The Structure of Arguments

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  1. profile image0
    Sooner28posted 11 years ago

    After reading a critical thinking book recently, the author stumbled upon something that I think was much more fundamental than she realized, since it was only mentioned in passing and not taken up again ANYWHERE in the book.  Unfortunately, I cannot get the point out of my head.

    Every argument has certain assumptions that "make it go" so to speak.  Take the most widely used example in logic textbooks.  Socrates is mortal because he is a man.  Now, the assumption underlying this argument is that "all men are mortal."

    1.  All men are mortal.

    2.  Socrates is a man.

    3.  Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

    The conclusion appears to validly follow from the premises.  However, there are many assumptions we are simply taking for granted when we look at all arguments, including one as simple as this.  (Btw, christian theists, they MAY deny premise 1.  If you are a christian theist, I'd like to hear what your opinion is of premise 1, just for my own personal curiosity).

    From the book, "Each argument has an enormous number of assumptions, for instance that the world exists and that the argument is comprehensible.  But these assumptions don't affect our acceptance of the argument (that the world exists doesn't affect my views of a theory that capital punishment is a deterrent to criminals."

    I see her overall point, but without a world existing, it's hard to see how anything else would really be relevant at all.  Perhaps this is a fundamental assumption underlying almost EVERY argument any individual happens to make.  Sometimes, it's not necessarily relevant to address the premise, as the author points out.

    However, the assumption "this argument is comprehensible" is a vastly interesting assumption, and I think it actually can lead to a much more substantial implication than the writer of the critical thinking book actually realizes (or she did and simply didn't have the space to address it, since it would have been a major digression from the rest of the book).

    In any event, this is relevant because it is directly related to arguments about the supernatural.  Here is an example.

    1.  The Bible is the word of God.

    2.  The word of God is true (a situation where God would lie is an intriguing idea).

    3.  The Bible claims homosexuality is immoral.

    4.  Therefore, it is true that homosexuality is immoral.

    That's typically how the argument would go.  There are, however, a few other assumptions underlying this that would make the argument a little longer, but are important to understanding, such as:

    -Every claim in the argument can be fully understood (This isn't meaningful yet.  We can understand what a unicorn or fairy is without embracing their existence.  It is not as clear that we can truly understand the concept of God at all). 

    -Every claim in the argument is meaningful.

    The second assumption is EXACTLY what verificationists were attacking in their heyday, that is interwoven in every argument anyone makes.  For those not familiar with verificationism, it has one major principle: a claim is factually significant if and only if it can be verified.

    This doesn't eliminate validity at all.  The conclusion would still follow from the premises.  However, the premise that "every claim in this argument is meaningful" would be false.  How could I directly verify that the Bible is the ACTUAL word of God, or that God exists?  I can't directly perceive God or the way communication with him could possibly work.

    I'm not a verificationist, but I just wanted to throw this idea out there about each argument having many implicit assumptions that are not necessarily always straightforward.

    1. GA Anderson profile image89
      GA Andersonposted 11 years agoin reply to this

      Interesting post, but....

      Not sure what conversation you are attempting to start. The crux of your post seems to be the last statement, (shown above), and I cannot see how that could be an argued point - for me it is already a truism.

      ps. that is the direction I take on many of my forum responses - relative to emotional posts that appear to ignore that same truism

      1. profile image0
        Sooner28posted 11 years agoin reply to this

        It's more of a caution that arguments we all accept may have implicit premises that we don't even realize they have.  There's also major presuppositional worldviews in single claims, but that is a different problem.

        1. GA Anderson profile image89
          GA Andersonposted 11 years agoin reply to this

          My, my - quite the vocabulary - "presuppositional"

          but, to my point. I was really proud when my son used Descartes, (in an entrance essay), to illustrate the exact point you made, and which I agree with - to the point that I thought everyone "knew it." Which of course I didn't really believe, re. some of the forum posts here, but I thought they should know it.

          If you followed that circle you understand that I agree with your point.


          1. profile image0
            Sooner28posted 11 years agoin reply to this

            Descartes is a fun fellow.  God is not a deceiver! 

            Anyway, the assumptions are the most difficult part of the argument to figure out, and where straw men can  most easily be erected, because they can be toyed with to make an argument valid, but very clearly unsound in the process.

