Is a citation necessary for an argument to be valid sound and correct?

In the general context of the world of formal academia, the answer is a definitive yes … BUT … it’s not actually for the reasons so many people seem to think, and so even within the context of that academic world, the greater and more correct answer is actually no. Unfortunately, not even a lot of academics understand this, so allow me to explain.

The true purpose of citation is merely:

  1. Abbreviation;
  2. Courtesy, and;
  3. Economic pragmatism.

… that’s all it is, and not a damn thing more. So when we answer the question as “yes it is required”, that is ONLY because the academic system itself requires it in order for human beings within that system to accept your answer … BUT IT IS NOT actually a component of valid and sound arguments from the perspective of pure reasoning and formal logic.

Allow me to explain further:


Within the fields of science, and within the scientific method, there are various orders of magnitude of truth. The most foundational of which are called “proofs” and “laws”, and upon which, all other knowledge is founded.

Proofs are generally constructed from formal mathematical &/or logical arguments, where each argument is comprised of one or more mathematical &/or logical statement(s). Collectively, they form a proof.

When these proofs are then combined or interpreted, we can identify a law.

The next order down from these two, is then a theorem, which is an application of proofs, laws, and further evidence.

At the top (or foundation, however you want to look at it), proofs are fundamental, laws are derived from proofs, and theorems derived from evidence combined with these laws and proofs. Proofs are extremely specific, laws are slightly more general but nonetheless still very specific, and a theorem tends towards something a little broader, but still quite specialised … and as we head away from the specific to the general in this fashion, the level of error and uncertainty rises.

Now … Imagine if every time you wanted to write about something, you had to quote in precise detail the entirety of every single foundational piece of evidence, every principle, equation, theorem, law and proof it was based on … your scientific paper (or verbal argument) would become a nightmarishly long epic tale, which could take anything from multiple tomes, to months of discussion JUST to define the foundations, before you even begin to present your conclusions.

People seem to have forgotten this (somehow), but it is merely pragmatism to cite another work, for if that work cites its own foundations, then each work can simply include a citation, which daisy-chains from all past citations all the way back to our foundational proofs … and this saves everyone a great deal of time, because you therefore only have to read up about the parts you’re unfamiliar with, and only then if you’re actually interested in the actual proof (as opposed to trusting).

Academic Courtesy:

Secondly: if someone else is the one who discovered or proved something, and you’re just adding on to it by extrapolating new discoveries with the help of that work, then it is considered an academic courtesy to acknowledge the work of those others, rather than claiming credit by plagiarising without citation.

Economic Pragmatism:

Thirdly: there is such a vast body of scientific knowledge, that it’s impossible for anyone to know all of it, and so when a new paper is being assessed, the educational institution must keep its costs down (under the present economic paradigm), so the citation system allows a smaller academic resource base (particularly staff), to assess a greater number and diversity of papers, in an efficient manner.

Argument, Reason, Logic and Maths:

From the perspective of these things in their purest form however, a citation is utterly irrelevant … it may assist your audience, but it has no bearing at all on whether an argument is valid, sound or correct.

If you have a reasonable grasp of these fields, you can therefore prove a great many things with nothing but a series of words … BUT … the problem is, your audience may very well be ignorant of not only the facts you’re stating, but also the fact that your argument is actually it’s own evidence, because it is valid, sound, and correct.

Online debates:

So when we venture into the world of online debates, we’ll find a great many highly educated and otherwise intelligent, but either ignorant (or perhaps disingenuous) people, saying some rather stupid things … also sadly, agreeing with and supporting some very stupid & destructive conclusions … because what they fail to realise is that there’s a big difference between whether a particular science works, whether all the subsequent conclusions drawn from this fact are valid, sound and correct … thus they will not listen properly to anything contradicting it; they’ll actively attack such critiques of the science &/or its conclusions, with nothing more than the phrase “where’s your citation?” (as if somehow this constituted an end-game unassailable argument) … and ultimately, they miss the bleeding obvious fact that if a scientific paper citation was a required basis for an argument to be valid, sound and correct, human knowledge could never have advanced beyond a certain limit, because the only valid argument is therefore one that is already accepted.


So if you’re ever in a debate and someone asks for a citation, but what you have is what you believe to be a valid, sound and correct argument … AND IF they will not allow you to bring them up to speed with the knowledge they’re missing, or even consider the possibility of taking it on trust that you might know what you’re talking about … always remember this:

It’s more their loss than yours.

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