Debate is naturally adversarial. While the main objective is to thoroughly convince the audience of your perspective, the other major objective is to try to disprove your opponent’s stance. There are multiple ways you can do this, but the goal in a debate is to refute the opposing argument.

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Refutation Refutation

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Table of contents

    Refutations, Opposing faces with brains outlined, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Refutation is the ultimate response to an opposing argument in a debate.

    Refutation Definition

    To refute something is to give evidence that proves it is untrue or impossible. A refutation is the act of definitively proving something wrong.

    Refutation vs. Rebuttal

    Although they’re often used interchangeably, refutation and rebuttal do not mean the same thing.

    A rebuttal is a response to an argument that tries to prove it untrue by offering a different, logical perspective.

    A refutation is a response to an argument that decisively demonstrates that the opposing argument cannot be true.

    Neither of these terms should be confused with the made-up word “refudiate,” which has come to loosely mean to deny or refuse something. Although this word entered the public lexicon in 2010 after a US politician used it to argue their point, it’s not preferable for academic writing.

    The difference between a refutation and rebuttal hinges on whether the opposite argument can be conclusively disproved. To do so, you must provide factual evidence of its inaccuracy; otherwise, it isn’t a refutation, it’s a rebuttal.

    Refutation Examples

    There are three specific ways to successfully refute an argument: through evidence, logic, or minimization.

    Refutation Through Evidence

    A good argument stands on evidence, whether that’s statistical data, quotes from an expert, firsthand experiences, or any objective findings of a topic. Just as an argument can be built up by evidence that supports it, an argument can be destroyed by evidence that disproves it.

    Evidence can refute an argument by:

    1. Definitively supporting the accuracy or truth of the opposing argument when it is an either-or discussion (i.e., argument A and argument B cannot both be true).

    Some people argue that remote education is just as good as in-person instruction, but numerous studies have linked a rise in behavioral issues to young students in remote learning situations. Unless we argue that a child’s well-being is irrelevant, remote education is not “just as good as” in-person schooling.

    1. Definitively disproving the truth of the argument with more recent or more accurate evidence.

    In one of the courtroom scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch uses evidence to refute the possibility of Tom Robinson’s being able to beat Mayella Ewell:

    …[T]here is circumstantial evidence to indicate that Mayella Ewell was beaten savagely by someone who led most exclusively with his left. We do know in part what Mr. Ewell did: he did what any God-fearing, preserving, respectable white man would do under circumstances—he swore a warrant, no doubt signing with his left hand, and Tom Robinson now sits before you, having taken the oath with the only good hand he possesses—his right hand. (Chapter 20)

    This evidence essentially makes it impossible for Tom Robinson to have been the attacker because he cannot use the hand that is known to have beaten Mayella. In a fair trial, this evidence would have been monumental, but Atticus knows there is emotional and illogical prejudice facing Tom because of his race.

    Refutation Through Logic

    In a refutation through logic, an argument can be discredited because of a flaw in logic, which is called a logical fallacy.

    A logical fallacy is the use of flawed or incorrect reasoning to construct an argument. Because many arguments find their basis in a logical structure, a logical fallacy essentially refutes the argument unless it can be proven by another means.

    Suppose someone makes the following argument:

    “Books always have more information about what the characters are thinking than movies. The best stories are those that offer lots of insight into what the characters are experiencing. Therefore, books will always be better at storytelling than movies.”

    There is a logical fallacy in this argument, and can be refuted like this:

    The premise—that the best stories are those that include the character’s thoughts—is not logically solid because there are many acclaimed stories that do not include the characters’ thoughts at all. Take, for example, the film The Sound of Music (1965); there is no internal narrative coming from the characters, and yet this is a beloved story and classic movie.

    As a result of the logical fallacy, the conclusion—that books are better at telling stories than movies—can be refuted unless the arguer presents a more logically sound argument. When the premise does not support the conclusion, this is called a non-sequitur, which is a type of logical fallacy.

    Refutation Through Minimization

    Refutation by minimization occurs when the writer or speaker points out that the opposing argument is not as central to the issue as their opponent thought. This might be because it is a more peripheral, or less-important concern.

    Refutations, Hot air balloon looks small from far away, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Minimizing an opposing argument makes it seem small by comparison to the context

    This type of refutation is effective because it essentially proves that the opposing argument is not relevant to the discussion and can be dismissed.

    Consider the following argument:

    “Only women can write characters in the opposite gender with any depth, because for centuries they have been reading books written by men, and therefore have more insight into the opposite sex.”

    This argument can easily be refuted by minimizing the pivotal premise (i.e., writers have a difficult time writing characters of the opposite gender).

