Self-evidence

Self-evidence

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In epistemology  a self-evident proposition is one that is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof.

Some epistemologists deny that any proposition can be self-evident. For most others, the belief that oneself is conscious
Consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

 is offered as an example of self-evidence. However, one's belief that someone else is conscious is not epistemically self-evident.

The following proposition is often said to be self-evident:
  • A finite whole is greater than, or equal to, any of its parts


Certain forms of argument from self-evidence are considered fallacious or abusive in debate. For example, if a proposition is claimed to be self-evident, it is an argumentative fallacy
Fallacy
In logic and rhetoric, a fallacy is usually an incorrect argumentation in reasoning resulting in a misconception or presumption. By accident or design, fallacies may exploit emotional triggers in the listener or interlocutor , or take advantage of social relationships between people...

 to assert that disagreement with the proposition indicates misunderstanding of it.

Analytic propositions


It is sometimes said that a self-evident proposition is one whose denial is self-contradictory. It is also sometimes said that an analytic proposition is one whose denial is self-contradictory. But these two uses of the term self-contradictory mean entirely different things. A self-evident proposition cannot be denied without knowing that one contradicts oneself (provided one actually understands the proposition). An analytic proposition cannot be denied without a contradiction, but one may fail to know that there is a contradiction because it may be a contradiction that can be found only by a long and abstruse line of logical or mathematical reasoning. Most analytic propositions are very far from self-evident. Similarly, a self-evident proposition need not be analytic: my knowledge that I am conscious is self-evident but not analytic.

An analytic proposition, however long a chain of reasoning it takes to establish it, ultimately contains a tautology
Tautology (logic)
In logic, a tautology is a formula which is true in every possible interpretation. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein first applied the term to redundancies of propositional logic in 1921; it had been used earlier to refer to rhetorical tautologies, and continues to be used in that alternate sense...

, and is thus only a verbal truth: a truth established through the verbal equivalence of a single meaning. For those who admit the existence of abstract concepts, the class of non-analytic self-evident truths can be regarded as truths of the understanding--truths revealing connections between the meanings of ideas.

Informal speech


In informal speech, self-evident often merely means obvious, but the epistemological definition is more strict.

Moral propositions


Moral propositions can also be said to be self-evident. For example, Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

 cited the following moral propositions as self-evident in the Federalist No. 37
Federalist No. 37
Federalist No. 37 is an essay by James Madison, the thirty-seventh of the Federalist Papers. It was published on January 11, 1788 under the pseudonym Publius, the name under which all the Federalist Papers were published. This paper discusses some of the political questions raised at the...

:
  • The means ought to be proportioned to the end.
  • Every power ought to be commensurate with its object.
  • There ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose which is itself incapable of limitation.


A famous claim of the self-evidence of a moral truth is in the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

, which states, "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
Creator deity
A creator deity is a deity responsible for the creation of the world . In monotheism, the single God is often also the creator deity, while polytheistic traditions may or may not have creator deities...

 with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence and considered by some as part of one of the most well crafted, influential sentences in the history of the English language...

."; philosophically, that proposition is not necessarily self-evident, and the subsequent propositions surely are not. Nevertheless, many would agree that the proposition we ought to treat subjects known to be equal in a certain sense equally in regard to that sense is morally self-evident. Thus, as Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 proposed, one can hold the propositions to be self-evident as the basis for practical, even revolutionary, behaviours.

See also


  • Axiom
    Axiom
    In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proven or demonstrated but considered either to be self-evident or to define and delimit the realm of analysis. In other words, an axiom is a logical statement that is assumed to be true...

  • Contradiction
    Contradiction
    In classical logic, a contradiction consists of a logical incompatibility between two or more propositions. It occurs when the propositions, taken together, yield two conclusions which form the logical, usually opposite inversions of each other...

  • Foundationalism
    Foundationalism
    Foundationalism is any theory in epistemology that holds that beliefs are justified based on what are called basic beliefs . This position is intended to resolve the infinite regress problem in epistemology...

  • Introspection
    Introspection
    Introspection is the self-observation and reporting of conscious inner thoughts, desires and sensations. It is a conscious and purposive process relying on thinking, reasoning, and examining one's own thoughts, feelings, and, in more spiritual cases, one's soul...

  • Self-reference
    Self-reference
    Self-reference occurs in natural or formal languages when a sentence or formula refers to itself. The reference may be expressed either directly—through some intermediate sentence or formula—or by means of some encoding...

  • Self-refuting idea
    Self-refuting idea
    Self-refuting ideas are ideas or statements whose falsehood is a logical consequence of the act or situation of holding them to be true. Many ideas are accused by their detractors of being self-refuting, and such accusations are therefore almost always controversial, with defenders claiming that...