The A Priori Argument Lives On

Posted on April 6, 2013 by Robert Ringer


I promised to keep reminding you of the dangers to your health, wealth, and happiness if you allow yourself to fall into the trap of accepting a priori arguments as a basis for your actions.  As I explained in my book Action! Nothing Happens Until Something Moves, the a priori argument is one of the 10 dirty tricks of debating.

Time magazine’s April 3 cover story on global warming absolutely inundated its readers with a priori arguments.  The title of the article on the magazine’s cover was a teaser to get you into the right mood:  “BE WORRIED.  BE VERY WORRIED.”

Following the title were the words:  “Climate change isn’t some vague future problem — it’s already damaging the planet at an alarming pace.  Here’s how it affects you, your kids and their kids as well.”

I don’t have the inclination or space to print every a priori statement in Time’s fourteen-page article, but here’s one that I feel I have to pass along to you, because it’s such a classic example of this nasty little debating trick:  “Global warming, even most skeptics have concluded, is the real deal, and human activity has been causing it.”

To appreciate the audacity of this statement, type in “global warming skeptics” on Google. I just did so and found 2,370,000 Web pages under this heading.  I guess the thousands of scientists and others who have studied this phenomenon and come to a different conclusion don’t count.

What you have to understand about the a priori argument is that it is usually employed by people who have an agenda.  In other words, they are not seekers of truth.  This is why Buddhism and a priori arguments are mutually exclusive.  Buddhism places a premium on firsthand experience and sees authoritative source as the least reliable when it comes to drawing accurate conclusions.

I am not “for” or “against” global warming.  It may be happening, or it may not.  I have no agenda, so I can read both sides of the argument objectively.  However, there are, figuratively speaking, armies of people who do have an agenda — who actually want global warming to be occurring.

The Times of India had an interesting item on its website about a recent Washington Post article that quoted an unnamed scientist in 1972 as saying, “We simply cannot afford to gamble. We cannot risk inaction.  The scientists who disagree are acting irresponsibly.  The indications that our climate can soon change for the worse are too strong to be reasonably ignored.”

And guess what:  His words were not in reference to global warming, but global cooling!  It doesn’t bother me that the source’s name was left out, because I clearly remember the daily warnings from scientists, politicians, and special interest groups about the dangers we supposedly were facing from global cooling.  Many of the scientists who are sounding the alarm about global warming are the very same ones who were warning everyone about global cooling twenty years ago.

Anyone can come up with a long list of parallels.  The Iraq War — one of an endless list of subjects that triggers the ballistic button in people’s brains — is a good example.  I guess I’m naïve, but I just assume that all people of goodwill are against war.  Period.

But there are millions of people who also believe that war is one of the many unpleasant actions that civilized people must take from time to time in order to preserve civilization. In other words, it’s a necessary tradeoff.

In this respect, going into Iraq may have been the right thing to do or it may have been the wrong thing to do.  Who possesses the omniscience to know?  I certainly don’t.  But, again, there are those who have an agenda that makes it obvious that they actually want the U.S. to lose the war.  (And, yes, there are those whose agenda is such that they were anxious for the U.S. to go to war in Iraq — e.g., weapons manufacturers.)

Nevertheless, every day I hear people on television say things like, “There is no more argument over whether or not it was a mistake to go into Iraq.  That debate is over.  The only question now is how do we get out?”  Then you change the channel and hear some other commentator or guest expressing the opposite opinion just as adamantly.

You can’t do much to affect these macro issues, but you can do a lot to affect many issues in your own life by refusing to accept a priori arguments as fact.  I have certainly heard them used over and over again in business negotiations through the years.

Example:  “Everyone with any experience in the publishing business knows that a book has to be published by a major publisher in order to have any chance of succeeding.”  Yes, I’m smiling … but I’ll make no further comment on that one.

Just be careful not to accept people’s conclusions as facts, especially if they are trying to pass them off as premises.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.