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A person states an argument to support a position, but that argument could equally support the opposite position.

Is there a name for such an argument? Or a phrase to describe the concept?

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  • 4
    It might be helpful to give an example of such an argument to show why and how it could be used to support either position. "Cuts both ways," paradoxical, or not relevant might all fit, depending on the specifics. Aug 18, 2015 at 20:11
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    'shaky' is what I'd call that :)
    – smci
    Aug 18, 2015 at 23:29
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    I like the answer of "paradox" given by @talrnu. I think the "unexpected hanging paradox" is a good example. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unexpected_hanging_paradox
    – James
    Aug 19, 2015 at 0:50
  • If you want an adjective, ‘undecidable’ or ‘inconsistent’ might also work. Feb 19, 2019 at 3:53

6 Answers 6

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I would use the idiom cuts both ways.

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cut+both+ways

cut both ways

to affect both sides of an issue equally.

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    Indeed such an argument is a double-edged sword...
    – Silverfish
    Aug 18, 2015 at 11:31
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    @Silverfish Indeed! That idiom slipped my mind, but it perfectly dovetails with my answer. :)
    – Deepak
    Aug 18, 2015 at 12:33
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The word paradoxical can describe an argument which conflicts with itself in this way. A paradox is an idea that might sound reasonable but is logically impossible or fundamentally beyond comprehension, often due to contradiction of truths it depends on.

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If the argument supports both sides equally and the two sides are contradictory, then neither side logically follows from the premises. That would make the argument a non-sequitur.

http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logical-fallacies

Non-Sequitur

In Latin this term translates to “doesn’t follow”. This refers to an argument in which the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists.

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  • This is more aptly applied to an erroneous conclusion, or a statement that simply doesn't relate to the topic in question at all, than to the argument for or against a conclusion.
    – Barmar
    Aug 24, 2015 at 18:48
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One might call the argument orthogonal, irrelevant, or not pertinent (all discussed in this article), as it does not indicate a direction in position taking.

Another possible construction is not germane:

germane (adj.)
: relating to a subject in an appropriate way

[M-W]

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Contradictory Argument

The question is:

A person states an argument to support a position, but that argument could equally support the opposite position.

This would be a contradictory argument because the argument gives support to a position, while at the same time nullifying that support.

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  • This dialogue refers to a contradictory premise or argument, which doesn't support any position. How is that the same as an argument that could be used to support two opposing positions?
    – LarsH
    Aug 18, 2015 at 18:22
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    @LarsH, that passage was unnecessary and distracting. I've removed it. Aug 18, 2015 at 18:45
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I would call this a controversy, since it is a question/statement that is all-encompassing of both points of view. A debate could follow, to help define which side of the controversy is more pertinent in the defined context. If unresolved, it would remain controversial (as seems to be the case more often than not).

This is from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/argument - "A controversy is an oral or written expression of contrary opinions, and may be dignified and of some duration: a political controversy."

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  • thanks for contributing @jjones , but it appears that controversy relates to the overall interaction (debate) than one of the arguments used in that interaction.
    – ianmayo
    Aug 19, 2015 at 8:11

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