Skip to main content

Spotting and Avoiding Debating Tricks, Part 1: Mischaracterizing the Scope or Degree of Commitment of a Claim

1. Scope
1.1 Claims can have a wider or narrower scope:
1.2 One? Some? Many? Most? All?
1.3 Example: All men are pigs vs. most men are pigs vs. many men are pigs vs. some men are pigs vs. one man is a pig

2. Commitment
2.1 Claims can also have a weaker or stronger degree of commitment
2.2 Certain that P? Probable that P, Plausible that P? Not inconceivable that P, etc.?
2.3 Examples: It is certain that Steve's a pig vs. I know Steve's a pig vs. it's probable that Steve's a pig vs. It's plausible that Steve's a pig vs. it's possible that Steve's a pig

3. Scope, Commitment, and Evidential Standards
3.1 The stronger a claim's degree of commitment, the harder it is to justify it
3.2 The weaker a claim's degree of commitment, the easier it is to justify it
3.3 The wider a claim's scope, the harder it is to justify it
3.4 The narrower a claim's scope, the easier it is to justify it

4. Morals, part I: When arguing your own position
4.1 When arguing your position, don't make a claim with a wider scope than is absolutely required to justify your position
4.2 When arguing your position, don't make a claim with a stronger degree of commitment than is absolutely required to justify your position
4.3 Example 1: "I'm arguing that it's certain that no gods exist"
4.3.1 The claim has maximal scope, and maximal degree of commitment
4.3.2 So, the claim is very hard to justify
4.3.4 Example 2: "I'm arguing that the evidence fails to make the existence of the God of orthodox Christian theism more reasonable than not." Significantly mitigated scope and commitment Thus, your evidential burden is much, much lower But if established, it's sufficient to undercut the rationality of orthodox Christian theism (leave the issue of properly basic beliefs for another occasion)

5. Morals, part II: When others are arguing with you
5.1 It's common for a person to "cheat" by mischaracterizing their interlocutor's claims (cf. the straw man fallacy)
5.2 A common way to do this is to mischaracterize the substance of one's claim or position
5.3 However, another sort of mischaracterization occurs when a person mischaracterizes the scope or degree of commitment of their interlocutor's claim
5.4 Thus, a person will characterize their interlocutor's claim as having a wider scope, a stronger degree of commitment, or both
5.5 In doing this, they unfairly raise the evidential standards for their interlocutor to make their case

Homework: Listen to some William Lane Craig debates. Can you find any instances where Craig mischaracterizes the scope or degree of commitment of his interlocutor's claims? Do his interlocutors mischaracterize the scope or degree of commitment of Craig's claims?


Popular posts from this blog

Epicurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Necessity

One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter's (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being. 
A stronger version of Epicurus' core argument can be developed by adding an appeal to something in the neighborhood of origin essentialism. The basic line of reasoning here is that being uncreated is an essential property of matter, and thus that the matter at the actual world is essentially uncreated.
Yet stronger versions of the argument could go on from there by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason to argue that whatever plays the role of being eternal and essentially uncreated does not vary from world to world, and thus that matter is a metaphysically necessary being.
It seems to me that this broadly Epicurean line of reasoning is a co…

CfP: Inquiry: New Work on the Existence of God

In recent years, methods and concepts in logic, metaphysics and epistemology have become more and more sophisticated. For example, much new, subtle and interesting work has been done on modality, grounding, explanation and infinity, in both logic, metaphysics as well as epistemology. The three classical arguments for the existence of God – ontological arguments, cosmological arguments and fine-tuning arguments – all turn on issues of modality, grounding, explanation and infinity. In light of recent work, these arguments can - and to some extent have - become more sophisticated as well. Inquiry hereby calls for new and original papers in the intersection of recent work in logic, metaphysics and epistemology and the three main types of arguments for the existence of God. 

The deadline is 31 January 2017. Direct queries to einar.d.bohn at

Andrew Moon's New Paper on Recent Work in Reformed Epistemology... the latest issue of Philosophy Compass. Here's the abstract:
Reformed epistemology, roughly, is the thesis that religious belief can be rational without argument. After providing some background, I present Plantinga's defense of reformed epistemology and its influence on religious debunking arguments. I then discuss three objections to Plantinga's arguments that arise from the following topics: skeptical theism, cognitive science of religion, and basicality. I then show how reformed epistemology has recently been undergirded by a number of epistemological theories, including phenomenal conservatism and virtue epistemology. I end by noting that a good objection to reformed epistemology must criticize either a substantive epistemological theory or the application of that theory to religious belief; I also show that the famous Great Pumpkin Objection is an example of the former. And if a copy should make its way to my inbox...

UPDATE: Thanks!