this is a crucial term I've coined — important because it describes something that doesn't have a term that I'm aware of, because people do this often, and because I keep coming back to it out of need to describe it.

epistemic stalling: you present objections that will be refuted given enough time and you are hoping time will elapse such that the objections are not refuted. this is similar to how people stall in other domains — when they don't feel like they can achieve success in any other way than running the clock.

here's a common claim where it's just a matter of time until some piece of information dismisses it: "you're just saying that because you're white."

ok, so what if I am not white?

"you're just saying that because you're a man"

and what if I am not a man?

"well, you're straight"

and what if I'm not straight? (I'm not, but for the purposes of this example I am.)

eventually, either I will hit the identity combo that you prefer, or some other person with the exact same opinion will hit the identity combo you prefer. it's implausible that no person of the ideal identity combination exists who holds that opinion. one will eventually be found. so, it's just a matter of time until you can't rely on these kinds of of objections.

that is epistemic stalling.

to prevent epistemic stalling, you should open with the objection you'd make assuming all of your stalls had already ran out — as if the person with your ideal identity combination already made the opinion.

epistemic stalling is like the putties in the Power Rangers TV show. (

putties were just low level clay footsoldiers that would inevitably get owned by the power rangers, until they fought the actual villain of that episode. putties never so much as left a mark, in any episode I ever recall seeing, and they'd fight off 10-20 of them. putties were physically stalling until the actual boss could arrive. your argument should open with the boss.

and if you have trouble with this analogy due to unfamiliarity, a similar analogy work with stormtroopers, the incompetence of which are a ubiquitous meme in pop culture.

read: the objection after I knock down all the rhetorical footsoldiers is the actual objection. that is what should be opened with. giving someone lots of weak objections in hope that they will just run out of time or resources to refute them is epistemic stalling. don't do this if you can help it.


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"you're just saying that because you're white."

That's not a claim about the empirics of a debate but about whether or not someone is allowed to take part is a discourse. Calling it "epistemic stalling" seems to confuse what the move is about.

it's still stalling, because they should start with the argument that would best rebut the same claim by someone who was "allowed in the discourse." this modification is trivial and doesn't make epistemic stalling a non-thing, i.e. people obviously do in fact do this.

To follow-up, you'll need to justify that "they should start the argument with what would best rebut the same claim by someone who was 'allowed in the discourse'". That's a normative claim that your original post doesn't justify. It likely can be justified, but you haven't yet done that. 

Also, their starting with the claim that would be the best rebuttal is an act of allowing you into the discourse. If they believe you aren't allowed in the discourse, they won't let you in. So, your justification of the normative claim needs to remain sensitive to their sincerely held beliefs about the relevant discursive norms. 

They aren't trying to stall for time. They are trying to maintain appropriate boundaries.

the burden of evidence doesn't change by who is "allowed" into a discussion. if I make a claim about the migration patterns of birds the evidence required for this claim is going to be the same regardless of who is hearing it. if I make a claim about the inequalities in society this doesn't change. they're both empirical claims and both have the same kinds of evidential requirements. if someone is trying to "maintain appropriate boundaries", whatever that means, making empirical claims is probably the opposite of that.

this idea of being "allowed in the discourse" is a nonsequitur. if you need to be "allowed" to make truth claims, what you're doing isn't a truthseeking or epistemic practice, so it's not something that terms relating to epistemic hygiene describe in any sense and only relevant in as an instance of misinterpretation. this is akin to saying that if someone says you can't dance with them at an event that a canned line about their refusal to provide evidence, such as "you can google it" — perhaps "it" refers to the dance steps — doesn't necessarily describe bad epistemic practice. well, duh. but dancing isn't an epistemic activity, so it's a left-field objection anyway.

I think your article is poorly written, and its unclarity is causing confusion between you, me, and the others.

Discourse norms, some of which govern who is allowed in the conversation, are relevant. It is not a non sequitur. It is relevant, because you are making normative claims about discourse and what kinds of claims interlocutors are supposed to begin with. Specifically, one claim you are making is that interlocutors are supposed to begin with content-relevant, information-optimized claims.

I've offered a contrary consideration. Some interlocutors rightly begin with permissibility claims about who is allowed into the conversation at all. I think this is where your poor writing runs us afoul. You don't sufficiently describe your one and only discursive example:

"here's a common claim where it's just a matter of time until some piece of information dismisses it: 'you're just saying that because you're white.'"

Are these interlocutors already passed the pre-discursive permissibility claims stage? Are they literally just now speaking, as though the objector overheard someone speaking, thought that the speaker was participating in something for which they have no permission, and is claiming a norm violation? It is not clear. 

