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Some epistemologists deny that any proposition can be self-evident. For most others, the belief that oneself is conscious is offered as an example of self-evidence. However, one's belief that someone else is conscious is not epistemically self-evident.
The following proposition is often said to be self-evident:
- A finite whole is greater than, or equal to, any of its parts
Certain forms of argument from self-evidence are considered fallacious or abusive in debate. For example, if a proposition is claimed to be self-evident, it is an argumentative fallacy to assert that disagreement with the proposition indicates misunderstanding of it.
It is sometimes said that a self-evident proposition is one whose denial is self-contradictory. It is also sometimes said that an analytic proposition is one whose denial is self-contradictory. But the concepts do mean different things.
Provided that one understands a self-evident proposition, one believes it, and self evident propositions are not in need of proof. Likewise, that their denial is self contradictory does not have to be proven. It is in this sense that the self contradiction at work in self evident and analytic propositions are different.
Not all analytic propositions are self evident, and it is sometimes claimed that not all self-evident proposition are analytic: e.g. my knowledge that I am conscious.
Claims of self-evidence also exist outside of epistemology.
In informal speech, self-evident often merely means obvious, but the epistemological definition is more strict.
- The means ought to be proportioned to the end.
- Every power ought to be commensurate with its object.
- There ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose which is itself incapable of limitation.
A famous claim of the self-evidence of a moral truth is in the United States Declaration of Independence, which states, "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."; philosophically, that proposition is not necessarily self-evident, and the subsequent propositions surely are not.
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