    The assumption that a writer must share the same gender as their characters to have the insight to fully develop their personality is a mistake. There are countless examples of beloved characters written by members of the opposite gender to suggest otherwise; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina (1878)), Victor Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Frankenstein (1818)), and Beatrice by William Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing (1623)), to name just a few.

    Concession and Refutation

    It might seem counterintuitive to mention the opposing viewpoints in your argument, but a concession can really help convince an audience to agree with you. By including a concession with your argument, you illustrate that you have a solid understanding of the entire scope of your topic. You show yourself to be a well-rounded thinker, which helps eliminate concerns of a bias.

    Concession is a rhetorical device where the speaker or writer addresses a claim made by their opponent, either to acknowledge its validity or to offer a counterargument to that claim.

    If someone presents not only a solid argument in their favor, but also a concession of the opposing side(s), then their argument is that much stronger. If that same person can also refute the opposing argument, then that’s essentially a checkmate to the opponent.

    Four basic steps to refutation can be remembered with the four S's:

    1. Signal: Identify the claim you are answering (“They say…”)

    2. State: Make your counterargument (“But…”)

    3. Support: Offer support for your claim (evidence, statistics, details, etc.) (“Because…”)

    4. Summarize: Explain the importance of your argument (“Therefore…”)

    Refutation in Writing Argumentative Essays

    To write an effective argumentative essay, you must include a thorough discussion of the issue—especially if you want your reader to believe that you understand the discussion at hand. This means you must always address the opposing viewpoint(s) by writing a concession. A concession to the opposition builds your credibility, but you shouldn’t stop there.

    Argumentative essays contain the following key elements:

    1. A debatable thesis statement, which outlines the main argument and some evidence to support it.

    2. An argument, which breaks down the thesis into individual parts to support it with evidence, reasoning, data, or statistics.

    3. A counterargument, which explains the opposing viewpoint.

    4. A concession, which explains the way(s) in which the opposing view could contain some truth.

    5. A rebuttal or refutation, which gives reasons why the opposing viewpoint is not as strong as the original argument.

    If you intend to provide a refutation of the counterargument, then a thorough concession is not especially necessary or effective.

    When you refute an argument, the audience will essentially have to agree that that argument is no longer valid. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your argument is the only option left, though, so you must continue to provide support for your argument.

    Refutation Paragraph

    You can place the refutation anywhere in the body of your essay. A few common places are:

    • In the introduction, before your thesis statement.

    • In the section right after your introduction in which you explain a common position on the subject that needs to be re-examined.

    • Within another body paragraph as a way to address smaller counterarguments that arise.

    • In the section right before your conclusion in which you address any potential responses to your argument.

    When you’re presenting a refutation, use words like, “however” and “although” to transition from acknowledging the opposition (the concession) to introducing your refutation.

    Many people believe X. However, it is important to remember…

    Although the common perception is X, there is evidence to suggest…

    Part of writing an impactful refutation is keeping a respectful tone when discussing any counterarguments. This means avoiding harsh or excessively negative language when discussing the opposition, and keeping your language neutral as you transition from the concession to your refutation.

    Refutations - Key Takeaways

    • Refutation is the act of definitively proving something wrong.
    • The difference between a refutation and rebuttal hinges on whether the opposite argument can be conclusively disproved.
    • There are three specific ways to successfully refute an argument, and they are through evidence, logic, and minimization.
    • A good argument will include a concession, which is where the speaker or writer acknowledges the opposing argument.
    • In an argument, the concession is followed by a refutation (if possible).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Refutation

    What are types of refutations?

    There are three types of refutations: refutation by evidence, refutation by logic, and refutation by minimization.

    What is a refutation in writing?

    Refutation in writing is the action of definitively proving something wrong.

    How do I write a refutation paragraph?

    Write a refutation paragraph with the four S’s: Signal, state, support, summarize. Begin by signaling the opposing argument, then state your counterargument. Next, offer support for your stance, and finally, summarize by explaining the importance of your argument.

    Are concession and refutation counterclaims?

    A refutation is a counterclaim because it makes a claim about the initial counterargument presented by your opponent. A concession is not a counterclaim, it is merely a recognition of the counterarguments to your argument.

    What is refutation through logic and evidence?

    Refutation through logic is the refutation or discredit of an argument by way of identifying a logical fallacy in an argument. Refutation through evidence is discrediting an argument by offering evidence that proves the claim is impossible.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false: Refutation and rebuttal are the same thing.

    _______ is a response to an argument that tries to prove it untrue by offering a different, logical perspective. 

    A __________ is a response to an argument that decisively demonstrates that the opposing argument cannot be true. 


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