SEAN MCDOWELL BLOG
Self-Refuting Statements You Must KnowPosted July 20, 2015 by Sean McDowell
“Never use the word never.”
My mom spoke these words to me when I was in high school. Since I was a budding philosopher (and probably a bit sassy), I replied, “Never use never. Didn’t you just use it?” While her statement was certainly self-refuting, I have since learned to use much more tact!
Recognizing self-refuting statements is critical for being a clear thinker and a good apologist. By self-refuting, I mean a claim that is undercut by its own criteria. Perhaps the best way to understand self-refuting statements is to consider some examples.
Below are some common examples I have learned from reading, discussing, and studying. A few of these came to me by my friends on Twitter (see the bottom). It’s amazing how commonly people make claims that simply self-destruct. Taking some time to understand and recognize self-refuting statements will serve you well. And after you grasp them, take the time to share them with someone else.
- “There is no truth” (If there is no truth, then this statement is false, because there would be at least one truth, namely, that there is no truth).
- “You should not judge” (This statement is a judgment, and so it refutes itself).
- “The scientific method is the only means of knowing truth” (But what about this claim to truth? If this claim were true, then it would be false, since it is a claim to truth that is not known by the scientific method).
- “History is unknowable” (If true, then this very statement would be unknowable. Why? By the time you read this statement and get to the last word, the first two words are already history. Thus, even comprehending this statement implies that at least some things from the past can be known in the present).
- “You should be tolerant of views not your own” (Then what about this view, since its different than the view of the one stating it?).
- “Language cannot carry meaning” (If language cannot carry meaning, then what about this claim? Is it meaningful?).
- “Truth cannot be known” (If so, then how does one know this truth claim?).
- “What's true for you isn’t true for me” (If so, then this claim is only true for the one who makes it and isn’t true for anyone else. If so, then why is the person bothering to make the claim in the first place since he obviously believes it does apply to others?).
- “You should not force your morals on others” (Is it okay to force this morality on others?)
- “I have freely chosen to embrace determinism” (If determinism is true, then nothing is freely chosen. If you freely choose, then determinism is false).
The following self-statements come to me from my friends on Twitter. Here are some of my favorites.
- “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” @Rev71617
- “Only stupid people use insults” @michaelmgoff
- “All knowledge is bound by perspective” and “I don’t believe anything” @stewsx2
- “I can’t think of anything to say” @noogawood
- “All truth claims are just attempts for power and control” @jjnicol1
- “Everything is meaningless” @a_mor97
- “Hate speech isn’t free” @CheekyGent
- “Doctrine doesn’t matter” and “No creed but Jesus” @MichelleDLesley