  2. innersmiff profile image66
    innersmiffposted 11 years ago

    Yeah I think we all have assumptions, but the beauty of logic is that you don't necessarily need to verify the assumption in order to figure out whether the syllogism or whatever is valid. You pretty much said that; what I find funny is that there isn't anywhere to stop. "If there is such a thing is a man, and there is such a thing as mortal . . . blah blah"

    1. profile image0
      Sooner28posted 11 years agoin reply to this

      That is a drawback. 

      All men are mortal.  All mortals are pink elephants.  All pink elephants eat grass.  All things that eat grass are stupid.  All things that are stupid are tall.  Therefore, all men are tall!

      1. profile image0
        riddle666posted 11 years agoin reply to this

        That is the limitation of logic.  Logic is concerned only with validity, that is whether the conclusions are drawn from the given premises. But soundness,  that is whether the premises are true,  is an entirely different matter.

        1. profile image0
          Sooner28posted 11 years agoin reply to this

          Kind of true.  Kind of not.  How's that for violating the principle that statements must be either true or false tongue.

          I must give arguments or direct empirical evidence for the truth of the premises.  I could come up with more valid arguments for each of the premises I laid out, and if you press me eventually, then I'd have to say I could no longer defend the premises with any argumentation.  But the validity could stretch back pretty far.

          This then gets into foundationalism :p.

  3. LauraD093 profile image71
    LauraD093posted 11 years ago

    Alright I may be setting myself up for intellectual ridicule here (btw I am not a Christian theist) but looking at what points used in your argument out-lining the Supernatural/God argument  these are my "assumptions" as taught through aspects of my own twisted Christian belief system.  The bible is a human interpretation of the history and teachings of God. (therefore I can assume that whoever wrote a specific Chapter and or verse was not taking dictation directly from God but was rather writing truisms riddled with interpretative thought. ) Which means (for me) that many things I have read in the bible may not be  God's "truth"  Does God lie ? Don't know- but I do assume man can or at the very least embellish or misinterpret the meaning behind many things. So I would assume:

    1. The bible is the word of God as interpreted by man (written by men and subject to personal opinion and at times gross embellishment)
    2. The Bible is truth in accordance to the assumption that the men who wrote it did not embellish or lie
         (this then allows me to discard those aspects in the Bible I choose to believe are more archaic and
          subject to metaphoric interpretation. I view certain sections of the old and new testaments as only
          historical interpretation and not verifiable fact.
    The 3rd and 4th points in the argument for me then become moot---It is also stated in the Bible that to eat of flesh on a Friday is immoral and therefore a sin- do I believe this? No more than I believe that God's intent through the men who wrote the Christian-Judea Bible centered on giving doctrine on sexual-preference I believe Jesus (God's Word Mad Flesh had bigger fish to fry or rather multiply:)  I don't recall the topic being raised during the Sermon on the Mount...Am I making sense?

    1. profile image0
      Sooner28posted 11 years agoin reply to this

      My only question is how human beings can know what the word of God actually is.

  4. tsmog profile image84
    tsmogposted 11 years ago

    Unanswerable. Who read the book must be clarified.

  5. peoplepower73 profile image89
    peoplepower73posted 11 years ago

    If man didn't exist, would God? If the assumption is that God created all things, then yes God exists without man.  However, it man didn't exists how would the word of God be documented?...something to think about!

    1. profile image0
      Sooner28posted 11 years agoin reply to this

      This is actually similar to an argument made by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, but he was only including human beings.

      He argued there was no such thing as a "private language."  Does this mean God''s ability to "use language," so to speak, is impossible without the existence of human beings?

      I haven't given this much thought, but I find it very provocative.

  6. prettydarkhorse profile image62
    prettydarkhorseposted 11 years ago

    Inductive versus Deductive

    1. tsmog profile image84
      tsmogposted 11 years agoin reply to this

      Are you suggesting Sherlock or Watson. If Sherlock then fiction, if Watson then seek IBM's DeepQA project and PI David Ferrucci. Then Ponder, word, and share.


