paradigm case argument

The argument that since a term, such as ‘certain’ or ‘knowledge’ or ‘free will’, is taught partly with reference to central cases, any sceptical philosophical position denying that it applies in those cases must involve an abuse of the term. In one famous example, we might point to the smiling bridegroom and say that his choice of his bride is a paradigm example of free choice; hence any philosophies that reject the notion of free choice are surreptitiously changing the meaning of the notion, and are therefore out of court. The argument is widely rejected, on the grounds that even if a term is taught with reference to central cases, it may only be because of a cluster of false beliefs that those cases are singled out in the first place. We may think of the bridegroom as free, but it may be that in so thinking we have a vision of his decision-making processes (not to mention those of his bride) that philosophical reflection discredits. However, investigations of meaning are partly constrained by what we say about central cases, and there may be fields where some restricted form of the paradigm case argument is not entirely worthless.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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