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Appeal to Silence

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Also Known As: Argument from Silence, Argumentum Ex Silentio

Description:

This fallacy occurs when someone attempts to take silence (or lack of response) as evidence for claim. It has the following form:

 

Premise 1: No reply (or objection) has been made to claim C.

Conclusion: Therefore, claim C is true.

 

 

This is a fallacy because receiving no reply (or objection) to a claim is not evidence for that claim.  A lack of reply leaves the claim with as much evidence as it had prior to any lack of reply.

There are cases in which a lack of reply can be taken as evidence for a claim, but this requires establishing a situation in which a lack of reply reasonably indicates consent to accepting the claim. For example, imagine a meeting in which a proposal has been voted for. The chair says, “if there are no objections to be stated, then the consensus is that we will go with Sally’s plan.” It would not be a fallacy for the chair to accept the claim that the consensus is to go with Sally’s plan. While the chair could be mistaken (people might hate her plan but want the meeting to end), there is no error in reasoning.

This fallacy is like Appeal to Ignorance and is sometimes classified as a variant of this fallacy. The main difference is that an Appeal to Ignorance is based on a lack of evidence against something while the appeal to silence is aimed at the lack of a reply in a context, such in a conversation or debate in YouTube’s comment section.

This fallacy can be used as part of a bad faith tactic for “winning” an argument. The tactic is to exhaust the target with bad faith arguments and then use this fallacy to “prove” they have won the debate. If the target responds, then the person can continue wearing down their target with bad faith methods. If the target does not respond, they can use this fallacy and hope that others fall for it and conclude that they have triumphed.

 

Defense: While silence might signal defeat or agreement in some contexts, a failure to respond to you does not show that the person agrees that your claim is true. If this fallacy is used against you, it can be tempting to reply, especially if the fallacy seems to be working on others. But if the person is engaging in bad faith arguing, responding will simply extend the bad faith debate. In most cases, the least bad option is to not respond and end your participation in the bad faith debate.

 

Example #1

“Aha, the blog’s author never replied to my witty criticism of her belief in God. From her lack of reply, I must infer that she has no reply to make and has conceded to my argument.”

 

Example #2

Eric: “I think that people who are mentally incompetent should not exempt from the death penalty. After all, those are exactly the people we need to get rid of.”

Rich: “That is horrible.”

Eric: “But can you show I am wrong?”

Rich: “We’ve been arguing for hours. I’m argued out.”

Eric: “Aha! I must be right then.”

Rich: “What?”

Eric: “If you have no reply, that means I win. I’m right.”

Rich: “Fine.”

Eric: “Victory at last!”

 

Example #3

Theodore, commenting on a blog post: “No, it is you who committed the fallacy. You claim to be this smart philosopher, but you just do not see that I am right that companies should stay out of politics, except campaign contributions. You are just a dummy and can’t see the truth. Also, why do you hate America so much?”

Theodore, later: “Response?”

Theodore, even later: “Crickets. Nothing to say, dummy?”

Theodore, much later: “I see you have given up, dummy. You get that I am right, and you have nothing to say.”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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