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Level 3.1: Arguments vs Non-Arguments

In everyday life, the word “argument” is often used to refer to a disagreement, or sometimes even a physical fight, between two or more people. In contrast, philosophers and logicians use the word “argument” to refer to sets of statements of a particular type.

All arguments are sets of statements, but are all sets of statements arguments? The answer to this question is “No”. Consider the following sets of statements:

“If it rains, the ground will become muddy. And if the ground becomes muddy, you will need your gumboots. Therefore, if it rains, you will need your gumboots.”

“Most of the spectators went home after half time. The home team was so dominant, that the game had become boring.”

“Clearly, your mother’s car has to be a Corolla. After all, it’s a Toyota, and all Corollas are Toyotas.”

The first and third sets of statements count as arguments, but the second set does not. To count as an argument, a  set of statements must include a conclusion, a statement that is being argued for, and premises, statements that support – or give reasons to accept the truth of – the conclusion.

Consider the first set of statements again:

“If it rains, the ground will become muddy. And if the ground becomes muddy, you will need your gumboots. Therefore, if it rains, you will need your gumboots.”

The conclusion that is being argued for here is:

“If it rains then the ground will become muddy.”

How do we know that this is the conclusion? The giveaway is the word “therefore” that comes right before this statement. “Therefore” is a conclusion indicator. When you see or hear the word  “therefore” you know that the statement that follows will be a conclusion.

Some Commonly Occurring Conclusion Indicators

“Therefore …”

“So …”

“Thus …”

“It follows that …”

“Hence …”

“Consequently …”

Sometimes it is the presence of conclusion indicators that gives away the fact that we are looking at an argument. Premise indicators can do a similar job. Consider again the third set of statements from above:

“Clearly, your mother’s car has to be a Corolla. After all, it’s a Toyota, and all Corollas are Toyotas.”

The conclusion of this argument is:

“Your mother’s car is a Corolla.”

How do we know that this is the conclusion? The phrase “After all …” is the giveaway. “After all …” is a premise indicator, and like all premise indicators it tells us that we have just been presented with a conclusion, and that what immediately follows will be one or more premises: i.e. one or more statements put forward in support of the conclusion that has been presented.

Some Commonly Occurring Premise Indicators

“ … since …”

“Firstly, … secondly, …”

“After all, …”

“For …”

“This may be inferred / deduced / derived from the fact that …”

Consider again the second set of statements presented above:

“Most of the spectators went home after half time. The home team was so dominant, that the game had become boring.”

Unlike the first and the third sets of statements, this set of statements does not contain any terms or phrases to indicate that one or more of the statements is being presented as a premise in support of one of the others, where the latter would count as a conclusion. What are we are looking at, therefore, is a set of statements that although related to one another do not constitute an argument.