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Sunday, October 26, 2014


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Dear Bill,

I don't agree with you. I don't think that an adequate analysis of a philosophical dispute, or of a (facet of a) theoretical problem, is "Party A claims X and party B claims non-X" (or: "is X or non-X the case?"). Rather, the elementary analysis should go: "Party A claims X and party Y disputes that claim" (or: "Is believing X justified or not?"). A separate problem then may be: "Party B claims non-X and party A disputes that claim" (or: "Is believing non-X justified or not?").

In one way, the matter of the burden of proof is indeed trivial: whoever makes a claim, bears the burden of proof. But it is often not trivial who is making a claim! People often confuse disputing a claim with making the opposite claim. To try to sort this out is, in effect, to argue a "burden of proof" issue.

Furthermore, it seems to me that there are some cases of legitimate "defeatable presumptions" in philosophy; i.e. cases where it is legitimate even to claim something without proof. These are the common-sense beliefs like that there are more than one individuals in the world, that genuine change exists, that some entities endure in time, etc.

Thanks for commenting, Lukas.

>>People often confuse disputing a claim with making the opposite claim.<<

It would be nice to have some examples of this confusion. Consider a bit of dialog:

A. The law of noncontradiction (LNC)is a law of thought merely.

B. I dispute your claim. LNC is not a law of thought merely; it is also a law of extramental reality.

In this example, B disputes what A says by making a counter-claim, a counter-assertion. Both are asserting. It strikes me as foolish to ask who has the BOP. Wow decide such a question?

Suppose you say the BOP rests on the one who questions the received or traditional view. Then the BOP would be on A. But if you say that the BOP rests on the one who makes the stronger claim, the more committal claim, then the BOP would be on B.

Now the second point you make is much better. It makes good sense to say, for example, that there is a defeasible presumption in favor of the reliability of memory as a source of knowledge, and thus that the BOP would be borne by someone who is out to discredit memory as a source of knowledge.

But note that 'BOP' and 'DP' are now being used in senses that are only analogous to the senses they have in the law. The presumption of epistemic innocence must not be confused with the presumption of innocence in a court of law.


concerning your dialogue: IMO both A and B bear a burden of proof here. For that reason, it is an unlucky start of a dispute - because it is in fact start of two disputes at once, and a dialectical confusion is likely to arise. In order that the dialogue be fruitful, B should not have put forward a negation of A's claim as his own claim, but simply refuse to accept A's claim until proved (this is the meaning of the rule Necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui dicit non ei qui negat - "negare" here has the technical meaning of "to refuse to concede until proved", according to the rules of disputation). If A failed to produce a proof, his case would fail. If he produced one, his case would succeed unless and until B attacked that proof, thus prompting for another argument to "restore" the former one. And so on, until one of the parties failed to do their duty. Only if A was the one who so failed, it would be in place for B to state his opposite meaning as a claim, if he wishes, with the burden of proof incumbent.

There are three, not two possible dialectical states of a proposition: (i) proved (ii) disproved (iii) neither. The "burden of proof" just means that the default state is (iii).

Perhaps our difference boils down to this: you think that a dispute is about truth or falsity of a proposition, whereas I think that it is about validity or invalidity of rational support of a proposition. Whereas from the former point of view the dialectical situation comes out as symmetric, in the latter view it is inherently asymmetric.

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