Objections and Defeaters

by Randy Everist

What good is an objection? An objection is a counterexample or truth which, at the very least, gives doubt to a particular proposition or premise. An objection to a premise or a proposition can take one of two forms: 1. An undercutter, or 2. A defeater.

An undercutter, strictly speaking, does not mean the proposition offered originally is false. It means only to say that we have some other reason to think that the proposition might not be true; at the very least, to think the proposition is just as plausibly false as true. An example would be an argument concerning the problem of evil or suffering. Sometimes it is asserted, “a loving God would never allow this much suffering in the world.” Theists have sometimes offered the fact that we are in no epistemic position to say what any varying amounts of suffering would do to an overall goal of a loving God with respect to his creation, and thus there’s no reason to suppose this is true.

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This is a particularly strong undercutter, because if true, the above proposition is pure speculation, and hence not even plausibly true (at least not more so than its negation).

A defeater is such if it renders the proposition or premise false in light of the defeater’s truth. That is, a rebuttal only functions as a defeater in the case that if it is true, the proposition is not true. A good example is this: suppose I claim that I was at work on Sunday afternoon. However, you were watching ESPN’s SportsCenter and saw me at a football game in some highlights. That viewing, if one could be reasonably confident it was me, functions as a defeater for my claim that I was at work. Of course, as savvy readers will no doubt point out, if my work involved being at the football game, then the proposed defeater is not really one at all…

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Possible Worlds: Objections and Defeaters