Spot A Weak Argument By Looking For The Word 'Surely'

When you're digging through the internet and reading essays, or having a heated discussion with someone else, it's often tough to immediately spot where the argument breaks down. Professor of philosophy Daniel C Dennett suggests that one key word to look for as a sign of a weak argument for is "surely."

Identifying a weak argument is often about finding the tells in a way a person writes or speaks. In some cases, this is comes about in word choice, and "surely" is a definite red flag:

When you’re reading or skimming argumentative essays, especially by philosophers, here is a quick trick that may save you much time and effort, especially in this age of simple searching by computer: look for “surely” in the document, and check each occurrence. Not always, not even most of the time, but often the word “surely” is as good as a blinking light locating a weak point in the argument.

Surely isn't always an indicator of a weak argument, but it's a good sign that you need to start paying attention. It's a useful addition to add to your toolbox of techniques to productively call people out on their BS.


Comments

    "Surely you can't be serious?"
    "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley"

    Well, I spotted it 7 times in this article, which by definition, means your premise is crap.

    You can always tell a weak argument by the number of times it contradicts itself.

      Can't tell if trolling or stupid...

        You'd probably have to meet me.

        The premise is still crap. It's not backed up by anything, and there's not even a link to the source of this particular argument.

        Give me some proof or examples before singling out a single word as an 'indicator of a weak argument'.

          "Identifying a weak argument is often about finding the tells in a way a person writes or speaks. In some cases, this is comes about in word choice, and “surely” is a definite red flag"

          but

          "Surely isn’t always an indicator of a weak argument, but it’s a good sign that you need to start paying attention"

          so, your conclusion

          "Well, I spotted it 7 times in this article, which by definition, means your premise is crap"

          is wrong because you are misrepresenting/misunderstanding what the author has said.

          A better argument would be to consider the lack of clear premises (though that doesnt necessarily mean the conclusion is false, just that it is invalid as it doesnt follow from the premises).

          To the author - you do make a good point and I understand what you mean (imply), but only because I've done a bit of philosophy (relating to fallacies in arguments and logic ). Perhaps it could have been a bit more explicit?

          Last edited 14/05/13 4:51 pm

            I beg to differ. You'll note my use of the term 'by defnintion'

    Surely that's a sign of weak researching!

    The strength of an argument should be based on the validity of the premises and conclusion.

    The strength of an argument should *not* be based on the 'strength' of the language

    If an argument relies on the 'strength' of the language rather than the validity of the premises and the conclusions, it is a weak argument.

    Using words like 'surely' (or 'definitely') can indicate that someone is relying on the strength of the language rather than relying on the validity of the premises and conclusion.

    Therefore using the word "surely" is a likely indicator of a weak argument.

    Last edited 14/05/13 4:25 pm

      That all falls down if the language is used to indicate probabilities :P

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