallacy, also called base rate neglect, is a logical fallacy that occurs when irrelevant information is used to make a probability judgment, especially when empirical statistics about the probability are available (called the base rate or prior probability). In some experiments, students were asked to estimate the... A compound question is one that actually asks several things which might require different answers. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... George Edward Moore The naturalistic fallacy is often claimed to be a formal fallacy. ... Proof by assertion is a fallacious argument technique. ... Ignoratio elenchi (also known as irrelevant conclusion or irrelevant thesis) is the formal fallacy of presenting an argument that may in itself be valid, but doesnt address the issue in question. ... Special pleading is a form of spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves. ... A straw man argument is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponents position. ... The Style over substance fallacy occurs when one emphasises the way in which the argument is presented, while marginalising (or outright ignoring) the content of the argument. ... Two wrongs make a right is a logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that if one wrong is committed, another wrong will cancel it out. ... Appeal to emotion is a logical fallacy wherein the arguer (who is using this fallacy) takes advantage of emotion to prove his or her argument. ... An appeal to fear (also called argumentum ad metum or argumentum in terrorem) is a logical fallacy in which a person attempts to create support for his or her idea by playing on existing fears and prejudices. ... Appeal to flattery is a logical fallacy in which a person uses flattery, excessive compliments, in an attempt to win support for their side. ... Appeal to nature is a simplified type of naturalistic fallacy in argument form. ... The appeal to novelty (also called argumentum ad novitatem) is a logical fallacy in which someone claims that his or her idea or proposal is correct or superior because it is new and modern. ... An appeal to pity (also called argumentum ad misericordiam) is a logical fallacy in which someone tries to win support for their argument or idea by exploiting their opponents feelings of pity or guilt. ... Appeal to ridicule is a logical fallacy which presents the opponents argument in a way that appears ridiculous, often to the extent of creating a straw man of the actual argument. ... The wisdom of repugnance is a phrase describing the notion that an intuitive (or deep-seated) negative response to a thing (e. ... Appeal to spite (also called argumentum ad odium) is a logical fallacy in which someone attempts to win favor for an argument by exploiting existing feelings of bitterness or spite in the opposing party: By voting for my proposal instead of Jims, youll finally have a chance to... It also fails to assess ideas on their merits. ... Look up ad hominem in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin, literally argument to the man), is 1) a logical fallacy that involves replying to an argument or assertion by addressing the person presenting the argument or assertion rather than the argument itself; 2) an argument pointing out an inconsistency... An appeal to authority or argument by authority is a type of argument in logic, consisting on basing the truth value of an assertion on the authority, knowledge or position of the person asserting it. ... Appeal to motive is a pattern of argument which consists in challenging a thesis by calling into question the motives of its proposer. ... Appeal to tradition, also known as appeal to common practice or argumentum ad antiquitatem or false induction is a common logical fallacy in which a thesis is deemed correct on the basis that it has a long standing tradition behind. ... Argumentum ad crumenam is a logical fallacy of thinking a conclusion is correct because the person making the argument is rich. ... Argumentum ad lazarum is the logical fallacy of thinking a conclusion is correct because the subject of the argument is poor. ... An association fallacy is an inductive formal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association. ... Bulverism is a logical fallacy coined by C. S. Lewis where rather than proving that an argument is wrong, a person instead assumes it wrong, and then goes on to explain why the other person held that argument. ... Chronological snobbery is the logical fallacy that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present. ... Ipsedixitism is the pejorative term for an unsupported rhetorical assertion; the term in Logic for a missing argument. ... Poisoning the well is a logical fallacy where adverse information about someone is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that person is about to say. ... This is a fallacy based on the idea that the etymology of a word or phrase is its real meaning. ... Reductio ad Hitlerum, also argumentum ad Hitlerum, or reductio (or argumentum) ad Nazium – Dog Latin for reduction (or argument) to Hitler (or the Nazis) – is a modern sub-type of fallacy in logic. ... Appeal to consequences, also known as argumentum ad consequentiam (Latin: argument to the consequences), is an argument that concludes a premise (typically a belief) to be either true or false based on whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences. ... Argumentum ad baculum (Latin: argument to the cudgel or appeal to the stick), also known as appeal to force, is an argument where force, coercion, or the threat of force, is given as a justification for a conclusion. ... Wishful thinking is the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence or rationality. ...

  Results from FactBites:
 
argument from ignorance: Information from Answers.com (2014 words)
The argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or argument by lack of imagination, is a logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise is true only because it has not been proven false, or that a premise is false only because it has not been proven true.
Commonly in an Argument from Personal Incredulity or Argument from Ignorance, the speaker considers or asserts that something is false, implausible, or not obvious to them personally and attempts to use this gap in knowledge as "evidence" in favor of an alternative view of her or his choice.
An argument from personal incredulity is the same as an argument from ignorance only if the person making the argument has solely their particular personal belief in the impossibility of the one scenario as "evidence" that the alternative scenario is true (i.e., the person lacks relevant evidence specifically for the alternative scenario).
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