If you’ve ever been in a heated debate with someone, you know that people will use all sorts of tactics to try and win. One of these tactics is called an “appeal to ignorance” argument.
This is when someone tries to prove their point by saying that the other person can’t disprove it. In this blog post, we’ll look at an appeal to ignorance argument, explore some examples, and learn how to refute one.
What Is An Appeal To Ignorance Argument?
An appeal to ignorance argument (also called an argumentum ad ignorantiam) is a fallacious argument that takes the following form:
- Person A says that person B cannot prove that statement X is false. Therefore, statement X must be true.
- Person A cannot prove that statement X is true. Therefore, statement X must be false.
Appeal to ignorance arguments are informal fallacies because the mere fact that something has not been proven false does not mean it is necessarily true (or vice versa). Just because there is a lack of evidence against something does not mean there is evidence for it.
For example, just because nobody has been able to disprove the existence of aliens does not mean that aliens exist. Similarly, just because nobody has been able to prove that unicorns exist does not mean that they don’t exist. The evidence of absence for or against something does not logically lead us to any conclusions about its truthfulness.
Examples Of Appeal To Ignorance Arguments
Here are some examples of appeal to ignorance arguments:
- “You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, so God must exist.”
- “Nobody has proven that ghosts don’t exist, so ghosts must exist.”
- “You can’t disprove my claim that the Earth is flat, so the Earth must be flat.”
As you can see, these arguments rely on the assumption that the lack of evidence for something means that it must be true (or vice versa). But as we’ve seen, this simply isn’t the case. Just because something hasn’t been proven false (or true) doesn’t mean anything about its actual truth value. So if someone tries to use an appeal to ignorance argument on you, don’t fall for it!
How To Refute An Appeal To Ignorance Argument: 4 Tactics
There are several ways to refute an appeal to ignorance argument:
Point Out The Flaw In Their Reasoning.
As we’ve seen, just because something hasn’t been proven false (or true) doesn’t mean anything about its truth value. So if someone tries this tactic on you, make sure to point out this flaw in their reasoning.
Challenge Them To Provide Evidence For Their Claim.
If someone makes a claim and tries to back it up with an appeal to ignorance argument, challenge them to provide evidence for their claim instead. If they can’t provide evidence, their claim is probably not worth taking seriously.
Another way to refute an appeal to ignorance argument is by providing counter-examples; in other words, examples of cases where the opposite is true.
For instance, if someone claims, “You can’t disprove my claim that ghosts don’t exist, so ghosts must exist,” you could provide examples of cases where people have provided strong evidence against the existence of ghosts (e.g., studies showing that purported “ghost sightings” can be explained by natural causes).
Show That Their Claim Isn’t Relevant.
Finally, another way to refute an appeal To ignorance argument is by showing that their claim isn’t relevant to the discussion. For instance, if someone brings up ghosts in a discussion about climate change, you could point out that even if ghosts do exist, that doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not climate change is real (and vice versa).
An appeal to ignorance argument shifts the burden of proof; people will use them in various contexts to win an argument. But as we’ve seen in this blog post, these arguments are fallacious; just because something hasn’t been proven false (or true) doesn’t mean anything about its actual truth value.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The Two Forms Of The Appeal To Ignorance?
The two forms of the appeal to ignorance are ignoratio elenchi and petitio principii.
Ignoratio elenchi is when an argument is given, but it does not address the issue at hand. For example, if someone argues that because a person does not know how to solve a math problem, that person must be wrong about the answer, that would be an ignoratio elenchi.
Petitio principii is when a premise is assumed without proof and used to support the argument. For example, if someone argues that because a person believes in unicorns, that person must also believe in fairies, that would be a petitio principii.
How Do You Fix An Appeal To Ignorance?
There are several ways to fix an appeal to ignorance. The most obvious way is to provide evidence that disproves the claim. Another way is to show that what we don’t know isn’t relevant to determining whether or not the claim is true. Finally, we can try to fill in the gaps in our knowledge by investigating and learning more about the topic.
An experienced author and writing instructor. Has been teaching composition and creative writing at the college level since 2015.