What is an Word Argument?October 15, 2018
The word argument has more than one meaning. In this book we will not use the word in the sense of being unpleasantly argumentative. Instead, it will mean at least one conclusion supported by one or more reasons, all of which are statements.
It takes only one person to have our kind of argument, not two. Saying that two people are “in an argument” means that there are two arguments, not one, in our sense of “argument.” Each of the two persons has his or her own argument. In short, our word argument is a technical term with a more precise meaning than it has in ordinary conversation.
Statements that serve as reasons in an argument are also called premises. Nothing to do with the yard sign that says, “Keep off the premises.” Any argument must have one or more premises. And it will have one or more “inference steps” taking you from the premises to the conclusion. The simplest arguments have just one step. Here is an example of a very simple argument that takes you to the conclusion in just one inference step from two premises:
If it’s raining, we should take the umbrella. It is raining.
So, we should take the umbrella.
Match the numbers with the letters.
- Only a claim, with no reasons given to back it up.
- An argument using bad reasons.
- An argument using good reasons (assuming that the arguer is being truthful).
- None of the above.
- What time does the movie start?
- This card can save you a lot of money.
- Vote Republican in the next election because doing so will solve almost all the world’s problems.
- John Adams was the second president of the United States. My history teacher said so, and I looked it up on Wikipedia with my phone.
To find out whether an argument is present, you need to use your detective skills. Ask yourself whether the speaker gave any reason for saying what was said. If you get a satisfactory answer to your own question, then you probably have detected an argument, and you’ve uncovered its conclusion and premises. In detecting an argument, your main goal is to locate the conclusion, then the reasons given for that conclusion, while mentally deleting all the other sentences and phrases that are not part of the argument.
For any conclusion, the premises used directly to support it are called its basic premises. In a more complicated argument, there may be reasons for the reasons, and so on. But these reasons for the reasons are not part of the core. The core of the argument is the conclusion plus its basic premises. Every argument has to start somewhere, so it is not a good criticism of an argument to complain that all its premises have not been argued for.
Select the one best choice for the conclusion of Sanderson’s argument in the following disagreement.
Sanderson: Do you realize just what sort of news you get on a half-hour American TV news program?
Harris: Yes, newsy news. What do you mean?
Sanderson: Brief news, that’s what.
Harris: Brief news like boxer shorts?
Sanderson: Ha! Look at a time breakdown of the average half-hour news program broadcast on American TV. It is nine minutes of news!
Harris: What’s the rest?
Sanderson: Eleven minutes of commercials, six of sports, and four of weather. You can’t do much in nine minutes. I say nine is not enough if you are going to call it the “news.” What do you think?
Harris: It is enough for me. News can be boring. Besides, if the American public didn’t like it, they wouldn’t watch it. Sanderson: Now that’s an interesting but ridiculous comment. But I’ve got to go now; we can talk again later. Sanderson’s conclusion is
- If the American public didn’t like brief TV news, they wouldn’t watch it.
- Do you realize just what sort of news you get in a half-hour American TV news program?
- That’s an interesting but ridiculous comment [about the American public’s taste].
- There is not enough news on a thirty-minute TV news program in America.
- An average half-hour American TV news program is eleven minutes of commercials, nine of news, six of sports, and four of weather.
After choosing Sanderson’s conclusion from the above list, comment on the quality of his argument for that conclusion.