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Encyclopedia > Argument from silence

The argument from silence (also called argumentum a silentio in Latin) is generally a conclusion based on silence or lack of contrary evidence.[1] In the field of classical studies, it often refers to the deduction from the lack of references to a subject in the available writings of an author to the conclusion that he was ignorant of it.[2] When used as a logical proof in pure reasoning, the argument is classed among the fallacies, but an arguments from silence can be a valid and convincing form of abductive reasoning.[3] For other uses, see Latin (disambiguation). ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... Look up deduction in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In logic, an argument is an attempt to demonstrate the truth of an assertion called a conclusion, based on the truth of a set of assertions called premises. ... A logical fallacy is an error in logical argument which is independent of the truth of the premises. ... Abduction, or inference to the best explanation, is a method of reasoning in which one chooses the hypothesis that would, if true, best explain the relevant evidence. ...


Textbook examples

Here is an easily recognizable example:

Bobby: I know where Mary lives.
Billy: Where?
Bobby: I'm not telling you!
Billy: You're just saying that because you don't know!

Billy's conclusion may not be justified: perhaps Bobby doesn't want to tell him. Their difficult situation could be resolved using a zero-knowledge proof. Consider, however, the following type of argument: In cryptography, a zero-knowledge proof or zero-knowledge protocol is an interactive method for one party to prove to another that a (usually mathematical) statement is true, without revealing anything other than the veracity of the statement. ...

John: Do you know any Spanish?
Jack: Of course. I speak it like a native.
John: That's good, because I need to know the Spanish phrase for "Happy Birthday".
Jack: Sorry, I don't have time for that right now. Maybe tomorrow. Bye.

Afterwards, Jack continually refuses to give John the Spanish translation, either by ignoring John or by giving excuses. John then concludes, by argument from silence, that Jack does not in fact know Spanish or does not know it well. In other words, John believes that Jack's ignorance is the most plausible explanation for his silence. Use of argument from silence in this situation is reasonable given the alternatives, that Jack either doesn't want or is afraid to translate, would be unreasonable without more information.

Here is another example using the same argument but in a different context:

John: Do you know your wife's e-mail password?
Jack: Yes, I do as a matter of fact.
John: What is it?
Jack: Hey, that's none of your business.

When John repeatedly asked for the password, Jack ignores him completely. Thus, using the argument from silence, John concludes that Jack does not actually know the password. Such an argument from silence, in contrast, may be considered unreasonable, since a password is a security feature not intended to be shared with a stranger simply because they asked. It may be reasonable, by contrast, to assume that Jack does indeed know the password but refuses to say it for legitimate security concerns.

Scholarly uses of the argument

The most famous argument from silence often used by skeptics regards Herod the Great's supposed slaughter of the innocents. Since no one other than Matthew records this (not even Luke) many skeptics say this slaughter was made up by Matthew to support a passage Matthew misreads as prophesy.

The argument from silence is very convincing when mentioning a fact can be seen as so natural that its omission is a good reason to assume ignorance. For example, while the editors of Yerushalmi and Bavli mention the other community, most scholars believe these documents were written independently. Louis Jacobs writes, "If the editors of either had had access to an actual text of the other, it is inconceivable that they would not have mentioned this. Here the argument from silence is very convincing."[4] The Jerusalem Talmud (In Hebrew Talmud Yerushalmi, in short known as the Yerushalmi), also known as the Palestinian Talmud is a collection of Rabbinic discussions in Western Aramaic elaborating on the Mishnah, collected in the Land of Israel in the same period as the Babylonian Talmud. ... The Talmud (Hebrew: ) is a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history. ... Louis Jacobs (born 1920) is a Masorti rabbi in England, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the UK, best known as the central focus of events in the early 1960s that came to be known as The Jacobs Affair. Jacobs was ordained as an...

Contrary to the claims of Christan Apologists the skeptics against the virgin birth of Christ do not use an argument from silence but rather use syllogistic logic: The Virgin Birth is a key doctrine of the Christian faith, and is also held to be true by Muslims (Quran 3. ...

Major premise: In the first century CE it was widely believed that women were the 'soil' into which a man planted his seed [5]
Minor premise: In Roman 1:3 (KVJ) Paul says: "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Seed here comes from the Greek word 'spevrma' from which the modern word 'sperm' comes from) [6]
Conclusion: Paul refutes the virgin birth--by his own words.

Legal aspects

In some legal systems juries are explicitly instructed not to infer anything because of an accused person's silence; this is known as the right to silence. Thus, the jury may not infer anything from the accused's failure to testify. This in effect bars the use of argument from silence. The right to silence is a legal protection enjoyed by people undergoing police interrogation or trial in certain countries. ...

On the other hand, statements volunteered by the accused may normally be considered, and in such cases the argument from silence may apply in a limited form. If the accused chooses to testify, the right to silence is forfeited as regards that proceeding. Witnesses also normally have a right to silence as regards any question that is factually incriminating, but that right only bars the jury from making inferences about the witness's conduct. The range of inferences available about the defendant's conduct will vary.

Notes and reference

  1. ^ "argumentum e silentio noun phrase" The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Foreign Terms in English. Ed. Jennifer Speake. Berkley Books, 1999.
  2. ^ "silence, the argument from". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Ed. E. A. Livingstone. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  3. ^ See the example cited in the article, about which Louis Jacobs says that "the argument from silence is very convincing".
  4. ^ "Talmud". A Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion. Louis Jacobs. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  5. ^ THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF JESUS Is it a fact or fable? Part 1 http://www.religioustolerance.org/virgin_b0.htm
  6. ^ http://bible.crosswalk.com/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=4690&version=kjv

  Results from FactBites:
silence: Definition, Synonyms and Much More from Answers.com (1269 words)
Silence has been a part of the rituals surrounding Armistice Day since its inception, after the idea was first proposed by an Australian journalist, Edward George Honey, and later implemented by King George V of the United Kingdom.
Argumentative silence is the rhetorical practice of saying nothing when an opponent in a debate would expect something to be said.
An argument from silence (Latin: argumentum ex silentio) is an argument based on the assumption that someone's silence on a matter suggests ("proves" when a logical fallacy) that person's ignorance of the matter.
Argument from silence - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (574 words)
Such an argument from silence, in contrast, may be considered unreasonable, in consideration of individual motives.
The argument from silence has also famously been used by skeptics against the virgin birth of Christ.
On the other hand, statements volunteered by the accused may normally be considered, and in such cases the argument from silence may apply in a limited form.
  More results at FactBites »



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