Sunday, July 6, 2014

He who makes a claim, has a burden

You should always be on guard against a person who is enthusiastic to assign burdens of proof in any exchange, and the best way to be on guard is to remember this: Whoever makes a claim, has a burden.

If a man claims that God exists, the burden is on him to argue and provide evidence for his claim. And if a man claims that God does not exist, the burden is on him to argue and provide evidence for his claim.

And so on, with every claim around, until you start hitting axioms.

While you're at it, never accept the following excuses: "But it's impossible to prove a negative!" "It's really hard to show that something DOESN'T exist!" If it's extremely difficult to satisfactorily support a given claim, the proper response isn't to weaken the burden, but to weaken the strength with which the claim is committed to.

9 comments:

lotharlorraine said...

Hello Crude. I have once developped an argument according to which materialism "There is NO immaterial thing" faces a huge problem because there is NO material fact (made up of particles localized in space and time) which can correspond to this proposition and make its negation impossible. This is due to the fact that NO (or everything) is an abstract concept whose existence is denied in this worldview.
You can read it here.

I'd be delighted to learn your take on it. Many people seemed not to understand it while trying to refute it (though my explanations might be not clear enough).

Otherwise, what about chating over the coming week about progressivism and the culture war? We could do that with Skype and I'd publish the written conversation on my blog.
My email is (lotharson57@gmail.com) in case you don't remember.

Cheers.

Crude said...

Pardon me for not replying to your email about the abduction, but I recall I was generally in agreement about your analysis anyway.

As for the argument, at a glance it looks like a fun one. I generally think it's easier and more productive to go with a version of the Argument from Reason, with a focus on this: is meaning intrinsic or derived? If it's intrinsic, materialism is denied. If it's derived, what is it derived from - and if it's some other matter/state, then is the meaning derived there too? I think it straightforwardly leads to absurdities and is easy to follow.

I don't do much Skype, but you're welcome to realtime chat with me via gtalk if you like.

Mr. Green said...

This is a pet-peeve of mine, so permit me to pick a nit: it's really whoever cares about a claim who has a burden — that is, the one who cares about changing someone else's mind. If I claim that you're wrong about something, but have no interest in your actually coming around to my view, then I don't have any burden. And if nobody else cares, then nobody carries any burden — it's just left sitting there in the road.

Of course, usually when someone makes some claim about something he does have a certain interest in getting others to see it his way, so implicitly yes, he definitely does carry the burden of proving it. If you are making your claim simply to let me know that there are people out there who disagree with me on some issues, well, great, thanks for the newsflash. Or if I am so impressed by your claim that, without any defence on your part, I decide to pick up the burden and pursue it myself, sheerly out of a love for intellectual truth, then good for me. But if you expect your claim to have any effect, then it's preposterous to suppose you can magically impose a burden on someone else.

While you're at it, never accept the following excuses: "But it's impossible to prove a negative!" "It's really hard to show that something DOESN'T exist!"

"I can't actually defend my position but it must be true anyway so you do it for me!!!" Besides, proving a negative is really easy. ("1+1 does not equal 3?" Yeah, easy.) Oh, they mean existential negatives? Well, it may take a bit more effort to show there isn't a spider in this room than to show there is one, but so what? They mean it's really hard to prove the God doesn't exist? Well, y'know what, there may be a reason for that...!

Crude said...

And if nobody else cares, then nobody carries any burden — it's just left sitting there in the road.

Yeah, that's worth remembering. I just bring this up because I find it's tremendously common for people to try and jedi mind trick others with this, where they'll just make claim and then tell you the burden is on you to disprove their claims or they're right by default. It's insane.

Syllabus said...

The funny thing about the "You can't prove a negative" is that many existence proofs are pretty much logically interchangeable with negative claims. For instance, Euclid's proof of infinitely many primes necessarily implies that there exists no highest prime number. Heck, most general solutions of a given differential equation "prove a negative" in that they say that the solution function of the equation must be of a certain form, and therefore not of other forms. Saying that x"+2x=4,has to have a solution containing trig function implies, to get all math-y for a moment, "there exists no exact solution function to x"+2x=4 which is a n-degree polynomial with finitely many terms", for instance.

Mr. Green said...

Syllabus: many existence proofs are pretty much logically interchangeable with negative claims. For instance, [math]

Exactly. Hey, I wonder if this is a case of being hoist by your own Scientism? You can't make a valid scientific claim that something doesn't exist, because the scientific method doesn't work that way — it's provisional, it requires evidence. And if you've been duped into thinking that Science!™ is the only knowledge, it suddenly makes more sense how you could get so tripped up by this burden-of-proof thing.

Crude: they'll just make claim and then tell you the burden is on you to disprove their claims or they're right by default. It's insane.

Yup. I saw your comment at Feser's, with brute facts making another appearance. I guess the next time someone proposes "brute facts", I should boldly claim that there are no such things, and then say, but that's an existentially negative claim, so I don't have to support it!

grodrigues said...

@Mr. Green:

"I guess the next time someone proposes "brute facts", I should boldly claim that there are no such things, and then say, but that's an existentially negative claim, so I don't have to support it!"

Or to sharpen the symmetry: it is a brute fact that the only brute fact there is, is that there are no brute facts.

Steven Jake said...

Speaking of brute facts, i thought you might agree with this post, Crude: http://christian-agnostic.blogspot.com/2014/07/brute-facts-and-naturalism.html

Luke said...

Dual scientist-philosopher Michael Polanyi says some relevant things in his well-regarded Personal Knowledge:

The first point in my critique of doubt will be to show that the doubting of any explicit statement merely implies an attempt to deny the belief expressed but he statement, in favour of other beliefs which are not doubted for the time being.

Suppose somebody says 'I believe p', where p stands for 'planets move along elliptic orbits', or else for 'all men are mortal'. And I reply "I about p'. This may be taken to mean that I contradict p, which could be expressed by 'I believe not-p'. Alternatively, I may be merely objecting to the assertion of p as true, by denying that there are sufficiently good grounds to choose between p or not-p. This may be expressed by saying 'I believe p is not proven'. We may call the first type of doubt 'contradictory' and the second 'agnostic'.

It is immediately apparent that an expression of contradictory doubt 'I believe not-p' is of the same character as the affirmation 'I believe p' which it calls in question. For between p and not-p there is no other difference than that they refer to different matters of fact. 'I believe not-p' could stand for the allegation that planets move along orbits which are not elliptical. (272)