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.