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Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesPhilosophy · 12 months ago

Why do people insist that you can't prove a Negative?

I find that people often say that the person asserting the positive has the burden of proof. However, if a person asserts a Negative, why don't they have a burden of proof?


Tom asserts there is No Elephant in the room.

Steve asserts there is an Elephant in the room.

Shouldn't both Steve and Tom have to make a case for their belief? Why should Steve have to prove there's an elephant in the room, while Tom gets a free ride?


Some seem to be hung up on the Elephant analogy. Here's another:

Steve asserts his dead wife loved him.

Tom asserts she did not.

Since Steve is making the positive assertion of an immeasurable, should he have the burden of proof? Or should Tom also have a burden of proof?

PS: Yes, Tom is a jerk, but this is more about the dichotomy of positions than Tom's ill received assertion.

11 Answers

  • 12 months ago
    Favorite Answer

    That is called 'confirmation bias'. That is when a subjective view is taken to be the "objective grounds" by which an opposing view must accept and prove it's case. In the "can't prove a negative" argument, one just takes a contrarian view of another's claim, labeling their view as the "negative" to another's "positive", as the default, in which only the positive is demanded to provide "evidence". The confirmation bias "filter" does not allow both the "negative and positive" to be seen as 'affirmative positions' to take, and debated on neutrally objective terms.

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  • Anonymous
    12 months ago

    No. It's a relephant. Where were you at the commission of the crime?

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  • 12 months ago

    We always assume something does not exist until someone proves it does.

    He can't prove there is no elephant in the room because a tiny toy elephant could be under the table or in the couch. Its impossible to look everywhere. It might be moving around and hiding. But just one single bit of evidence of an elephant will prove definitely there is an elephant here.

    • Lv 7
      12 months agoReport

      Not only that, a fat lady could be insulted.

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  • You can prove a negative. If I search a room for keys and it is not there, then I move to another room. I proved there are no keys in the first room. And likewise I can prove there are no strange monsters under my bed by looking. It is not where I looked.

    I can make determinations of what exists based on my understanding of the universe. And that should exclude some candidates from consideration.

    I can eliminate many things.

    The proof for one thing should exclude the other thing if they cannot both be true. The proving is possibly a never ending process called the scientific method. The scientific method is the glorified discrediting of ideas through physical criticism or demonstrable means.

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  • Anonymous
    12 months ago

    Those are localized negatives and you know it. You can't prove a the entire universe.

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  • 12 months ago

    An excited friend came up to me, a beaming smile on his face.

    “Oh my dear friend, I have discovered the most incredible; the most wonderful; the most wise being. And he loves in that room there.”

    Me, now excited too, enter the room. It is large; it is painted completely white and it is completely empty. I look around to see if there is some hiding place… I found none. I left the room to find my friend.

    “But there is nothing in there.” I say to him.

    “You just didn’t look hard enough… it is YOUR fault you cannot find him.” He says.

    “But there is nothing in there.” I repeat.

    “Well, you are too stupid, so I will have to tell you what the being has said and thus how YOU must live.”


    Why should I have to make a case when the hypothesis is obvious BS.

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  • 12 months ago

    I've often wondered about that too. I guess the idea comes from, "prove that you didn't do such and such behavior". Other than perhaps an alibi, how could you prove you didn't steal something or accost someone improperly. Then there are the undemonstrable assertions - I had a vision, eg. How can you prove they didn't? Of course neither can they prove they did. I think, all in all, it's an oversimplification to assert that "you can't prove a negative", but in law, anyway, perhaps it's the default sensible way to proceed.

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  • Cogito
    Lv 7
    12 months ago

    See Lord Bacon's answer.

    As an example, if I insist that I have an invisible tap-dancing purple mongoose living in my bathtub, you wouldn't believe me (presumably) unless I provided evidence.

    But it's not possible for you to prove that I'm wrong.

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  • 12 months ago

    The only things we KNOW to be real are supported by objective evidence. Things that are not real provide no objective evidence.

    Those making a claim of the existence of something can take measurements and make calculations that prove its presence. Those saying the thing is not real can produce no such measurement of calculation of the thing. They can only say 'there is no evidence for it'.

    Can you prove unicorns do not exist? If not, why not. When you understand why not, you will have answered your own question.

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  • 12 months ago

    You can prove negatives, but not all negatives are proven. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Negatives are proven all of the time in mathematics, science and economics. Arrow's impossibility theorem is an example of a negative being proven. Recently, they proved that the aqueous sulfide ion never existed. In 1924 they proved that George Mallory did not fall from the ridge of Mt Everest. And how about this ditty: It has been proven that the sun does not revolve around the earth.

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