Appeal to the stone

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Appeal to the stone, also known as argumentum ad lapidem, is a logical fallacy that dismisses an argument as untrue or absurd and proves this assertion by stating that the argument is absurd. This theory is closely tied to proof by assertion due to the lack of evidence behind the statement and its attempt to persuade without providing any evidence.

Appeal to the stone is a type of informal fallacy within the realm of logical fallacies. This means that appeal to the stone relies on inductive reasoning in an argument to justify an assertion. The assertion relies entirely on the content of the argument and does not examine the form or structure of it.


Photograph of Dr.Samuel Johnson.
Dr. Samuel Johnson. Originator of the appeal to the stone.


The name appeal to the stone spawned from an argument between Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell over George Berkeley’s theory of subjective idealism (known previously as “immaterialism”). Subjective idealism states that reality is dependent on a person’s perceptions of the world and that material objects are intertwined with one’s perceptions of these material objects.[1] Johnson rejected Berkley’s argument that material things only exist in one’s own interpretation by striking his foot against a large stone and stated, “I refute it thus”.[2]

Johnson’s argument of appeal to the stone was to disprove subjective idealism by showing that by striking his foot against a large stone and observing his foot rebounded off of it, would prove the laws of subjective idealism were incorrect.[3]

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed that though we are satisfied, his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, 'I refute it thus.'

— James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson


Informal logical fallacies[edit]

Informal logical fallacies are misconceptions derived from faulty reasoning. Informal logical fallacies utilize inductive reasoning and thus can cause errors in reasoning by creating the illusion of a sound argument when it is not sound.[4]

Fallacy of irrelevance[edit]

Irrelevant conclusions, also known as ignoratio elenchi (Latin for ''ignoring refutation'') or missing the point, follows a similar structure to appeal to the stone.  As an informal fallacy, it may not be valid or sound in its reasoning.[5] Irrelevant conclusions hold similarity to appeal to the stone because it provides evidence towards a conclusion that has already been formed about the subject matter being debated, instead of the original subject that was being discussed.[6] Dr. Samuel Johnson’s refutation of Bishop Berkley’s theory of immaterialism by kicking a stone did not actually address the theory, but rather asserted a conclusion and then echoed his conclusion without discussing the subject matter of the theory of immaterialism.

Inductive reasoning[edit]

Appeal to the stone utilizes inductive reasoning to derive its argument. Formal fallacies use deductive reasoning and formal properties to structure an argument and inductive arguments do not use this structure. Inductive reasoning is reasoning with uncertain conclusions because of inferences made about a specific situation, object, or event.[7] In the context of Appeal to the stone, inductive reasoning is asserted against an initial claim without further elaboration. Inductive arguments can be affected by the acquisition of new information or evidence that can debunk an inductive assumption.[8]

Inductive reasoning asserts that the probability of a conclusion being correct is adequate evidence to support the argument. Inductive arguments are judged on the strength or weakness of an argument and an argument’s strength is subjective to each participant based on preconceptions about the subject being discussed.

The weakness of inductive reasoning (in comparison to deductive reasoning), lays in the inability to gauge the validity or soundness of claims within an argument. Validity of an argument is based on whether the information presented is factual. However, if evidence presented to prove a conclusion are false, this can provide a valid argument based on false information to substantiate the conclusion. Therefore, soundness of an argument is deemed when the assumptions of an argument are factual. Unlike deductive reasoning, inductive arguments cannot prove their deductive validity and therefore lead to the problem of induction.  


The appeal to the stone argument follow 4 steps. An initial claim, a denial, a questioning of the refutation, and a dismissal of the denial.
Below is an example of an argument employing an appeal to the stone :
Speaker A: Vaccines help the immune system and prevent the spread of disease.
Speaker B: That is not true.
Speaker A: Why is it not true?
Speaker B: It is obviously not correct.
In this example, Speaker B has denied Speaker A’s claim without providing any evidence to support their denial.

