Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning

By Douglas N. Walton | Go to book overview
FIG. 4.3. Blunder of Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam.

Whately ( 1963) warned of this very kind of blunder in argument where he described it as the bad strategy of overlooking one of your strongest arguments-- the burden of proof on your side of a debate. It is like the case of "Qui s'excuse, s'accuse," where the victim of an unsupported accusation tries to take upon himself or herself the burden of his or her own innocence instead of defying the accuser to prove the charge. An unduly defensive strategy appears an admission of weakness or guilt.

But this kind of ad ignorantiam blunder in argument is not a fallacy. It is a weakness of argumentation tactics that weakens or undermines one's own side of an argument, not an instrument of strategy to defeat the other side of the argument. It is not contrary to rules of procedure or guidelines for reasoned, interactive dialogue. It is simply a weak use of tactics, a poor rather than tricky or deceptive use of argumentation tactics in dialogue, an argument that (unnecessarily) weakens the perpetrator's own side of the case to be disputed. It is less like unfairly or illicitly attacking your opponent than it is like shooting yourself in the foot.

The fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam and the blunder of argumentum ad ignorantiam are closely related as methods of argument that have gone wrong. In fact, one is the opposite tactic of the other. Each of them is a different kind of misuse of the argumentum ad ignorantiam, an argument mechanism that has its correct uses in interactive reasoning. Each of them is based on an inappropriate response to the circumstances of burden of proof and context of dialogue. Both are worth knowing about. But only one is a fallacy in the sense of being a systematic tactic used to violate a rule of reasonable dialogue, by attempting to trick or deceive the other party in the dialogue.


CONCLUDING REMARKS

From the cases studied in this chapter, it is possible to see that many arguments in everyday conversations (and especially many of the ones associated with the traditional informal fallacies) are species of argumentum ad ignorantiam. We could even say that all 25 argumentation schemes identified in chapter three are species of arguments from ignorance. What is characteristic of such argumentation is its dependence on and mirroring of the concept of the shifting of a burden of proof in presumptive reasoning as used in a dialogue. This provides its standard of correct use.

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Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Lea Titles in Argumentation ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - Presumptive Reasoning 17
  • Chapter Three - the Argumentation Schemes 46
  • Chapter Four - Argument from Ignorance 111
  • Concluding Remarks 131
  • Chapter Five - Ignoring Qualifications 133
  • Chapter Six - Argument from Consequences 168
  • Author Index 212
  • Subject Index 214
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