Different Premises

If the starting point—the premises or assumptions—of the two parties in an argument are different, shifting them can be difficult. Socrates’ technique was to change the other person’s mind by showing that their premise led inexorably to an absurd or undesired conclusion. This is an application of what is now known as the law of non-contradiction: a statement cannot be true if it, or an inference arising from it, contradicts another statement that is known to be true. The weakness is that, if the premise is held firmly enough, the method may not work: the person “knows” that the premise is true, so even if an argument leads from that to an absurd conclusion, it must be the argument that is wrong, not the premise (Denial).D34

Disagreements between premises tend to be stable. If you are in a meeting, and you disagree with the conclusions, you may still be able to make helpful contributions to the discussion. If you disagree with the premises, you have to go in with a complex and lengthy explanation which no one wants to hear: you threaten the ability of the meeting to achieve anything at all. The probability is that, next meeting, you won’t be there. Recommended response: get some allies. If there is just one person at the meeting who agrees with you, things may begin to go better. And yet, institutions are defined by their assumptions, the premises from which everything else follows. Revision remains unlikely. A shock might do it (Kaikaku), but by then it may be too late.


Related entries:

Calibration, Division Fallacy, False Premise, Internal Evidence, Shifting Ground.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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