Argumentum Ad Ignoratiam – Legal Maxim

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Literal Meaning

An argument based upon ignorance.

Explanation

Argumentum ad ignorantiam means that an argument is formed from ignorance. It is considered to be a negative kind of evidence. there is no ration behind such arguments made except that since such a situation has not been prove false, it has to be true. The crux of the matter is that it has to do with something that is either incapable of being proven true or false, or has not yet been proven true or false. Usually, the burden of proof is on the person who has presented such statement as an argument. The advantage of this is sometimes taken by people who are not being able to support their claim by any other form if evidence. It works on the principle that if a issue is not provided with any support and which doesn’t enable others to prove a high degree of probability that what has been asserted is true in all sense it then the interpretation that it incorrect is the most probable scenario. These kinds of arguments are not encouraged by the law however there are certain exceptions.

Origin

This Latin maxim is based on the concept of assumption of a conclusion or fact which is based primarily on lack of evidence to the contrary. Or in other words absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Simply because certain things cannot be proved false it is argued to be true. Or vice versa i.e., it is false because it cannot be prove true.

Illustration

The best example of argumentum ad ignorantiam is the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. An accused is considered to be innocent until and unless proven guilty. It is the principle of criminal law that if there is a mere lack of evidence of innocence on the part of the accused then it will not constitute an evidence of guilt of him.

Case Reference

In the case of Ramadan v Malta[1] it was held by the court that the lack of certainty about a future expulsion has been used to justify the present deprivation of a Convention right. The Court cannot fall into the temptation of an argumentum ad ignorantiam and base its judgement on it.

In SJ v Belgium[2] the court observed that   argumentum ad ignorantiam not only contradicts a basic tenet of legal reasoning, according to which one should not draw conclusions from a lack of information or incomplete or insufficient sources of information.  Worse still, the majority is ready to exchange the available scientific treatment of a fatal disease like HIV in the removing country for faith in uncertain scientific developments that might one day eventually also reach the receiving country. Worst of all, the majority surreptitiously imposes on the applicant an untenable burden of proof.

In Biao v Denmark[3] the court stated that the logical flaw is flagrant. Logically, this line of argument does not stand up to scrutiny, simply because it is based on the so-called “fallacy of ignorance”, an argumentum ad ignorantiam, whereby it is true because it has not yet been proven false. The ethical flaw is no less evident. By assuming an uncertain fact this line of argument avoids being confronted with a certain reality.

Edited by Vigneshwar Ramasubramania

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


Reference

[1] Ramadan v Malta, (2017) 65 E.H.R.R. 32

[2] SJ v Belgium, (2015) 61 E.H.R.R. 21

[3] Biao v Denmark, (2017) 64 E.H.R.R.