Recognizing Arguments

Reading Assignment: 1.2 (pp. 14-21)

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In this lesson you will be distinguishing between arguments and other passages or groups of statements that are not arguments. We are focusing simply on whether the group of statements are intended as an argument, not whether it is a good or bad argument--that part comes later. The best way to determine whether a group of statements is an argument is by using common sense to see what is going on in the passage. Is there an attempt at persuasion, i.e., is there a conclusion, and if so what is it? And secondly, are there reasons given in support of the conclusion, i.e., are there premise(s)?

In making an argument the arguer is making two claims. These claims may be explicit or merely implied, but they must be there. One is the factual claim, the claim that the premises given are in fact true, and the other the claim of inference, the claim that the premises are connected to the conclusion in such a way that they prove or support it. This inferential relationship between the premises and the conclusion is the main point of this course, we will be examining it in many ways from many angles.

Next time you give an argument check yourself and see that you are also making these two claims. You will be! What would it mean to give someone a reason to believe something if you didn't intend for that person to think the reason was a true statement? (I don't necessarily mean that you think it's a true statement--you could be lying--but they must think that you think it is for the process of giving a reason to make sense)

Similarly with the claim of inference--the claim that the premise has bearing on the conclusion. What would it mean to give a reason for something if it were clear to everyone involved that you don't see any relationship between the premise and the conclusion? I don't know whether there is an example of such a verbal exchange in Alice in Wonderland, but if there isn't, there should be.

A good method for determining that a passage is not an argument is to recognize what it is instead. The reading discussed nine different types of passages that resemble arguments at first glance but are actually something quite different. Pay special attention in your reading to the differences between conditional statements and arguments and explanations and arguments.


Refer to this chart to refresh your memory:

Warning no reasons given
Piece of advice no reasons given
Statement of belief/opinion no real support given
Loosely associated statements no inferential relationship
Report simply states facts (e.g. newspaper articles)
Expository passage not trying to prove anything, just expanding on a topic
Illustration gives examples only
Conditional statement If . . . then statement (an if . . . then statement is not an argument in itself, but arguments are often composed of several if . . . then statements) What follows the "if" is called the antecedent (this is the condition) and what follows the "then" is called the consequent (this is what will result if the condition is fulfilled).
Explanation Explains why something is the case. An explanation is sometimes difficult to distinguish from an argument because it also involves reasons (and even "premise" indicator words) But, unlike an argument, where the conclusion is the "new" information, in an explanation, the statement being explained--the explanandum, the part of the passage that looks like a conclusion--is usually a commonly accepted fact. The explanans, which can look like premises, are the "new" information in an explanation, whereas the premises are the accepted fact in an argument.

When you feel confident that you have mastered these concepts, do the True/False exercise on p. 32 in the textbook. (section V) You can check your answers in the appendix at the end of this study guide.

Then do exercises 1. I 1-30 on your Logic Coach Software. If you need more practice, feel free to do more.

When you are ready, complete the following assignment, using the book as little as possible. Hand in the following assignment together with a copy of your logic coach record screen. For more detailed instructions on doing this click here.



Determine which of the following passages are arguments and which are one of the nine other types of passages. For those that are arguments, rewrite them as in Lesson #1. For those that are not arguments, label them according to what they are. Explain your answers if you wish. (10 points each)

1. If this chewing gum contains sugar, then it's fattening. But if it's fattening, then you shouldn't buy any. Thus, if this chewing gum contains sugar, then you shouldn't buy any.

2. The world bank is planning to loan Uganda $15 million to help improve government economic agencies. The purpose of the loan is to allow Uganda to rebuild a governmental apparatus that fell into disrepair under the dictatorship of Idi Amin. Uganda has 50 years to repay the loan.

3. Silver, mercury, and all the other metals except iron and zinc, are insoluble in diluted sulfuric acid, because they have insufficient affinity with oxygen to draw it off from its combination with the sulfurous acid.

4. Freedom of the press is the most important of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Without it our other freedoms would be immediately threatened. Furthermore, it provides the opportunity for the advancement of new freedoms.

5. It is strongly recommended that you go to college if you want to get a good-paying job.

6. Young people at universities study to achieve knowledge, and not to learn a trade. We must all learn how to support ourselves, but we must also learn how to live. We need a lot of engineers in the modern world, but we do not want a world of modern engineers.

7. If the graduate program at the state university fails to provide sufficient applicants to fulfill positions in the state government, then the graduate program will risk a reduction in its funds.

8. Several nations now possess the technology to manufacture nuclear weapons, even though they may not actually have built such weapons. Thus, the world is in much greater danger of a nuclear confrontation than one might at first think.

9. Many of the stores in this town are closed on Sunday evening; for instance, Mayberry's, Webster's and The Clothes Rack all close at 6:00 on Sunday.

10. If the earth's magnetic field disappears, then the Van Allen radiation belt will be destroyed. If the Van Allen radiation belt is destroyed, then intense cosmic rays will bombard the earth. Therefore, if the earth's magnetic field is destroyed, intense cosmic rays will bombard the earth.

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