Does the significance of self-refutation vary based on the particulars involved or will such particulars always make a logical fallacy?

To be more specific:

If concept A is used to deny concept B, although concept A logically depends on concept B, does the argument loose it's validity or is there alternative points of significance that arise from certain self-refuting arguments?

  • First off, welcome to philosophy.SE. This seems somewhat like a am I right? question, which isn't really appropriate for the SE... Reworded, you're asking if hedonists have an incoherent practice or position. – virmaior Dec 5 '16 at 13:58
  • @virmaior Thank you very much for the direction, I'll be sure to be careful in the future! – IamWillGraham Dec 5 '16 at 14:54
  • Modus tollens applies when you have a mathematically exact set of definitions. If B implies A, and A implies not B, B implies not B, and B must not be true. In ordinary argument, this does not necessarily mean B is false, if A or B is also vague. Since vagueness is almost always present, we generally want a real argument against B, in addition to logic like this that counters all support for B, so that we avoid an implicit argument from ignorance. – user9166 Dec 5 '16 at 20:51

Rereading the question, I would say that if you can show that a position is self-refuting, then that's pretty damning for that position. The key, however, lies in the "if you can show" bit of that claim.

I'll limit myself to just one example. There's a common refutation of hedonism that goes something like this:

  1. The hedonist says we just need to value enjoyment and not waste our time thinking / having values.
  2. aha! the hedonist is thinking / has a value.
  3. Ergo, the hedonist has a self-referentially incoherent view.

Despite the self-reference problem, this actually isn't a refutation of hedonism per se. The difficulties are whether or not we accept step 2 with respect to the hedonist and whether we can really attribute 1 to the hedonist. Put another way, this is a refutation of "reflective hedonism" -- in other words, you can't coherently reflect on how you should live your life and be a hedonist of the rawest sort. But does a hedonist have to even hold to 1 in accessible way?

The same sort of outcome will play out in most self-referential problems in philosophy. For instance, someone might say believing in God and believing in causality is self-referential incoherent. But most forms of theism see God as precisely that which lies outside of the system of causation and its rules.

Maybe to reword all of that and some up, self-referential is a real problem, and if you write a paper showing that some commonly held philosophical view is self-referentially incoherent, it can probably get published and would be considered "scholarly." But odds on the people who hold this view would argue against the accuracy of the self-referential incoherence by suggesting you misunderstood their view or are misrepresenting a term in it as being on a different level than where they use it.


Logical inferences don't hold between concepts. A concept cannot be true or false. It may be intuitive or adequate for representing or describing reality, but it cannot be ture or false.

Sentences or propositions can be true or false and it is sentences or propositions that imply or contradict other sentences or propositions.

Regarding the logical inference you seem to have in mind, you appear to make two assumptions:

(1) The sentence A implies that another sentence B is false.
(2) A can only be true if B is true. (A logically depends on B.)

Now assume, just for the sake of it, that A is true. By (2) this entails that B is also true. Otherwise A couldn't have been true. By (1) this implies that B is false. This is clearly a contradiction; B cannot both be true and false.

So assuming A to be true leads us to a contradiction. This establishes that A is false.

The validity of this reasoning does not depend on any particular concepts that are somehow part of the sentences. I hope that answers your question at least partially.

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