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Argument from silence (argumentum ex silentio)

October 8th, 2009

Argument From Silence ( argumentum ex silentio )

classification : informal

A conclusion based on silence or lack of contrary evidence.

Foundations

In the field of classical studies, it often refers to the deduction from the lack of references to a subject in the available writings of an author to the conclusion that he was ignorant of it. When used as a logical proof in pure reasoning, the argument is classed among the fallacies, but an argument from silence can be a valid and convincing form of abductive reasoning.

History

Historians generally regard the argument from silence as the weakest weapon in their arsenal. The argument from silence attempts to demonstrate that an alleged historical event never actually happened, and it attempts to do so based on the silence of an author or group of authors on that event.

Any single argument from silence, then, stands on two premises both of which must be true in order for the argument to merit the attention of the historian. First, the silence of the author in question has to mean that the author did not have information about the alleged event. Second, this lack of information about the alleged event has to mean that the event did not happen.

Other Names

Argument from ignorance
Evidence of absence
Negative proof

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Categories: Logic