Thursday, April 24, 2008

Understanding and Recognizing Arguments Part 3 of 3

How to tell an argument from a nonargument. In one part, you will see how copywriters use IF-THEN statement to sell you, and why they work so well. Plus, you'll learn how marketers misuse illustrations to appear more sincere then they are.

Something counts as an argument when it is a group of two or more statements and one of those statements (the conclusion) is claimed or intended to be supported by the others (the premises).

5 type of nonarguments, that are sometimes confused with arguments are:

1. Reports - The purpose of a report is simply to convey information about a subject. It narrates and informs versus offering reasons why one statement should be accepted over the basis of others. This is one reason marketers use 'disguised reports'. However, the logical person is able to decipher a report from an argument and then evaluate the argument if need be. Real tricky. You need caution when you have reports about arguments. These reports are NOT arguments because the author is merely reporting another person's argument, not endorsing it or putting it forward as his own. THIS IS USED BY MARKETERS FOR PRECISELY THAT REASON...and it is VERY persuasive since you don't recognize it.

2. Unsupported assertions - These are statements about what a speaker or writer happens to believe. They can be true, false, rational or irrational but they are only parts of arguments if the writer or speaker claims that they follow from, or support, other claims. If there is no claim any of the statements follow from, or imply, any other statements, this is not an argument.

3. Conditional statements - A conditional statement is an if-then statement. The first part of the statement(s) following the words if, is called the antecedent. The second part of the statement(s) following the word then, is called the consequent. A conditional statement does not need to be in 'if-then' format. Often times, the word 'then' is dropped (i.e. 'In the event of rain, the picnic will be cancelled' versus 'If it rains, then the picnic will be cancelled.') Conditional statements are not arguments because there is no claim that any statement follows from any part of a conditional statement. In other words, we're simply stating that if the first statement is true, the second statement will also be true. Using this, you are not claiming any of the statements are true. Thus, you have not put forward any premises or reasoned to any conclusions. In fact, you've only asserted a single claim: that one statement is true on the condition that the other statement(s) are/is true. As we've stated before, no single claim by itself is ever an argument. Conditional statements, accordingly, are not arguments. They can be PARTS of arguments however. (i.e. "If you fail to think critically, you'll be taken advantage of. You'll fail to think critically. So, you'll be taken advantage of.") Arguments can even be composed entirely of conditional statements. (i.e. If you succeed at getting him to buy, you'll have money. If you have money, you'll be rich. So if you succeed at getting him to buy, you'll be rich!) THESE ARE SOMETIMES CALLED CHAIN ARGUMENTS because the antecedent (the if part) of the first statement is linked to the consequent (the then part) of the last statement by a chain of intervening conditional statements.

4. Illustrations - These are intended to provide examples of a claim, rather than prove or support the claim. (i.e. Many animals are edible. For example, hog and beef are delicious between bread) The second statement does provide some evidence for the first, however the aformentioned passage is an illustration rather than an argument. It's purpose is not to provide convincing evidence for a conclusion bu merely to provide a few notable or representative examples of a claim. It can be tricky deciphering arguments from illustrations because phrases like 'for example' and 'for instance' sometimes occur in arguments rather than illustrations. You can use the 'principle of charity' when you are not sure what the intention of the author was. In other words, if the illustration used does not provide sufficient evidence for the claim being made, it is most often an illustration rather than an argument. IN MARKETING, however, the author is most likely using the illustration as an argument.

5. Explanations - Consider these two statements...
Titanic sank because it struck an iceberg.
Copywriting should be abolished because innocent people may be mistakenly led into harmful situations.
The first statement is an explanation. The second statement is an argument. An 'explanation' tries to show [/i] [i]why something is the case, not to prove that it is the case. The speaker isn't trying to argue that Titanic sank - everybody knows it sank. Instead, he's explaining why it sank. Of course, you can argue about whether a given explanation is or is not correct. For instance:
'Dinosaurs became extinct because of the impact of a large steroid'
The fact that this explanation is controversial (i.e. can be argued about) doesn't mean that it is an argument.
The purpose of the passage is not to argue that dinosaurs became extinct but to explain why they became extinct.
Explanations have two parts:
Explanandum - the statement that is explained
Explanans - the statement that does the explaining
i.e. 'I fell down because I tripped'
Explanandum - 'I fell down''
Explanans - 'I tripped'
In every day life, we use explanations and arguments interchangeably, thus why there is such confusion in this area. It is important to be able to distinguish arguments from explanations because the standards for evaluating them are quite different.

How do you distinguish arguments from explanations? There are four basic tests I'll explain in the next section.

How to recognize an argument from an explanation. This is extremely useful in breaking apart sales letters and getting ready to evaluate whether a sales letter is put together with strong form or weak form.

The common knowledge test - First, is the statement that the passage seeks to prove or explain a matter of common knowledge? If it is, the passage is probably an explanation rather than an argument. There's usually little point in trying to prove something that is already a well-known fact...unless you're a marketer of course.

The past event test - Second, is the statement that the passage is seeking to prove or explain an event that occured in the past? If so, the passage is probably an explanation rather than an argument because it is much more common to explain why past events have occured rather than to prove that they occured.

The author's intent test - Third, is it the speaker's or writer's intent to prove or establish that something is the case - that is, to provide reasons or evidence for accepting a claim as true? Or is it his intent to explain why something is the case - that is, to offer an account of why some event has occured or why something is the way it is? If the former, the passage is an argument; if the latter, the passage is an explanation.

The principle of charity test - We've previously explained this test.

None of these four test are full proof and none of these tests work ALL the time.

In the next section, I'll give you the basic logical concepts needed to distinguish good arguments from bad ones, so you can distinguish when someone is trying to persuade you negatively - and why copywriters use this all the time...usually in wrong way.

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