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Refutation by Counterexample-A Simple Way to Refute Bad Arguments

https://www.thoughtco.com/prove-argument-invalid-by-counterexample-2670410

thoughtco.com

Refutation by Counterexample-A Simple Way to Refute Bad Arguments
Learn about what invalid arguments are and how to prove one as such using various counterexamples.

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The "counterexample method"

The "counterexample method"

While the premises may be true in an argument, the conclusion may or may not be correct, making the argument invalid. Example of an incorrect argument: Some New Yorkers are rude, some of them are artists, therefore some artists are rude.

A counterexample method is a powerful way to prove an argument’s conclusion to be invalid. You can use this method by: isolating the argument form and then constructing an argument with the same form that is obviously invalid.

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Proving an argument is not valid

The counterexample method is effective at exposing the invalidity of deductive arguments.

  1. Isolate the argument form in a simple, easy to digest form, like by replacing names with letters.
  2. Create an analogy, a counterexample that substitutes the original argument, and it is a given that it would also be as invalid as the original argument’s conclusion
  3. Reduce the new argument in it’s most barebones form by affirming the antecedent, that exposes the fallacy of the original argument.

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Difficult to convince

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What resonates with your opponent

We all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find convincing, and wrongly think the other side will be converted. It is pointless to argue a point that your opponents have already dismissed.

The answer is not to simply expose people to another point of view. Find out what resonates with them. Frame your message with buzzwords that reflect their values.

Use moral framing

To try and sway the other side, use their morals against them. People have stable morals that influence their worldview. 

However, reframing in terms of values might not turn your opponent's view, but can soften his stance and get him to listen to counterarguments.

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Inductive reasoning: From observation to theory

Inductive reasoning involves looking for a trend or a pattern, then using the observations to formulate a general truth. For example, "When I eat peanuts, my throat swells up and I have difficulty breathing. Therefore, I'm likely allergic to peanuts."

Limitations:

  • Inductive reasoning leads to uncertain conclusions as there is no way to prove the veracity.
  • Inductive reasoning can also lead to wrong conclusions. We may mistake correlation with causation, or apply the particular to the general.

Deductive reasoning: From theory to confirmation

Deductive reasoning starts from established facts, then applies logical steps to reach a conclusion. For example, "Bachelors are unmarried men. Jack is unmarried. Therefore, Jack is a bachelor."

Limitations:

  • If the premise or the logic applied is flawed, deductive reasoning can lead to the wrong conclusions. For example, "All dogs are animals; all animals have four legs; therefore, all dogs have four legs," is false because injury or species characteristics mean not all animals have four legs.
  • It is impractical to use on a daily basis, as it requires a factual premise to start from, which we don't always have access to.
  • Building a premise on an outdated hypothesis can lead to the wrong conclusion.

Basic structure of an argument from incredulity

Premise 1: I can’t explain or imagine how proposition X can be true.

Premise 2: if a certain proposition is true, then I must be able to explain or imagine how that can be.

It’s ok to be incredulous

... and to bring this up as part of an argument. The issue with doing so occurs when this incredulity isn’t justified or supported by concrete information, and when this lack of belief is used in order to assume that a preferred personal explanation must be the right one, despite the lack of proof.

At the same time, it’s also important to remember that it’s possible that the person using the argument from incredulity is right, despite the fact that their reasoning is flawed.

Counter the argument from incredulity

  1. Explain why this sort of reasoning is fallacious: namely the fact that your opponent’s inability to explain a certain phenomenon or to understand a certain theory, does not invalidate current explanations for it.
  2. Shift the burden of proof back to your opponent: ask them to support their initial assertion, and explain why they are incredulous, and why they think that this validates their position.
  3. If possible, you should show that there is scientific evidence that can be used in order to explain the phenomenon that’s being discussed.