In addition to justifying and explaining their conclusions, arguments are also sometimes used to refute other arguments. To refute an argument is to show that it is no good. Some writers, however, incorrectly use the term “re- fute” to mean something much weaker. They say such things as that Bill Clinton refuted the charges brought against him by those attempting to im- peach him, meaning nothing more than that he rejected or replied to the charges. This, however, is not what the word “refute” means. To refute the charges brought against him, Clinton would have to give reason to believe that these charges were erroneous. Refuting a charge requires giving an adequate argument against it. This takes a lot more work than simply denying it.

On the other hand, it is also important to remember that we can refute an argument without proving that its conclusion is false. A refutation of an ar- gument is sufficient if it raises objections that cannot be answered. Conse- quently, the patterns of successful refutations mirror the criteria for a good argument, because the point of a refutation is to show that one of these crite- ria has not been met. Refutations, then, take four main forms: (1) We can argue that some of the premises are dubious or even false. (2) We can argue that the conclusion of the argument leads to absurd results. (3) We can show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises (or, in the case of an inductive argument, that the premises do not provide strong enough sup- port for the conclusion). (4) We can show that the argument begs the ques- tion. This last charge was discussed in Chapter 16, so here we will focus on the first three methods of refutation.

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