The appeal to the stone is a logical fallacy where a person simply dismisses a claim as absurd, without actually addressing it or showing proof for its absurdity. The following article will explain to you how this fallacy works, how you can counter people who use it, and how you can use it yourself in debates.
Explanation of the fallacy
The appeal to the stone (argumentum ad lapidem) is an informal logical fallacy, which means that the content of the fallacious argument fails to support its proposed conclusion.
This fallacy occurs every time a person simply denounces an argument as absurd, without explaining why. For example, consider the following conversation:
Alice: Thousand of scientists just signed a document urging countries to consider the risks of global warming, and to act accordingly.
Bob: Who cares. It’s a ridiculous idea anyway.
Alice: What? How so?
Bob: I don’t know. It just sounds made up. Don’t know about you, but I don’t believe it.
Here, Alice raises a point, and Bob simply dismisses it as absurd, without explaining why. This is a typical example of someone using the appeal to the stone, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Note: The name of this fallacy originates from an incident where Dr. Samuel Johnson, a renowned English writer, was discussing why he disagrees with George Berkeley, a philosopher who researched immaterialism, which is the idea that no material things exist outside of our mind. To refute this concept, which Johnson thought was wrong, he simply walked up to a large stone, kicked it, and said: “I refute it thus”.
How to counter an appeal to the stone
The first step to countering this fallacy is recognizing that your opponent is using it. Once you are capable of that, your best course of action is to call the other person out, and ask that they support their stance and explain why they find your argument to be absurd. To do this, use key phrases such as “I understand that you think that, but can you explain why you think it’s absurd?”
Make sure to stay persistent, and try to get the other person to defend their unsupported stance. Defending your own stance using additional evidence often doesn’t help, since the other person isn’t engaging with logical arguments in the first place.
Keep in mind that there are two options: either the other person is unaware that they’re using the fallacy, or they’re doing it intentionally. If they’re unaware, pushing them to question their stance might actually help them see the hole in their reasoning. If they’re doing it intentionally, calling them out on it is the main way of fighting against this technique.
However, there are some situations where nothing you can do will get the other person to change their mind, regardless of whether they’re aware of this fallacy or not. Learn how to pick your battles.
In addition, always make sure to stay calm and not to let the other person get under your skin. This is one of the most crucial pieces of advice for debates in general, and it’s especially important in situations like this, which can often be frustrating.
Arguing in a crowd
Often, when you’re arguing about something, other people will be watching. This is important to remember for several reasons:
- If you call the other person out on using this fallacy, the more people realize you’re right and support your argument, the better your argument will look, even if your opponent sticks to their fallacious stance.
- Conversely, if the crowd supports your opponent’s assertion, calling it out might not help much, though it’s still the best option you have. Keep in mind that people don’t necessarily support the strongest argument; often, the appearance of confidence by the speaker can play the main role in swaying the crowd. Furthermore, people will often choose to support the side which has the simpler, more appealing argument, even if it’s incorrect, because it’s easier for them to understand. This goes back to the previous advice on knowing how to pick your battles.
- If the crowd doesn’t provide much support for either side, the benefit of calling your opponent out is that even if they don’t change their stance, people in the crowd might still notice the fallacious reasoning and agree with your point, even if they won’t support it directly.
Using an appeal to the stone yourself
First of all, consider the fact that you might be using this fallacy yourself unintentionally. Ask yourself whether you sometimes dismiss claims as absurd, without actually considering their validity. If you do, and nearly all of us do this from time to time, consider adjusting the way you process information in such cases, by asking yourself why you think such claims are absurd, before dismissing them.
You can also choose to use this fallacy intentionally in arguments. Sometimes you might do it because you just don’t want to argue with the other person. Other times, you might use it because that’s the best way for you to win the argument.
If you do choose to use it intentionally, your goal is now to stick to mocking the claim as absurd, without explaining why. You can combine this attack with other techniques, such as strawman arguments, by twisting your opponent’s stance before mocking it as absurd.
It’s also possible to use this technique as an opener, by first claiming that your opponent’s views are absurd, and then attacking their actual argument only if they continue to argue.
A few things to keep in mind:
- If you are arguing in front of other people, winning the crowd is the most important part.
- If you’re trying to discredit your opponent’s stance, you want to get under their skin as much as possible.
- Since your argument has no logical basis, sticking to it requires having (or faking) a lot of confidence.
- This technique is risky, since at the end of the day you have no way to actually support your stance. Therefore, you need to consider the situation before using it; if the crowd is intelligent and actually cares about the topic of the debate, you might end up looking like an idiot if you stick with this line of “reasoning”.
Summary and conclusions
- The appeal to the stone is a logical fallacy where a person claims that a certain argument is absurd, without actually explaining why.
- For example, if person A says that “Thousands of scientists recently showed support for a law which would mitigate global warming”, person B might reply “Who cares. It’s a ridiculous concept anyway”.
- The name of the fallacy comes from an instance where a writer argued against the philosophy of immaterialism (the idea that nothing exists outside of our minds), by walking up to a stone and kicking it, while proclaiming “I refute it thus”.
- The key to countering this fallacy is to recognize that the other person is using it, and to call them out on it by asking them to explain why they think the argument is absurd.
- Crowds might often support the use of this fallacy, because it offers a shallow argument that is easy to understand. This could be an advantage if you decide to use this fallacy yourself, and it’s something important to remember if you’re trying to argue with someone else who is using it.