The structure of arguments[edit]

Arguments are typically structured by a claim being defended with reasoning and evidence. It typical consists of statements that provide premises to support a conclusion. In the case of appeal to the stone there is an explicit conclusion but is likely not substantiate with many premises to validate the conclusion being asserted.[9]

According to the theory of argumentation, there must assumptions or premises that follow a method of reasoning or deduction to form the conclusion or point. An appeal to the stone’s lack of evidence to substantiate the refutation of the initial claim puts the burden of proof on the other member of the argument and limits rebuttals.


Restricted debate[edit]

In contrast to the burden of proof (philosophy), appeal to the stone does not allow for debate past the dismissal of the first claim. Therefore, the burden of proof is placed upon the person who made the initial statement to prove it is correct. However, when appeal to the stone is used to argue, there is a diminished ability for a person to create a rebuttal due to lack of elaboration on why there has been a disagreement.[10] Additionally, the appeal to the stone technique is often paired with other logical fallacies that restrict the ability to further dialogue.[11] Discussions when presenting an appeal to the stone argument, it can use ad-hominem attacks[12] to avoid discussion of the discussion’s subject matter, or it can be paired with a straw-man argument to discredit the other member of the discussion.[13]

Two systems theory[edit]

The two systems theory, by Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, explains the reasoning behind illogical fallacies. In the two systems theory, decision-making is categorized into system 1 and system 2. System 1 decision-making only uses quick and usually heuristic based interpretations to aid in low-engagement decisions. System 2 decision-making uses more deliberate and rational consideration when creating a conclusion.[14]

Many illogical fallacies employ quick judgement based on emotion to create conclusions in system 1 type decision-making. However, by having a skeptical mindset on one’s own conclusions and engaging in methodological thinking, one can avoid an illogical fallacy.[15]

Toulmin's argumentation framework[edit]

Toulmin argumentation framework example involving a claim, grounds, warrant, qualifier, rebuttal, and backing.
Toulmin argumentation framework example.

As demonstrated in Toulmin’s argumentation framework, the grounds of an assumption require warrant and backing to legitimize the claim and prove the soundness of the conclusion. The framework involves a claim, grounds, warrant, qualifier, rebuttal, and backing. The initial claim of an argument is the assertion that the arguer is trying to confirm to another member in an argument. The grounds of an argument are the evidence to support the initial assertion. The warrant are the assumptions that are being used to connect the grounds to the claim. Backing is any additional supporting evidence to prove a claim and to support the warrant. Qualifiers are used to show that a claim may not always be correct (such as: sometimes, rather, somewhat) to show that the claim may not always apply to every situation. Finally, a rebuttal provides another member in a discussion to propose another valid claim for the argument.[16]

In an appeal to the stone, there is only grounds and claims without providing valid warrants or backing to substantiate their claim. Furthermore, appeals to the stone typically do not use qualifiers, limiting the scope of a rebuttal. Without providing valid evidence in a appeal to the stone, it is difficult to provide a rebuttal to the claim.

Similar theories[edit]

Reductio ad absurdum[edit]

Appeal to the stone shares similarities in structure to Reductio Ad Absurdum (Latin for “reduction to absurdity”) which states that an arguments assumptions or methods will lead to absurd conclusions.[17] Although appeal to the stone does not explicitly state that an initial statement is absurd, a refutation of the initial claim often times presumes that the initial claim is incorrect or absurd. Reductio Ad Absurdum makes the assertion that if an initial claim is true, then some other absurd conclusion must also be true.[18]

Begging the question[edit]

Begging the Question, also called petitio principii, is a conclusion based on an assumption that requires further proof or elaboration to be validated.[19] Begging the question, is more formally synonymous with “ignoring a question under the assumption it has already been answered.” Begging the question often creates further questioning and colloquial use of this theory has been repurposed to mean “a question that begs to be answered”.[20]

Ad nauseam[edit]

