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Refuting Arguments


Disciplines Argument > Refuting Arguments

Refute definitions | Refute the logic | Refute grounds | Refute support | Use a counter-argument  | See also


Given an argument with which you disagree, you can mount an attack on it in a number of ways.

In a formal argument, the primary arguer must establish a prima facie case (that stands on its own) and thus carries the burden of proof. The opponent only needs to show that the case is not proven to win the argument and thus may well focus on attacking and disproving the given case. An alternative case may also be given, but is not needed.

Refuting is also known as rebuttal, the burden of rebuttal or the burden of clash.

Refute definitions

Look at the words used in the argument. Is their meaning clear? Is there one meaning only for each? If you can detect vague meaning or ambiguity in the parts of an argument, then you can show the whole argument to be shaky -- and, of course, you can shake it until it collapses.

  • Check for single, clear meanings.
  • Verify that meanings are clear to everyone.
  • Seek ambiguity and uncertainty.
  • Challenge expertise and assumptions of authority.
  • Show that there are contradictory definitions.

Refute the logic

Consider the rationale being used. Test each statement for logical soundness. Also test between statements across the argument.

  • Check that logical connections are clear and sound.
  • Watch for unfounded assumptions.
  • Test causes for clear and direct connections.
  • Check that generalizations, inductive and deductive arguments are used in the right way.
  • Look for bias, intentional or otherwise.
  • Watch out for distractions and changing the subject.
  • Show that they are using a fallacy of some sort.

Refute grounds

Dig into the data and evidence being used to support the main claim.

  • Show that there is not enough data being used.
  • Show that some critical evidence is not being used.
  • Indicate how data that might refute the argument is being ignored.
  • Show how data is being misinterpreted or misrepresented.
  • Seek to uncover suppressed evidence.

Refute support

Look at the supporting statements to the argument. Seek cracks and chinks in the armor. Look for a place to drive in a wedge. Many arguments have a valid claim but weak support.

  • Refute the warrant that links the grounds to the claim.
  • Refute the backing that supports the warrant.
  • Look for qualifiers and floppy language that can be challenged.
  • Find the weakest link in the chain and focus on it until it breaks.

Use a counter-argument

Create another argument that uses more correct logic, that is more powerful and all-encompassing than the given argument.

  • Show your argument to cover more areas.
  • Show it to cover areas more thoroughly.
  • Make it more interesting and appealing.
  • Make the logic and structure complete and sound.
  • Use solid data that cannot be challenged.

Use a fallacy

And of course you can use fallacies of your own, of which there are many. This, of course, may be refuted itself. So consider your audience and whether they are capable of such refutation.


See also

Toulmin's argument model, Fallacies, Making the case

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