Logic 101: Assertions Demand Support

Assertion can demand no more than counter-assertion; and what is affirmed on the one side, we on the other can simply deny.

F. H. Bradley, quoted in Black, “The Identity of Indiscernables

Though stated in the mid-20th century, Bradley’s words are just as relevant today as they were in his day. We are prone to make assertions about what we believe ought to be or ought not to be. We dogmatically state that something is, or is not. Such is the normal course of human dialogue.

Often times, though, we tend to allow our assertions to serve as arguments. That is, we make our assertion without providing support for why one should be persuaded to our view. We tend to let the force of our assertion serve as the burden of proof. However, making an assertion without any support is merely giving one’s opinion about a matter.  An assertion minus support does not an argument make.

Courtesy of [Cassell’s Illustrated Universal History.]”; British Library HMNTS 9025.gg.1.

As Bradley’s quote states, giving just one’s assertion in an argument only demands a counter-assertion. The “argument,” then, devolves into a battle of words as assertions are used as weapons intended to weaken the defenses of the opponent. Instead of persuading another to one’s view, opposing sides become more entrenched in their view, with little accomplished in the form of dialogue or persuasion. The image that comes to mind is that of two battleships firing broadsides at each other (see image). In the end, each side ends up licking their wounds, shoring up any weak points in preparation for the next Battle of Assertions.

If you seek to persuade another person to accept your assertion, you need to provide reasons – or support – for why your assertion is the case. In a sense, you are answering the How?, Why?, What?, When? (sometimes), and Where? (sometimes) questions surrounding your claim. In short, you want to anticipate the questions or challenges one will bring to your assertion.  Providing support for your assertion is more involved than what I’ve given in this post, but the process of giving reasons is not as complicated as we tend to make it. Essentially, you want to tell another why they should be convinced of your assertion.

Now, it’s not guaranteed that you will convince another of your assertion when accompanied with reasons/support. I’m sure we all can think of times when you have given someone reason upon reason why they should be convinced of your claim, but no matter how well you state your argument, they still remain firmly planted in their own view.

Argumentation involves more than one’s intellect – one’s reason. Rather, the  will of the individual is involved as well. There are times when we believe in something because we want to, and this despite the evidence. For instance, a father tries to convince his daughter that her boyfriend is a liar, a conniver, and a player. The girl’s father saw her boyfriend out with another girl on an obvious date, and this despite the boy’s confession of his undying love to the man’s daughter. Despite his best attempts, the father is unable to convince his daughter that her boyfriend is not who he says he is.  The daughter has heard rumors of her boyfriend’s unfaithfulness, but he is the “man of her dreams,” and to lose him is to lose her dream; she thus refuses to believe her father.

Granted, my illustration here may have other complex issues at play, but it does make my point – convincing someone to change their belief on something involves much more than the intellect. Argumentation involves engaging an individual’s will.

But…this is a topic for another time and another post. The point remains that in order to make an argument to persuade another to your view, you must do more than just make an assertion. Your claim must be accompanied by support.

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