Presumptions, and How They Relate to Arguments from Ignorance

Research paper by Petar Bodlović

Indexed on: 13 Nov '20Published on: 11 Sep '19Published in: Argumentation


By explaining the argument from ignorance in terms of the presumption of innocence, many textbooks in argumentation theory suggest that some arguments from ignorance might share essential features with some types of presumptive reasoning. The stronger version of this view, suggesting that arguments from ignorance and presumptive reasoning are almost indistinguishable, is occasionally proposed by Douglas Walton. This paper explores the nature and limits of the stronger proposal and argues that initial presumptions and arguments from ignorance are not closely connected. There are three main reasons. First, the argument from ignorance, unlike typical presumptive reasoning, is a negative kind of inference. Second, the typical initial presumption is sensitive to a broader set of defeaters and thus assumes a higher (negative) standard of acceptability. Third, in dialectical terms, initial presumption and argument from ignorance bring different attacking rights and obligations. I conclude that Waltonian intuition is unsupported or, at best, is limited only to practical presumptions and practical arguments from ignorance.