Ad nauseam is Latin and is associated with repeating something to a sickening or excessive degree. This fallacy can be used in arguments to by asserting an opinion on a subject matter to an excessive degree. In an appeal to the stone, with a lack of evidence to support a refutation of a claim, it can likely lead to an ad nauseum argument. If an argument with an appeal to the stone cannot be resolved, it will likely lead to both parties arguing until they are bored of the discussion and cannot come to a satisfactory conclusion.[21]


Denialism is a rejection of facts and reality even when there is strong evidence.[22] Those using denialism are likely using it with ulterior motives such as self-interests or to avoid an uncomfortable truth. The most common way to rebut a denial is through debunking by dissecting the root of the belief and providing evidence to disprove their idea, point by point.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Subjective idealism | philosophy". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  2. ^ Patey, Douglas Lane (January 1986). "Johnson's Refutation of Berkeley: Kicking the Stone Again". Journal of the History of Ideas. 47 (1): 139. doi:10.2307/2709600.
  3. ^ Hallett, H. F. (1947). "Dr. Johnson's Refutation of Bishop Berkeley". Mind. 56 (222): 132–147. ISSN 0026-4423.
  4. ^ Audi, Robert, ed. (2015). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (3 ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139057509. ISBN 978-1-139-05750-9.
  5. ^ "Whately and the study of fallacious reasoning", Historical Foundations of Informal Logic, Routledge, pp. 109–123, 5 December 2016, ISBN 978-1-315-25332-9, retrieved 19 November 2020
  6. ^ McNair, G. H.; Davies, Arthur Ernest (15 February 1917). "A Text-book on Logic". The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods. 14 (4): 109. doi:10.2307/2012956. ISSN 0160-9335.
  7. ^ Feeney, Aidan; Heit, Evan, eds. (1 January 2001). "Inductive Reasoning". doi:10.1017/cbo9780511619304. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ "Deductive and Inductive Arguments | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  9. ^ Eemeren, F. H. van (Frans Hendrik), 1946- (2004). A systematic theory of argumentation : the pragma-dialectical approach. Grootendorst, R. (Robert), 1944-2000. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-511-16600-1. OCLC 69139196.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Hannibal, Martin; Mountford, Lisa (September 2017). "15. The Burden of Proof". Law Trove. doi:10.1093/he/9780198787679.003.0015.
  11. ^ "HOW TO WIN AN ARGUMENT", How to Win an Argument, Princeton University Press, pp. 1–134, 31 October 2017, ISBN 978-1-4008-8335-6, retrieved 19 November 2020
  12. ^ "Definition of AD HOMINEM". Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  13. ^ "Definition of STRAW MAN". Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  14. ^ Arvai, Joseph (November 2013). "Thinking, fast and slow, Daniel Kahneman, Farrar, Straus & Giroux". Journal of Risk Research. 16 (10): 1322–1324. doi:10.1080/13669877.2013.766389. ISSN 1366-9877.
  15. ^ Risen, Jane; Gilovich, Thomas (2006), Sternberg, Robert J.; Roediger III, Henry L.; Halpern, Diane F. (eds.), "Informal Logical Fallacies", Critical Thinking in Psychology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 110–130, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511804632.008, ISBN 978-0-511-80463-2, retrieved 3 November 2020
  16. ^ Lab, Purdue Writing. "Toulmin Argument". Purdue Writing Lab. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  17. ^ Odintsov, S. P. (23 November 2003). ""Reductio ad absurdum" and Łukasiewicz's modalities". Logic and Logical Philosophy. 11 (0). doi:10.12775/llp.2003.008. ISSN 1425-3305.
  18. ^ Rescher, Nicholas (2017). "Reductio ad absurdum". Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie online. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  19. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (2016). "Garner's Modern English Usage". Oxford Reference. doi:10.1093/acref/9780190491482.001.0001.
  20. ^ Griffith, Bryant (2016), "What Does it Mean to Question?", NextGeners, Rotterdam: SensePublishers, pp. 53–83, ISBN 978-94-6300-642-2, retrieved 19 November 2020
  21. ^ "AD NAUSEAM | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary". Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  22. ^ "Definition of DENIALISM". Retrieved 20 November 2020.