Now that I have read more of your comments, your intention is clearer. I think you are claiming that "Epistemic stalling" occurs only after pre-discursive permissibility claims, only during content-relevant critical discussion of knowledge and belief claims - only during active truth-seeking. Am I right this is what you are trying to say?

If so, my objection is that the kinds of language used during active truth-seeking is often indistinguishable from the kinds of language used during pre-discursive considerations. "You aren't allowed in this conversation because you are white." That claim isn't epistemic stalling so long as it is made prior to active truth-seeking. So, whether a claim is epistemic stalling depends on the stage of in discourse the claim is made. That should be a reasonable objection to your analysis of epistemic stalling. 

A second example is from one of my previous comments. If I am distracting a security guard by saying things like, "Oh, you are just saying that because you are white," what I am doing is stalling, but not epistemic stalling, because I'm not engaged with the security guard in a mutual project of active truth-seeking. Again, it turns out that whether a claim "... because you are white ..." is epistemic stalling depends at least in part on where the claim is made. Your article does not discuss these kinds of issues. If you feel strongly about the topic, I would suggest revising this article with a keen eye on fleshing out some of these over-looked details.

argon, please use a consistent name across all media. if I had known this Big Steve account was you, it would have saved me a lot of time.

Why should it matter who Big Steve is?

Alfred, to be frank, your article is unclear and poorly written. Dagon, for example, thinks the political/non-political examples matter. They think that partly because your article is unclear. You should take more seriously their confusion as what-not-to-do in the future. Write with greater clarity.

I think you write unclearly on semi-intentional purpose. Your communication strategy seems to be: write something unclear, then explain why the audience (in this case commenters) misunderstood you. That's how you responded to Christian, to Dagon, and to Big Steve.

I think you are wrong about epistemic stalling, but you've only explained why I misunderstood what you said. That's a non-sequitur response on your part. 

Consider your red/purple/fuschia example you gave to Dagon. What truthseeking activity is going on in the example? They are trying to figure out which color pops? That's a silly way to interpret their conversation. They're trying to decide which colors to wear - that's not a truthseeking activity.

Also, after further thought, isn't calling out the identity issue about "argon" and "Big Steve" epistemic stalling? Here we are, you and I, engaged in a truthseeking activity & you offer an objection easily refuted given enough time. How isn't that epistemic stalling?

if you need to be "allowed" to make truth claims, what you're doing isn't a truthseeking or epistemic practice

This would imply that a court of law that has specific rules about who is allowed to make what claims and has specific kinds of burdens of evidence isn't a truth seeking enterprise. 

The quality of the rules of discourse in a court of law are better then those rules of discourse that disallow non-whites from voicing certain opinions but in both cases, participants in the discourse believe that arguments have to follow certain standards.

• courts of laws aren't primarily truthseeking practices. as in, courts fulfill a governmental function primarily and the truth is auxiliary. they can be truthseeking, but they aren't by design. the adversarial system for example is antithetical to truthseeking, because attorneys have no obligation to the whole truth. lying by omission is permitted.

• even if they were, what you're trying to get at - analogizing the role of demographic qualities to licensing credentials - doesn't hold here. a steelman of your argument would be that licensing means lawyers can more deftly handle certain kinds of evidence, so their licensure is a shortcut because we know to listen to them over someone else. this would NOT mean that their licensure makes some claim correct. for this analogy to hold, "you're just saying that because you're not a lawyer" would have to be a coherent objection. there are very few instances where this objection would be relevant to the truth of any claim and even in those objections, the truth of the claim that "you're just saying that because" rebuts wouldn't depend on who is "allowed in the discourse", it would be a descriptive explanation of the origin of their interlocutor's ignorance.

Court have a system for seeking truth when participants are adversarial and rules that have intention of producing truth under those conditions. While it's not the only goal that courts have truth finding is one of the major goals. In situations where participants are adversial it's useful to have a system that takes that into account.

"Objection, this is hearsay" is a move that you can use in court to shut down a witness. It's a principle where people who don't have direct experience about whether something is true are not allowed to say what they want over it.

It's similar in nature to the complaint that someone speaks about something where they lack certain direct experience because they are white.

That is a good point. Below, I related epistemic stalling to intentionality, but I also agree with your response. The reason why people say things like "but you're white" often isn't to offer some form of argumentative justification. Rather, people say those things to function like barriers to entry: only non-whites allowed.

There are, of course, ethical issues around that kind of response, but this post is about the pragmatics of speech, not its ethics. Still, this post seems to get wrong, as you point out, the actual pragmatics of why people do what is called "epistemic stalling".

I wish you'd used some non-politically-charged examples.  I can't tell if this is a real problem with truth-seeking participants, or merely a normal part of political/social rhetoric, which is focused on control more than belief.

