Monday, August 1, 2011

Nothing is self-evident

There are some stylistic devices I just cannot stand. One of them is to label something as "self-evident" or obvious. If something is that easy to demonstrate, take the time to do it —it will not take long. If you do not do it, it is likely that you just would not know how, and in this case stating that no demonstration is needed does not strengthen your argument. Unless, of course, one aims at creating an interesting delusion rather than convincing someone in an epistemologically sound way.
Further, if one is genuinely convinced that a given statement is self-evident, she might herself be under a similar delusion. Everyone used to believe that the earth was flat and that this was "self-evident". To assume an unreflected statement as self-evident is not appealing to common sense, it is just using a faulty method.
It all becomes even more ironical if what is said to be obvious is, in fact, a controversial issue!

Do readers have words which just drive them crazy?

On the risks of denying a methodology, see here.


Jayarava said...

I do believe that I have described evolution as "a self-evident truth". Sorry!

Usually what gets my back up is poor use of scientific research to "prove" a religious dogma.

elisa freschi said...

I was not thinking of you while writing this post, but I would argue that scientific theories are strong exactly insofar as they can be proved and are not at all "self-evident".

I agree with your last point. It sounds naive and linked to US evangelical movements.

Jayarava said...

When I wrote that I was thinking that when one looks at the evidence - at diversity, relatedness, and the fossil record - then some form of evolution is the logical explanation. Also I'm not aware of another credible explanation.

Though we are of course much less certain about the mechanisms! I think it's far from self-evident that NeoDarwinian theories are the answer for instance.

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