Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Understanding and Recognizing Arguments Part 1 of 3

You will start to notice how people use certain phrasing and ideas to persuade you by slipping under your critical radar...and why it works so effectively.

So far, we've seen thinking is concerned with REASONS; identifying reasons, evaluating reasons, and giving reasons.

Passages that present reasons for a claim are called 'arguments'.
An argument is simply a claim defended with reasons. A CLAIM...DEFENDED WITH REASONS. (Promises and proof, anyone?)

Arguments are composed of one or more premises and a conclusion.

'Premises' are statements in an argument offered as evidence or reasons why we should accept another statement, the conclusion.
The 'conclusion' is the statement in an argument that the premises are intended to prove or support.
An 'argument', is a group of statements, one or more of which (called the premises) are intended to prove or support another statement (called the conclusion).
A 'statement' is a sentence that can be viewed as either true or false. (i.e. Red is a color, God does not exist, Abortion is morally wrong, Canada is in South America...etc.)

Some 'statements' are true, some are false, and some are controversial. Each of them is a statement, because each can be prefaced with the phrase 'It is true that' or 'It is false that'.

Four things should be noted about statements...

1. A sentence may be used to express more than one statement (i.e. 'Roses are red and violets are blue' = statement 1 'roses are red', statement 2 'violets are blue)

2. Statements can sometimes be expressed as a phrase, or incomplete clause rather than a complete declarative sentence. (i.e. "With mortagage interest rates at thirty year lows, you owe it to yourself to consider refinancing your home" = 1 'you owe it to yourself to consider refinancing your home', 2 'mortgage interest rates at thirty year lows')

3. Not all sentences are statements, that is, sentences that either assert or deny something is the case. (sentences that are not statements ie.
'what time is it?' (question)
'Hi mom' (greeting)
'close the window! (command)
'Please send me a card' (request)
'Let's go to florida this year' (proposal)
'Insert A into slot B' (instruction)
'Oh my god!' (exclamation))
None of these is a statement because none of them asserts or denies that anything is the case. None say 'This is a fact. Accept this; it is true'. Consequently, sentences like these are not parts of arguments.

4. Statements can be about subjective matters of personal experience as well as objectively verifiable matters of fact.
'I feel a slight pain in my arm' is a statement cause it's true or false (you could be lying too) even though people have no way of verifying whether you're telling the truth.

Some sentences that looks like nonstatements are actually statements and can be used in arguments.
1. You should quit smoking. Don't you realize how bad that is for your health?
2. Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

1. is a 'Rhetorical Question'. A rhetorical question is a sentence that has grammatical form of a question but is meant to be understood as a statement. You're not looking for information, you're making an assertion: that smoking is very bad for one's health. This assertion is offered as a reason (premise) to support the conclusion that you should quit smoking.

2. is an 'Ought Imperative', which is a sentence that has the form of a command or imperative but is intended to assert a value or ought judgement about what is good or bad or right or wrong. Gramatically "do not read beauty magazines" looks like a command or suggestion. In this context, the speaker is making an assertion: that you shouldn't read beauty magazines. 
The statement that reading such magazines will only make you feel ugly is offered as a reason to support this value judgement. The key question to ask, in order to recognize whether a
sentence that looks like a command or suggestion is an ought imperative, is: Can we accurately rephrase the sentence so that it refers to what somebody should or ought to do? If we can, the sentence should be regarded as a statement.
'Close the window! It's freezing in here!' is an order, not an ought judgement.
'Don't blow-dry your hair in the tub! You could electrocute yourself!' is an ought judgement rather than an order or suggestion.

Remember to consider the context in which the expression is used. 'Eat your vegetables' might be a command (nonstatement) in one context and an ought imperative (statement) in another.

In summary of Part 1 of 3 of this section...imperative sentences are not statements if they are intended as orders, suggestions, proposals or exhortations. They are statements if they are intended as pieces of advice or value judgements about what someone ought or ought not to do.

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