Burden of proof

Over at dangerous idea, Victor Reppert has brought up the concept of the burden of proof (i.e., whose responsibility it is to prove or disprove a certain claim), and an anonymous poster raised this profound question:

But the real question is, who owns the burden of proof to show who has the burden of proof?

To which Jason Pratt responds, “If I’m going to be fair to the opponent, it’s always my problem” (emphasis added, sort of).

I find this response interesting, although of course not entirely applicable to every situation. Burden of proof is about justice in arguments, about not forcing someone to defend some indefensible proposition.

But Jason seems to be taking a different stance: When I debate someone, I start by assuming that I have the burden. Hence, burden of proof gets sort of coupled with good old-fashioned charity: To be fair to one’s opponent, one should never stubbornly take the stance that they have nothing to prove. I like that, and I think debating could use more of that attitude.


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