Argument by assertion

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Part of the series on

Logic and rhetoric

Icon logic.svg
Key articles
General logic
Bad logic
A lie told often enough becomes the truth.
If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.
… I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.
The Bellman from The Hunting of the Snark

Argument by assertion is the logical fallacy where someone tries to argue a point by merely asserting that it is true, regardless of contradiction. While this may seem stupid, it's actually an easy trap to fall into and is quite common.

This is not the same as establishing initial axioms on which to build a framework of logic or ideas.


It is a very simple formal logical fallacy that has the following structure:

X is true.

In practice, arguments by assertion tend to take the "rinse and repeat" approach to logic:

  1. X is true.
  2. No really, X is true.
  3. Actually, X is true.
  4. But X is true.
  1. I think we can both agree that X is true.

Alternately, the argument can be phrased as:

  1. X has been asserted as true many times.
  2. Things that have been asserted as true many times are true.
  3. X is true.

If feeling circular, the argument could be:

P1: X is true.
P2: If X is true, X is true.
C1: X is true.


It is also well known as rhetoric, because an assertion itself isn't really a proof of anything, or even a real argument - assertion only demonstrates that the person making the statement believes in it. An inability to provide anything other than an argument by assertion may be the result of brainwashing, basing ones belief on blind faith or ignorance as to what forms a proper argument. Those who argue by assertion often do think that they're making a real argument. They might simply not realise where they haven't provided a full argument. The point of constructive debate or discourse is to draw attention to this sort of thing, and for people to further develop and evolve their arguments in response. A truly fallacious argument by assertion is when someone continues to assert without advancing their argument, even after it has been pointed out.

A repeated argument by assertion can also take the form of non sequitur that requires little effort to make and is therefore often used to fatigue people who make actual arguments - sometimes combined with the infamous Gish Gallop. They will then bow out of the debate, usually exhausted, having lost faith in humanity and muttering "how the hell do you reason with these people?!?!" through grinding teeth - at which point the individual making the assertive argument simply declares victory.

It is important to note that this is not the same as the presenter being unable to lay out the all the reasoning, due to constraints. Math and science classes are great examples. Important results—say, Fubini's theorem in calculus—cannot always be proven on the spot.


Denial-like example[edit]

In this exchange, A makes an argument by assertion:

A: X is false.
B: [argument C]; ∴ X is true.

Circular example[edit]

Or sometimes they will address the counter-argument as such:

A: X is false.
B: [argument C]; ∴ X is true.
A: argument C is nonsense ∵ X is false.

Argumentum ad lapidem[edit]

A subset of the argument by assertion is the argumentum ad lapidem ("argument to the stone"), in which a statement is dismissed as absurd or otherwise false without reasoning or justification.

See also[edit]