Do you think romantic, relationship-based examples would help? Like, a boyfriend who gets a text, then his partner asks about that text, but then the boyfriend responds with something like "Omgosh, you are too nosy!" That seems a little bit like epistemic stalling (although, personally, I think Alfred is wrong about epistemic stalling).

So, I guess I am addressing your comment with two questions. First, do you think Alfred will think that my example is an example of epistemic stalling? Second, given what Alfred wrote about epistemic stalling, do you personally think my example should qualify as an example of epistemic stalling?

I'm not sure whether "epistemic stalling" is a useful categorization of these kinds of bad-faith discussions.  Mostly, I think the examples are not about epistmology, but about dominance and emotional reactions.  I suspect romantic examples will also be of that form.

I don't think "stalling" is the right focus, even if we do address these as bad-faith discussion mechanisms.  I think the salient feature is misdirection - intended not to delay, but to avoid the important question altogether.

there are categories of rebuttals and demands for evidence where the biggest issue in fulfilling them is time.

if you need a non political example, a common phenomenon of this kind is a document dump in legal practice. (but you shouldn't; we are going to engage politics all the time and you're going to need to be able to process politics rationally.)

misdirection is too broad and does not describe this precisely. stalling is the right focus, and seeing this as "dominance and emotional reactions" is missing the point or grossly misreading the situation. there is nothing in this dialogue that would allow you to make an inference about dominance, and emotionality is probably a factor, but it can be for just about every fallacy and the point of fallacies isn't to describe emotions - the point of fallacies is to identify problematic epistemic categories.

if you need another example, there is this phenomenon of taking objection to something by virtue of how it is characterized until the pet preference for characterization is reached (characterization roulette), a la:

A: "I'm not sure wearing bright colors like red is a good idea if you don't want to be seen in a crowd."

B: "it's not red"

A: "okay, purple"

B: "it's not purple either"

A: "okay, fuchsia"

B: "but I don't think bright fuchsia will stand out that much anyway, because lots of people in that area of town wear bright colors"

a non-stalling version of this is:

A: "I'm not sure wearing bright colors like red is a good idea if you don't want to be seen in a crowd."

B: "lots of people in that area of town wear bright colors"

the clear issue here is time, because it's unreasonable to think that A won't eventually reach the color that meet's B's satisfaction. since it's time-based, "stalling" is how best to describe this.

I think you are right about the non-usefulness of the concept "epistemic stalling", although I think there are good-faith and sincere uses for the phenomenon Alfred is discussing, the phenomenon of making identity-based claims like "but you're white". You and I can let bygones by bygones about it while agreeing that this post needs to be revised with an enriched description of the intended phenomenon. As written, the post does not adequately describe its subject, and this lack of clarity leads to confusion and misinterpretation. Furthermore, the (sparse) content that is clear seems wrong and beside the point. Anyway, good discussion we had. Until next time!

You should address the relationship between intention and stalling. Using your example, suppose I'm the 'stalling' objector, but I sincerely believe whiteness matters and haven't considered how to respond to a non-white person making the objection. I would give all the same objections you mentioned, but with sincerity. Does this count as epistemic stalling? 

In your discussion here, intentionality is entirely unmentioned and absent. Intentionality's relationship to epistemic stalling is important, because half of your post is about how to avoid epistemic stalling. If epistemic stalling implies intentionality, then people who engage in epistemic stalling won't follow your advice - they are intentionally stalling in the first place! If epistemic stalling doesn't imply intentionality, then sincere but poorly reasoned objectors will be (wrongly, I believe) accused of stalling. If intentionality doesn't matter, then I think you are wrong about epistemic stalling. Stalling in non-epistemic contexts is intentional. I'm "stalling for time" when I distract a security guard while my friend escapes through the back. Since epistemic stalling is a kind of stalling, I would similarly  expect epistemic stalling to imply intentionality.

people who procrastinate, including me and probably you and most people reading this, do so in a semi-intentional state where they're half-aware and might be more aware if prompted but can easily suppress awareness further too. intention is not binary. at the point of performance, procrastinators (so, all of us) aren't actively thinking "I'm procrastinating" nor are they aware that they're explicitly making choices to do that. but, if a person interrupts them to let them know they're doing that, their consciousness might be shaken enough to stop the behavior. (of course, we can train ourselves to do that too, and it's obviously much harder.)

I didn't address intentionality because I don't think the binary states of intentional or unintentional are helpful in stopping it. most people don't make fallacies or other acts of bad epistemic practice in completely intentional or completely unintentional modes. they often have some vague awareness that what they're doing is off but, like someone who is procrastinating, they're probably not going to scrutinize their intentions further unless they have the vocabulary and concepts to do so quickly. this purpose of post is to provide both.