      1. prettydarkhorse profile image62
        prettydarkhorseposted 11 years agoin reply to this

        Hi Tim, deductive - if premises are true then conclusion is true. It is the opposite of inductive which is used in scientific experiment - from particulars to general.

        Deductive Argument

        All birds have wings.
        Ratbird is a bird.
        Therefore it has wings.

        Inductive Argument

        Ratbird is a bird.
        All birds have wings.
        Ratbird has wings.

        Most people in the forum specially politics and religious ones utilize Deductive arguments.

        1. wilderness profile image95
          wildernessposted 11 years agoin reply to this

          Odd.  I've found most forum politics and religious posts to utilize arguments such as:

          All birds fly (and it ruins my argument to consider penguins and ostriches so we will ignore all counter examples)

          Ratbird is a bird

          Therefore ratbird can fly.


          All birds can fly (and I haven't seen or touched an ostriche or penguin so they don't exist)


          1. prettydarkhorse profile image62
            prettydarkhorseposted 11 years agoin reply to this

            Guilty, I am also like that sometimes, I believe what I want to believe. :-)

            But most of the times I look where the other person is coming from and if I think he/she will not change his/her premises, then it is useless arguing!

            1. wilderness profile image95
              wildernessposted 11 years agoin reply to this

              GIGO.  If the premiss is wrong, the conclusion is invalid.  It could actually be right, but is still invalid and useless as we don't actually know if it's right or wrong.

              We're all guilty of that at times, we all want to believe what makes us feel good or what limited experience tells us is true.  We just to learn how to detect those errors and correct them.

              If a person starts with a false premiss, and won't consider changing it, then yes, it is a useless debate.

              1. prettydarkhorse profile image62
                prettydarkhorseposted 11 years agoin reply to this

                Me, agree to all you just said :-)

              2. prettydarkhorse profile image62
                prettydarkhorseposted 11 years agoin reply to this

                Me, agree to all you just said :-)

              3. profile image0
                Sooner28posted 11 years agoin reply to this

                You don't understand fundamental logic vernacular.  You aren't the only one though.  Many people make the same mistakes with terms, who I find to be very intelligent.

                An argument is valid based on the relationship of the premises to the conclusion.  It has NOTHING to do with the truth of the premises.  Anyone who has studied elementary logic at all learns this very quickly, usually in the first or second chapter of an introductory textbook.

                An invalid argument is one where the premises do not NECESSARILY support the conclusion.  All inductive arguments are technically "invalid," but then they are evaluated based on "degrees of support."

                A valid argument with false premise is simply unsound.  It only takes ONE false premise to be unsound.  If you have two or more false premises, there is no special name for that.

                For example:

                All humans are mortal.  All mortals are are bubbly.  Therefore, all humans are bubbly.  This is a VALID argument, but it's unsound because the second premise is false.  However, the conclusion still follows from the premises given.

                1. wilderness profile image95
                  wildernessposted 11 years agoin reply to this

                  You are correct in that an argument is valid regardless of the truth of the premiss. 

                  The conclusion however, is not and that's what I said.  A conclusion produced by logic must have valid and correct premisses to start with or it has no validity regardless of how correct the logical sequence producing it is.

                  1. profile image0
                    Sooner28posted 11 years agoin reply to this

                    I don't know exactly what you are saying.  A "conclusion isn't valid, but the argument itself is."  An argument by definition needs a conclusion!  We don't just assert reasons in the dark (at least hopefully not).  That sounds a bit odd.

                    The conclusion necessarily follows from the premises of a valid argument.  It doesn't mean the conclusion is, like you point out.  But if the premise are true, and the argument is valid, then the conclusion is also true.

                    The truth of the premises is irrelevant to whether the conclusion follows from the said premises, like the example I used with mortals and bubbliness.  Obviously that conclusion was false, but it necessarily followed, so the conclusion was validly obtained, and the argument could be referred to as valid.

                    There are only two ways to attack a valid argument: either develop an entirely different conception of what logic is so the premises can be affirmed the conclusion denied (which most of us are not going to be doing), or deny the truth of one of the premises.  It is a logical crime to deny the conclusion of a valid argument without denying the truth of one or more premises.

                    Let's use one of the most famous arguments for God's existence.

