What is an argument? Very often we consider an argument as merely a disagreement between two or more individuals. In this section of our lectures we will attempt to define “argument” using the principles we learned in the earlier chapters.
Functional – An argument is a composition whose primary purpose is to persuade a person – convince (note – at this point I will a claim that the use of the word “persuade” is inappropriate on the grounds that, as the author so rightly presented, persuasion is an indirect attempt to convince a person of a particular idea or action all the arguments we will be considering in this context are direct attempts to convince) a person by appealing to the persons reasoning capacity. This is a functional – utilitarian definition since it focuses on the use of an argument. What an argument does. In this light any attempt to convince could be seen as argumentation as long as there is a conclusion (implied or expressed) and evidence (implied or expressed).
Explanatory – emphasis here is on structural features rather than functional features. An argument is a composition (group of propositions) consisting of a set of assertions, one of which is called the “thesis” or “conclusion. The conclusion is said to depend on or be supported by the other propositions (premises)
Four skills areas:
A. Argument Analysis
Argument Identification – Distinguishing an argument from other forms of discourse (jokes, narratives, greetings, instructions) is a matter of understanding the author’s intentions. There may be an appeal to the functional definition of argument. The basic difference between non-argumentative statements and arguments is one of intended purpose. (p.71) Be careful of the use of signal word that are only intended as a portion of an explanation and not used to introduce premises or conclusions. (For example, “You should fill the tank of your car because it ran out of gas.” – explanation - as compared with “The car stopped because it ran out of gas.” – argument. 9Can you fill in the missing premise?)
Argument Evaluation – Premises and conclusions - Def. – premise – claims offered in support of the conclusion. Conclusion – the point of the argument, thesis, the proposition or claim the premises are offered to support.
Signal Words – When arguments are embedded in larger contexts it may be difficult to isolate the argument intended. This isolation is essential in order for analysis. Certain words can be used for indictors. These are signal words. Some words point to conclusions. Some words point to premises. Conclusion Signal Words – so, thus, therefore, consequently, finally, in conclusion, it shows that, etc. Premise Signal Words – since, because, for, after all, inasmuch as, for this reason, etc. Often there will exist words or phrases that establish and rank the importance of the premises – “in the first place, secondly, third etc.” There may also exist some arguments that do not have any signal words. These are very tricky and the listener must make the person establishing the argument state exactly the conclusion being argued. “What’s the point?” is a good question to begin with for clearing up the ambiguity inherent in such argument forms.
Unexpressed conclusions and premises: Conclusions and/or premises are sometimes only implied in an argument. It is up to the listener to “fill in the blanks’. That is supplying the missing premises and/or conclusion. This ability is extremely important in order for the structure of the argument. Take for example the claim. “All who can’t do, teach.” What is the implied conclusion? (What is the intended inference if this is said to or about an educator?) It is your job as a technician is to supply the missing conclusion. By the way, this argument when analyzed will turn out to be invalid. This process of deductive analysis will be more fully discussed in chapter 6 – deduction. An argument containing an inferential assumption is called an enthymeme. (Further discussion of this subject in chapter 5)
Premise support: There is no simple way to determine how much support is needed to substantiate a premise or an argument’s conclusion (p.84) Very often it will be the job of the technician (investigator) to distinguish between the types of support being offered in an argument. The investigator must be able to determine whether the data being offered is being used directly to support the conclusion of whether the evidence being provided is being used to substantiate another premise. In our discussion of hypotheses we will find that often a hypothesis is composed of sub-hypotheses. In the same light, premises very often will not stand alone but need to be “substantiated” – that is given substance. Just as a hypothesis is only as strong as the weakest sub-hypothesis, a premise that relies on other premises for its existence is only as good as the weakest of these premises – the least verifiable.