Paradigm case arguments

The citation of what are taken to be uncontroversial examples to deny skeptical theses goes back at least to Plato, so that when someone claims that we do not know what a particular word means we produce one or more examples of the word in use where it seems that the meaning is clear. This technique gained prominence in the ‘ordinary language’ philosophy associated with the work of G. E. Moore in England in the early twentieth century and some versions of PARADIGM CASE ARGUMENTS 149 of it became known as paradigm case arguments.

Thus, when Moore was faced with claims like ‘There are no material things, or ‘Time is unreal’, he would reply by using a standard and everyday example of the thing in question, such as ‘Here is one hand, here is another, so there are at least two material things’ and ‘After lunch I went for a walk, so events do succeed one another, so time is not unreal in this sense’ (see Malcolm 1968); such arguments became widely used although their exact status was sometimes not clear.

Were such examples supposed to provide a complete refutation of the skeptical position or simply a timely reminder of the type of thing that the skeptic must explain away The use of such arguments has been discerned within the philosophy of education (see Beanie 1981), though whether or not such arguments have been consciously used and to what effect remains an open question (see Flew 1982).

However, it is certainly the case that, faced with a claim not to understand a particular concept such as ‘creativity’, one of the ways of moving the argument forward – at least – is to provide examples of what is taken to be an everyday use of the word, for example, ‘Well, Shakespeare was a creative playwright and Beethoven a creative composer’, and ask the skeptic to deal with them. For a recent defense of the use of paradigm case arguments, see handling (2000).


The relationship between parents and children has been evolving since the times of the Old Testament. There we are told that paternal (rather than parental) authority is absolute and includes the power of life and death (see e.g. Genesis 22). Vice (1968) makes the same point in relation to the history of the Gentiles in antiquity. The Christian tradition took over the notion of absolute paternal authority but modified it through the constraints imposed on parents through natural law.

God limited parents’ rights to act unjustly and God’s word was accessible to all Christians. However, the tradition of absolute paternalism continued into the seventeenth century in, for example, the work of Filmed, who applied the biblical account of the relationship between sovereign and subject to his contemporary situation. This account was rejected by John Locke in the First Treatise (1961b), but Locke was still left with the problem of explaining parental authority in the context of a political system that was accountable to its citizens.

Last word

The weak point in the Locke an account is the importance that it places on the interpretation of rights by parents. For if interpretation is allowed unlimited latitude, there is no intelligible sense in which there is a connection between conceptions of the common good and parental rights.

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