, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 39-61
Date: 31 May 2007

The Burden of Proof and Its Role in Argumentation

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The notion of “the burden of proof” plays an important role in real-world argumentation contexts, in particular in law. It has also been given a central role in normative accounts of argumentation, and has been used to explain a range of classic argumentation fallacies. We argue that in law the goal is to make practical decisions whereas in critical discussion the goal is frequently simply to increase or decrease degree of belief in a proposition. In the latter case, it is not necessarily important whether that degree of belief exceeds a particular threshold (e.g., ‘reasonable doubt’). We explore the consequences of this distinction for the role that the “burden of proof” has played in argumentation and in theories of fallacy.