Stolen concept

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The name "road runner tactic" is a reference to the cartoon in which a coyote runs of a cliff, realises there is no ground to support him and plummets into an abyss.

The fallacy of stolen concept is an argument in which the arguer accepts the truth of a concept in order to disprove that very same concept. It is essentially a self-refuting argument because the arguer is accepting the concept as both valid and invalid in the same statement. The fallacy's name was coined by Ayn Rand and has not seen widespread usage. Pointing out the fallacy is known as road runner tactic or the suicide tactic and is occasionally used by Christian apologists [1].



You cannot prove that you exist or that you’re conscious

"proof presupposes existence, consciousness and a complex chain of knowledge: the existence of something to know, of a consciousness able to know it, and of a knowledge that has learned to distinguish between such concepts as the proved and the unproved. [2]"

Constancy is an illusion (which goes back to Heraclitus)

"They proclaim that there is no law of identity, that nothing exists but change, and blank out the fact that change presupposes the concepts of what changes, from what and to what, that without the law of identity no such concept as “change” is possible. [2]"

No one has the truth.

"This person is claiming to have the truth that no one has the truth. If no one has the truth then the statement "no one has the truth" is false! You might respond, "Then how do you know that is true?" [1]"

Counter arguments

Use of concepts

Dependency between concepts is not well defined, is a human invention and an artefact of language, just as the concepts themselves are. Because concepts are not necessarily associated in the way the fallacy claims, simply making used of a concept does not necessarily imply the reality of other concepts.

The statement "the swan exists" could be said to imply that non-existence was a possibility. However, the concept "swan" does not automatically imply an "anti-swan" is meaningful. A concept does not automatically imply its opposite. We sometimes think of concepts being opposite and closely related, such as "existence" and "non existence", but the relationship between the concepts is a human invention based on our limited experience and inductive reasoning.

"the possession of such categories is after all a psychological or even a personal accident; and the fact that they are convenient, or even absolutely true in describing the existing world, is a cosmic accident. [3]"

In his later philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote extensively on the use of language and concepts, such as used in logical arguments. He considers the use of words and concepts to be governed by rules that are only relevant in a particular context. Within each context, language is used within a "language game" of mutually understood rules and practices. Quibbling over the dependencies between concepts would be rather like being a fly trapped in a fly bottle. Often, a "stolen concept" is merely a misunderstanding between people and their use of different language games.

"'Reason' in language — oh, what an old deceptive female she is!"

Friedrich Nietzsche

Concepts and objectivism

All too often, the relationship between concepts is assumed to be as dictated by objectivism, such as "proof presupposes existence" [2]. However, to refute criticism of objectivism by claiming the stolen concept fallacy is implicitly assuming the relationships between concepts is as conceived by objectivism, therefore it assumes the truth of objecticism itself and therefore it is begging the question. [4]

Reductio ad absurdum

A concept may be temporarily assumed to be true for the sake of argument. If the argument leads to a self contradictory or absurd conclusion, it is known as reductio ad absurdum. One or more of the axioms or concepts must be false. If the axioms in a valid argument imply a contradiction, stolen concept cannot defeat this form of criticism because the argument actually depends on the contradiction! If the axioms are part of a philosophical system, such as objectivism, reductio ad absurdum may be used to point out contradictions within that system. [4]

The fallacy is redundant

The fallacy is simply a restatement that a logical argument may not itself imply a contradiction. This is a fundamental law of logic and we do not need reminding of this by introducing another fallacy.

Used against straw men

The fallacy is usually used against straw man arguments. While the fallacy does apply to statements such as "the truth is there is no truth" and "there absolutely are no absolute statements", hardly anyone actually holds these views.

Lazy argumentation

The fallacy is lazy argumentation that does not bother to understand the differences in peoples' understanding of concepts. There are usually better ways to critique an argument.

"It seems to me that this is just a play on words. It's meant to defeat the conversation without discussion, thinking, or learning. [5]"

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 [2]
  3. George Santayana, Realms of Being, 423-424
  4. 4.0 4.1 Inspired by Comment by Lee Kelly, 7/16/2013 07:15:00 PM
  5. [3]
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