Shh Finger

Declining to Answer: The Hallmark of Inconsistency


Thinkers can be divided into two groups.  The first group positively insists upon “straight” answers to questions.  The second group does not.  What is a “straight” answer?  It’s not always as simple as “yes” or “no”, because sometimes neither of those is most accurate.  There are five basic responses to a propositional question:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. I don’t know
  4. I don’t accept one or more premises inherent in the question
  5. I decline to answer

The first four responses are “straight” answers, the fifth response (“I decline to answer”) is the essential non-straight answer.  To show you what I mean, let’s take an example question: “are there any cats in this room?”  Either there are cats in the room or there are not – but it can’t be both.  Based on the five categories above, here are four straight answers:

  1. “There are three kittens in the corner.” (Yes)
  2. “The room is completely empty.” (No)
  3. “I am wearing a blindfold.” (I don’t know)
  4. “We are outdoors.” (I don’t accept the premise that we are in a room)

The only other possible response is some form of “I decline to answer the question”.  One example might be “it doesn’t matter whether there are any cats.”  I have not asked whether it matters, I have asked whether they are there.  Maybe I’m allergic to cats, so it matters to me!

Declining to answer is always an attempt to deceive.  If there’s no structural flaw in the question, but a person still doesn’t want to answer, it’s because they know they’ve been caught out.  Thinkers who regularly decline to answer direct questions should make you very suspicious.  Either they are confused by their own self-contradictory views, or they are actively trying to manipulate you.  The one thing they are not doing is looking for the truth.