Self-refuting statements defined and some common examples

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

A common thing that I see is people trying to wall off arguments they don’t like by stating a slogan, like “you shouldn’t push your moral rules on other people” or “that’s true for you, but not for me”. Those slogans are meant to get the person out of having to be reasonable about respecting moral obligations, or having to consider how the world really works when choosing what to do.

Here is a fine article by Aaron, who writes at Apologetics Junkie.

Excerpt:

A self-defeating (or self-refuting) statement is one that fails to meet its own standard. In other words, it is a statement that cannot live up to its own criteria. Imagine if I were to say,

I cannot speak a word in English.

You intuitively see a problem here. I told you in English that I cannot speak a word in English. This statement is self-refuting. It does not meet its own standard or criteria. It self-destructs.

The important thing to remember with self-defeating statements is that they are necessarily false. In other words, there is no possible way for them to be true. This is because they violate a very fundamental law of logic, the law of non-contradiction. This law states that A and non-A cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. For example, it is not possible for God to exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense. This would violate the law of non-contradiction. So if I were to say, “God told me He doesn’t exist” you would see intuitively the obvious self-refuting nature of this statement.

Aaron goes on to explain how to deal with self-refuting statements in the article.

Here are 20 examples of self-refutation, just to encourage you to click through and read it:

1. There is no truth.

2. You can’t know truth.

3. No one has the truth.

4. All truth is relative.

5. It’s true for you but not for me.

6. There are no absolutes.

7. No one can know any truth about religion.

8. You can’t know anything for sure.

9. You should doubt everything.

10. Only science can give us truth.

11. You can only know truth through experience.

12. All truth depends on your perspective.

13. You shouldn’t judge.

14. You shouldn’t force your morality on people.

15. You should live and let live.

16. God doesn’t take sides.

17. You shouldn’t try to convert people.

18. That’s just your view.

19. You should be tolerant of all views.

20. It is arrogant to claim to have the truth.

Have you ever heard any of those? It’s amazing how often I hear statements like that when discussing interesting things like moral issues and politics with young people. The trick to being prepared to answer these is to learn lots of them. Then you recognize them when you hear them.

Add yours in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Self-refuting statements defined and some common examples”

  1. “The important thing to remember with self-defeating statements is that they are necessarily false. In other words, there is no possible way for them to be true.”

    This is not technically correct.

    Take this one:

    “You can’t know truth”

    If the person said “I know you can never know anything” that would be necessarily false. But a person making the claim “You can’t know truth” does not necessarily claim to know the claim is true. I might say LSU will beat Georgia. But that does not mean I know LSU will beat Georgia. Typically we believe what we say, but we do not *know* everything we might properly believe. We need a certain amount of warrant for our belief to be considered knowledge. How much warrant we need is debatable. But most people would agree that we are warranted to believe some things that fall short of knowledge. So saying “You can’t know anything” is not even self refuting.

    I agree a self defeating claim does not meet its own criteria so it is illogical to believe a self refuting claim. But that does not mean it is false.

    Take Cliffords claim that “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.”

    Now what evidence supports this claim? To the extent there is no evidence or at least insufficient evidence to support this view it is self defeating. That is the person believing that claim would be doing wrong. Now whether he meant it is wrong in a moral sense or wrong in some other sense is unclear.

    There used to be the view along the lines:
    “The only beliefs we properly hold are those that are either believed by direct observation, are self evident or beliefs that are logically inferred by what we directly observe or what is self evident.”

    Alvin Plantinga pointed out this is self refuting. Because the quoted statement itself is not directly observable self evident or logically implied by what is observable or self evident. So to hold that belief would be improper by its own terms. That does not mean it is false. It may be true but it is not properly believed.

    So when someone says something that is self refuting then they are illogical but the statement might nevertheless be true.

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  2. You can’t know anything for sure

    No one has all the truth

    We can’t know anything about God

    Related: God is unknowable

    That’s just your opinion

    Only what can be proven scientifically is true

    (Related) I only believe what science can prove

    There’s no such thing as free will

    Do I exist?

    Everything is an illusion

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

    Etc. etc. (End of Thinking Critically).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “A truth claim can be both true and false in the same sense at the same time.”

    (This is equivalent to the statement “the Law of Non-Contradiction is false.”)

    I actually had an interesting, and fun (from my vantage point only), conversation begin this way once.

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  4. ~ These things are extant everywhere. The only thing you can do is keep challenging people when they say such.

    Over Thanksgiving, my nephew said that metastable means self-referential. I was like “Huh?” Where did you pick that up? What are learning at your high school?

    Unfortunately, these things are very common.

    Like

  5. from Neil deGrasse Tyson:
    “people ask if I’m an atheist. I don’t like labels; I’m a scientist”
    -and-
    from Oprah Winfrey
    “Whatever your secret, live your own truth; life is too short”

    Liked by 1 person

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