Discussions are often riddled with fallacies. That’s why they usually repeat themselves in a loop. If we discussed rationally using arguments, it would be easier to find common ground or reach conclusions.
Fallacies are invalid and misleading reasoning that seems correct but violates some of the rules of logic, so that they end up being convincing and persuasive. In the ad hominem fallacy, for example, an attempt is made to discredit the persons instead of refuting their arguments. However, one of the worst fallacies is that of the “gratuitous affirmation”.
What is the Gratuitous Affirmation fallacy?
The gratuitous affirmation fallacy occurs when no arguments are provided to validate one’s own assertions beyond the fact that we have made them. In practice, the person makes a claim, but does not provide any reason to support it.
Unfortunately, this is an extremely common fallacy. Many conversations on a personal level and even public, are plagued by inconsistent judgments that have no other support than the emphasis with which they are stated.
In fact, this fallacy is as present in political life as in the written press, especially in editorials and opinion columns and, above all, in talk shows. It is also a characteristic of propaganda because the suggestion and the effect of the message matter more than its veracity or the reasons behind it.
Ipse dixit: because I said so, plain and simple
The fallacy of the gratuitous assertion is closely linked to the Latin expression Ipse dixit, which means “he said it himself.”
The phrase goes back to the times of Marco Tulio Cicero, who elaborated a debate on the origin of the world in the book “On the nature of the gods”. Just before the debate, Cicero lamented the silence of the Pythagoreans who never appealed to reason, but to the opinion of his teacher: Pythagoras.
The Pythagoreans turned to their teacher for any explanation that were refuted to them. When they use to say the famous phrase “The master has said it” (Magister dixit), Cicero was exasperated because he wanted them to think freely and not take any idea as good just because it came from Pythagoras.
Since then, the phrase Ipse dixit has been used to indicate self-referential or axiom-based reasoning with no other foundation than themselves.
In fact, this fallacy is often linked to the argument from authority in which it is enough that an affirmation comes from a person considered as a referent, to take it for granted, without reflecting on its logic or implications.
How to refute the gratuitous affirmation fallacy?
It is difficult to refute an argument when there is no argument. In fact, this type of fallacy is dangerous because it completely evades the burden of proof; In other words, it is a flagrant refusal to reason about the statement, like someone who says: “The bond of marriage is sacred and I don’t even want to hear about divorce” or “Life is sacred, plain and simple, I’m not going to debate abortion”.
This means that when we detect a “gratuitous affirmation”, we should not act like the Pythagoreans assuming the Ipse dixit attitude, but rather ask for evidence, reasons and arguments. If the person does not provide them, it is better to avoid discussion and point out that when something is stated, especially if it is made emphatically, it must be supported and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
We should all be aware that ideas and statements can have a great impact, so when we make or hear them we must act like Cicero and be willing to dissect, explain, substantiate or even refute them. A gratuitous statement is more of a stale opinion than an intelligent idea.