When a politician stands in front of the camera and says, ‘I strongly refute these allegations,’ he or she is guilty – at the very least – of misuse of the word ‘refute’. What is meant is ‘I deny the allegations. I insist and would have you believe that they are not true.’ But ‘refute’ means to disprove the allegations, to demonstrate by evidence, logic or argument their falseness. That’s pretty hard to do on the hoof surrounded by ravening reporters asking hostile questions. The politician only really uses ‘refute’ instead of ‘deny’ because it sounds better. (Trying even harder to use good-sounding words, Sarah Palin amalgamated ‘refute’ and ‘repudiate’ to give us ‘refudiate’, whatever that means.)
When we’re dealing with an opposing point of view, it is simply not enough to deny it, or contest it, rebut it, repudiate it or even refudiate it; it must be investigated and found wanting- we must refute it.
Picking up the topic from the last post, here is a non-refutation:
Some people would argue that 16 and 17 year olds are intellectually developed and mature enough to consider the issues that are being voted on, and they are often more passionate about politics than their elders. In fact, most 16 and 17 year olds know next to nothing about politics.
Really this does nothing more than deny the counterargument in so many words – it says it ain’t so. A better refutation might deal with the counterargument in more detail, acknowledging truth in some parts, but qualifying it:
And it’s true that most 16 year olds are intellectually mature, though not all are emotionally mature (I know I wasn’t). It is true as well that some young people have a great enthusiasm for politics, but this may make them rather more susceptible to demagoguery and populism than more skeptical older voters.
The very best refutations take the counterargument and pick it to pieces, or even make us doubt the very terms it is written in. Jacobson’s example (in last week’s article) makes mincemeat of the idea that happiness is a mere matter of endorphin-count:
The gym is a place we go to find a simulacrum of happiness, not to compound the happiness we already feel. We are not fools. We can distinguished endorphin-induced bliss from the real thing.
Now that’s what I call a refutation. Refudiate that!
Write a refutation for one of the following counterarguments and post it in the comments section.
A: Some people argue that guns are a necessary defence – indeed, the only real defence – for families living in remote rural areas.
B: Many people argue that because guns are so easy to kill with, ownership should be heavily regulated by government.