Steep Cliff Arguments

Research paper by David B. Suits

Indexed on: 01 May '99Published on: 01 May '99Published in: Argumentation


In recent philosophical debates a number of arguments have been used which have so much in common that it is useful to study them as having a similar structure. Many arguments – Searle's Chinese Room, for example – make use of thought experiments in which we are told a story or given a narrative context such that we feel we are in comfortable surroundings. A new notion is then introduced which clashes with our ordinary habits and associations. As a result, we do not bother to investigate seriously the new notion any further. I call such an arrangement, which is perhaps a variation of the fallacy of presumption, a Steep Cliff argument. One remedy for the misdirection of a Steep Cliff argument is to tell a counterstory from the point of view of the rejected notion.