                    All that begins to exist has a cause.  The universe began to exist.  Therefore, the universe has a cause.  There's more to this argument, but this is the basic foundation.

                    I CANNOT, if I want to be rational, deny that the universe has a cause without denying one of the premises, or pointing to some fallacy the argument makes.  The conclusion is valid.  Whether it's true or not depends mostly on the truth of the premises. 

                    There could be a valid argument with false premises that still has a true conclusion, but that is a little more technical.

                    In order to show a conclusion is false, one would have to make a positive argument against the position of the one in question.  It's not enough to show that the argument fails, either by being invalid or using false premises.  If I am trying to argue for the existence of God, and an atheist pokes holes in all of my arguments for the existence of God, God could still exist!  The atheist would have to give a positive argument against the existence of God in order to establish that God does not exist.  If theistic arguments all fail, agnosticism is the best conclusion to draw without a positive argument against God.

        2. tsmog profile image84
          tsmogposted 11 years agoin reply to this

          Hello. Not sure. Just waking up, stuck in 'theta', yet tired, odd and not even, seek the ship and forgive a bit and a byte of wandering. The precept of word association and spontaneity is the theme for this exercise.




          Pause for thought.

 … .15-30.pdf


          Now how about a Rat*Rod instead of a rat*bird. Rat = basic form 396 motor in stock form. Bored and stroked it becomes a 427 raging powerhouse with a bunch of torque. Then, transportation had a need, historically, and then providence sought a 454 motor and much more torque to move all those products across state line(s). Sad, yet not, that motor seems to work well for naturally aspirated, although a Hemispherical motor works much better with Nitro producing upward to 8,000 horsepower. The wedge just didn't work well, it seems. However, if one peeks a bit it was a 'mouse' motor that brought about the advent of change, yet was an old shoe workhorse too.

          Interestingly is the inline 4 - 1.6 powerhouse in a Honda 'Fit' produces more horsepower than a 2.8 V-6 of the now defunct Pontiac-Oldsmobile design, seems timing of valves and ignition has something to do with it being a variable. Seems all those manual transmission mopeds were learning more than not. Leonardo da Vinci somewhere around 1490 conceived with illustrations and writing a variable transmission. We are just now capitalizing on that concept this century more than past.

          1. prettydarkhorse profile image62
            prettydarkhorseposted 11 years agoin reply to this

            I will have to read these when I have time this week :-)

            1. tsmog profile image84
              tsmogposted 11 years agoin reply to this

              Hello Prettydarkhorse. I skim more than read. Then I go back looking for particulars of purpose, which today is writting hubs. The article from Ohio Ed does open doors of opportunity regarding visual media, hubs, and delivering messages to the reader.

              Thank you prettydarkhorse for the opportunity of an adventure with learning and discovery. Inspiration sometmes is a butterfly, other times a bolt of lightning, and sometimes as simple as a word.

              tim smile

              1. prettydarkhorse profile image62
                prettydarkhorseposted 11 years agoin reply to this

                But I read and think about it even the methodology like that, so bear with me.  I'll get back here when I am done reading.
                "Inspiration sometmes is a butterfly, other times a bolt of lightning, and sometimes as simple as a word." - you are a poet.
                Thank you too!

  7. LauraD093 profile image71
    LauraD093posted 11 years ago

    prettydarkdark-Guilty as charged- you are right,although now that I am aware of it I think it would be interesting for me to flip the script and see some topics posted through a different perspective. sooner28 this is why I follow your forums and hubs they challenge my ole tired brain to re-think or reflect on less superficial things-when I want to go deep I always give your work a peek-keep them coming it may stave off dementia for me down the line.

    1. prettydarkhorse profile image62
      prettydarkhorseposted 11 years agoin reply to this

      You are doing good ;-)

  8. LauraD093 profile image71
    LauraD093posted 11 years ago

    oops sorry prettydarkhorse...not enough synapses firing yet.

  9. prettydarkhorse profile image62
    prettydarkhorseposted 11 years ago

    To tsmog

    ok I have read it, not thoroughly. Reductive reasoning is simplification of arguments or how you organize arguments into simple causes. And the conclusion derived form the study are : the participants look at cause and effect. Translating to arguments, it is just a way of breaking it down. Make sense.



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