Tuesday, September 27, 2005

more on self-refutation

While I’ve got your attention, I want to talk some more about self-refuting claims. There are several claims that have been made in class that are self-refuting.

There are no absolutes: That claim is self-refuting because if there are no absolutes, then the claim itself is not absolute, and if the claim itself is not absolute, then there are at least some absolutes. If the claim is absolute, then there is at least one absolute, namely, the claim itself.

There is nothing that is not in a constant state of change: Is the truth that nothing changes an unchanging truth? If it is, then there’s at least one unchanging truth, namely, the claim itself. If not, then the claim itself will change, and when it does, then there will be unchanging truths.

Truth is relative: If truth is relative, then the claim itself is only relatively true. It does not hold across the board, which means that truth is not necessarily relative.

Truth is created, not discovered: Was that truth created or discovered?

There are no truths: Then the statement itself is not true.

I think there were others, but I don’t remember what they were off the top of my head. I covered a few of them earlier in this post. I’m pretty tired now. I think I can study German if I don’t fall asleep. If you read this whole thing, then kudos to you. You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks for giving me a hearing.



At 9/27/2005 6:24 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

How many replies did you get to the e-mail, and what were they like?

At 9/27/2005 8:05 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

Sam, this seems so simple yet the importance of this post shouldn't be understated.
We encounter these logical fallacies all the time in real life and need to recognize them.

At 9/27/2005 9:38 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


To my great disappointment, I didn't get a single reply to this email. I'm afraid it was probably too long, and hardly anybody read it.

I did get an in argument over logic during our class on metaphysics, and I did get some responses then.

Jeff, I agree. Whenever I'm in a debate with somebody, the first thing I look for is self-refuting statements. They're the easiest to refute, because they do all the work for you by refuting themselves. Doing this has also helped me to be careful what I think and say.


At 9/27/2005 7:50 PM , Blogger daleliop said...


That's too bad. I was curious to see what they would say.

lol, I usually fall for arguments that beg the question, red herrings (distractions), and non-sequiturs. Those three are the hardest for me to catch.

Sometimes I think self-refuting statements are made because their authors were imprecise. For example, the ones you gave should have been rewritten "there are few absolutes" or "there is very little that is not in a constant state of change" or "many truths are relative". I usually try to interpret self-refuting arguments as stronger valid arguments when I respond to what someone says, since it's good to try to treat your opponent's arguments as strong as possible when evaluating them.

What do you look for after self-refuting statements? By nature I tend to evaluate the premises first, then the reasoning. So, I usually end up arguing with the premises the most. For me, the reasoning is harder (and takes longer) to put my finger on. Sometimes I don't catch an inconsistency until a few days (or weeks) later when I think back on it and go "ohh, that doesn't make sense!"

At 9/27/2005 10:19 PM , Blogger Steve said...

well correct me if im wrong lets create a world in which there are NO absolutes, and everything is in fact relative. Just suppose its true.

It will still be true that there is one absolute, which is the lack of absolutes, but that doesn't chnage the essential truth of the statement, which is that relativity holds for everything other than the fact that there's relativity in nature.

The fact that everything is relative being used to disprove the claim seems useful, but implies that the world might not be as I defined it (relative), and in essence that exersize would undermine your ability to understand the true nature of the world I defined, namely, a relative one.

I would be interested to see if you all consider there to be any parallels between self-refuting statements and the logical absurdities of religion, such as the question of whether or not an all powerful god can create a boulder too heavy for him to lift? Are these things comparable at all? It seems to me that they are self refuting statements as well.

At 9/28/2005 1:13 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I agree with you. My philosophy teacher, being a Buddhist, harps on the "fact" that "Everything is in a constant state of change." I told him I would be perfectly willing to accept the claim that "Everything that is physical is in a constant state of change," but not that everything whatsoever is in a constant state of change.

After self-refuting statements, I just try to figure out what they're saying. What's their whole point? What premises do they base their point on? Does their point follow from their premises?

The thing is, when people talk, they almost always use arguments, but they don't use them explicitly. They'll state one premise and their conclusion, but they'll leave another premise unstated or only implied. Or sometimes they'll state their premises, but not their conclusion, and you have to infer what their conclusion is. This is where the "Columbo tactic" comes in handy that Greg Koukl always talks about. When people make an argument, you can ask for clarification: "What follows from that?" "So are you saying...?"


At 9/28/2005 1:26 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I'm not sure I understand everything you're saying. First you suppose a world with NO absolutes where EVERYTHING is relative. Then you point out (quite rightly) that the one absolute would be the lack of absolutes.

After that, you lose me. You say the original statement (that there are no absolutes) would still be true, because everything ELSE would still be relative. But that clearly can't be so. Either everything is relative or NOT everything is relative. The statement that "Everything except this statement is relative" is not the same as the original stipulation, which was that "Everything whatsoever is relative."

It seems to me that it is metaphysically impossible to create a world with absolutely no absolutes.

There is some relevance between self-refuting statements and notions such as an all-powerful God creating a rock too heavy for him to lift. Self-refuting statements are impossible to be true, because they contradict themselves. Likewise, logically incoherent scenarios are impossible to be actualized, because they contain contradictions.

Check out this blog. Scroll down till you get to "Pseudo questions" by Greg Koukl.


At 9/28/2005 4:47 AM , Blogger Steve said...

im saying that if a world was relative, then affirming that truth doesnt undermine the relativity of that world.

To make it simpler, what if I made a board game where every level of the game was relative to another, a sort of 3 dimensional game whose rules were all relative.

At no point in the game could the player be sure of anything, since the rules were, by design, all relative.

Even if the player recognizes the fact that what is absolute, is the lack of absolutes, it doesn't change the relativity of the board game, since I designed it to be that way. The way you'd be forced to play and interact in the game is the same as if you hadn't made that realization, and the factual basis of such a statement has no bearing on the relativity of everything other than the statement.

As such, arguing that in a relative world board game that its self refuting would undermine your ability to play and interact in the game!

At 9/28/2005 5:14 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


Even in the board game analogy, you're not stipulating that everything whatsoever is relative. You're only stipulating that the rules are relative. If you say, "Each level of the game is relative to each other level," then you're stating an absolute. That absolute is something that is true about the game. So it cannot be the case that everything about the game is relative.


At 9/29/2005 4:26 PM , Blogger Paul said...

The fact that you stay there and continue to play the game from turn to turn with certain expectations about its chaotic nature says that there are some objective external aspects. The only way to have a truly relative world that can be observed as relative is if there is something objective that transcends that world. You have to have a fixed platform on which to sit in order to watch the chaos below. But the relativist is trying very hard to escape the conclusion that there is anything transcendent.


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