I strongly assert

I was recently at a conference.  I attended one paper where the presenter kept using the expression, "I strongly assert…" as a means of premise-introduction.  Once, it was used in the context of disagreement.  And so:  "Some say not-p, but I strongly assert p."  I found this locution and its use jarring.  It seems exceedingly dogmatic, and moreover, what exactly does 'strongly' mean, anyhow?  Confidently, loudly, as though in ALLCAPS? 

A question for the NS readership: What is the most charitable reading of this locution?

Here's my shot.  In the event of a conference paper, you can't give an argument for every premise or every case where there's a disagreement.  Conference papers require tight focus, and so the point is to argue where it is most important, and everything else is left to either bald assertion or apologetic bracketing.  That's the art of academic essays.  And so 'I strongly assert' stands as a proof-surrogate in these contexts.  Now, I think it's a pretty awkward proof surrogate (as one can just as well, and less contentiously, say 'let's assume p, here'), but it at least isn't a major breach of argumentative practice.

That reading is my most charitable, but it still doesn't sit well with me.  Any help from those more familiar with this phrase?

7 thoughts on “I strongly assert”

  1. I really think you're on to something here.

    I can't help but think of claims about people's 'deeply held beliefs' and how assertions about these are meant to provoke near iron-manning: "I strongly assert" seems to be a variety of this sort of claim.  Since I strongly assert it, you owe me a special serving of charity, since I *strongly* assert it. 

    Too much meta in this comment?

  2. Hi John.  Meta is always betta. That's a less charitable reading of it, but I think probably more accurate.  'Strongly' modifies the sincerity of the assertion, and so it functions a marker of authenticity.  And so one replaces the question of whether  p with the answer that it is beyond a doubt that I believe that p.
    I guess the question here is why this elicits (or at least is occasions) iron manning.  I'd noted it was a form of proof surrogate, but one that the speaker does not make good on.  And so audience is supposed to either (a) accept that there is a good argument for the claim (and so treat emphatic assertion as supported assertion), or (b) provide the proof themselves (and so iron man the position).   Is the norm behind this one of face saving in dialogue, in that with these sort of assertions, you don't call the speaker's bluff?  If that's the case, then it is a form of argumentative abuse, because it makes claims about contentious issues off limits for scrutiny.

  3. Nice use of bold.  But that's right.  It can fallaciously function as a kind of deflector shield for criticism–disarming listeners of their willingness to call that view into question, or suggesting that it deserves especial respect.  I smell a paper in here.

  4. I appreciate the desire to be charitable, but it seems to me that this is really just a matter of poor writing (stylistically, not grammatically).  I came across this expression in a rather lengthy editing project recently in which the author would use the 'strongly' qualifier in reference to views he was discussing.  (E.g., Putman strongly asserts that ….)  It drove me f'n crazy.  I realize that the use of the phrase in reference to ones own assertions leaves more room for a charitable interpretation.  But as you describe it being  used in your session, it does not sound that different.

  5. I promise not to use bold, except in urgent situations from now on.
    Crickett, I am highly inclined to go with your uncharitable interpretation, as many of the presenters at this conference were <ahem> unpolished.  So it being a stylistic shortcoming is the most likely candidate explanation in my book.  But the proposal was an exercise in charity.
    That said, I wonder if I've been too hasty here.  Is it worse to claim that someone's style is obtuse (and so they don't mean what they've ostensibly said) or that they've broken an argumentative norm?  In this case, charity won't let us have both decent writing and permissible argumentative procedure.

  6. Aikin,
    I don't see how decent writing and permissible argumentative procedure are contradictory to each other.  I would think that writing well would automatically lend itself to permissible argumentative procedure, unless you are referring to a verbal (spoken) argumentary proceedure, which breaks the conventions of decent writing?

  7. Hi Brian,  They're not contradictory generally, but if we are exercising charitty here, we have to choose.  Either the phrase is elliptical for a proper proof surrogate (and so it is bad writing but acceptable argument) or the author really means strongly assert (so the writing is fine, but bad argumentative move).  It could be both, for sure, but remember, the exercise is charitable interpretation.

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