A presupposition is an unstated assumption that is taken for granted when making a statement. For example, the statement “why can’t you do your work better” assumes that you currently do your work poorly. Problems can arise when you try and answer the question without first clarifying and understanding the assumption.
Helpful vs. harmful assumptions
When we communicate, and even when we think, we have to make assumptions about the world. Life is very complex and is impossible to understand it all at once. To deal with this we have to assume certain things about the world. Making assumptions is necessary to cope with life’s complexities. However, it is important to be aware about what assumptions you make. In general, you should choose assumptions that allow freedom, choice, and fun rather than assumptions that are limiting.
Consider the statement “I hope the party ends early tonight”. This statement assumes that the party will likely be an unpleasant experience that should be limited as much as possible. However, the statement “I am looking forward to the party tonight” assumes that it can be a fun event with the potential of being entertaining or possibly meeting with interesting people.
You can recognize Presuppositions by looking for the words since, when, and if. Also the following words can indicate a presupposition: realize, be aware, or ignore. It is possible for a statement to contain several presuppositions. In these situations it can be very difficult to spot and challenge all of them. For example, “When the weather warms up I will feel better” contains the following assumptions:
- It is currently cold
- You currently feel bad
- Warm weather is on its way
There is also a Complex Equivalence which implies the cold weather causes the bad feeling.
To challenge a presuppositions ask: “What leads you to believe that …?” and filling in the presupposition. In the case where there are multiple presuppositions you will have to identify the assumption that seems most relevant and ask for more information about it.
A presupposition is an unstated assumption that is taken for granted when making a statement.
Assumptions help us deal with complexity but can hide important information.
Presuppositions can be recognized by the words since, when, if, realize, be aware, or ignore.
To challenge a presupposition ask “What leads you to believe that …?”
Related PagesUnspecified Nouns
Modal Operators of Possibility
Modal Operators of Necessity
Cause and Effect