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Introduction to Arguments

Introduction to Arguments

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Differentiate an argument from statements that are not arguments.

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Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

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Hi. I'm Glenn. And welcome to the ethics tutorial on introduction to arguments. Let's begin by covering the topics for this tutorial.

In this tutorial, we will introduce elements of arguments by first covering the definition and elements of arguments. Then we will consider what are called factual claims. We will also consider inferential claims and distinguish them from non-inferential claims. And we will have examples to illustrate these points.

In philosophy, an argument has a specific understanding. Basically, it's a situation where a statement or statements is used in support for another statement. Specifically for this tutorial, an argument is a group of statements containing at least one factual claim and one inferential claim.

Central to an argument is the idea of support. Some of the statements, known as premises, are in support of another statement, known as the conclusion. Notably, all reasoning, either implicit or explicit-- that is, either indirect or direct-- uses argumentation, uses these notions of support and what is being supported.

Premises of arguments often involve factual claims. And we need to make a brief distinction between a factual claim and a fact. For our purposes, the facts are states of affairs that occur in the world, and we can verify them as being true or false.

They are often specific statements, such as, this robin has an orange breast. This is true. If I said, this bird is a fish, that would be false. Both of these are statements of fact and you can see them as true or false.

Factual claims are a bit more general. And these are what occur most often in arguments as a premise. A true factual claim would be-- most birds have feathers. A false factual claim would be-- toads can fly. We can see that factual claims then operate in terms of being true or false.

Inferential claims are a little bit different. Whereas factual claims are about specific statements, inferential claims are made by the entire argument. And an inferential claim then is a claim that the premises support the conclusion.

It is a conclusion based upon both facts and reasoning. However, it is not a guarantee, because we need to see whether or not the premises do, in fact, support the conclusion. And two examples will help us.

First, a good inferential claim where the conclusion is supported by the premises-- every man is mortal, Glenn is a man, therefore Glenn is mortal. The conclusion does follow. Because every man is mortal and I am a man, I am therefore mortal.

However, with a little changing of the words, we can see a different inferential claim which is not supported by the premises. We could say that every man is mortal, Scooter is mortal, therefore Scooter is a man. This does not follow because the relationship between the premises does not support the conclusion.

It does not follow that because Scooter is mortal that Scooter is therefore a man. In fact, the Scooter I am referring to was my first cat. Cats are mortal, so the premise was true, but cats are not men. So the inference is not supported by the joining of the two premises.

There are also claims that are non-inferential, in that they are not trying to persuade us of anything and they're not using premises to support a conclusion. Examples of non-inferential claims are the following-- you could have a report, such as a weather report, where you say that the weather radar shows a high probability of rain today. There are no premises supporting a conclusion here.

We also have non-inferential claims that are beliefs and opinions, such as, I think human nature is good. I'm simply telling you what I think. We could have warnings, such as, don't stick a knife in the light socket, or advice-- take cover during a thunderstorm. All of these are examples of non-inferential claims that are not arguments.

So we can see that arguments involve both factual and inferential claims. Now let's look at four examples to see how both good and bad factual claims are involved with good and bad inferential claims.

First, one with good facts and a bad inference. This broccoli tasted terrible tonight, therefore all broccoli must taste terrible. This is an example of good facts, but a bad inference.

How about bad facts and a good inference? Squares are circles, circles are geometric objects, therefore squares are geometric objects. The reasoning works in this one, but the first premise is false, because squares are not circles.

You could have good facts and a good inference. Let's say you walk into a classroom and there is a person upfront who is looking at papers and facing the class. You conclude that this person is probably the teacher. Good facts and a good inference. This is a reasonable argument.

Or you could have the worst-- bad facts and a bad inference-- such as, our family has always gone to grandmother's for Thanksgiving, therefore our family should therefore always go to grandma's for Thanksgiving. Clearly, we have not done this forever, so the first premise is false. And the conclusion doesn't follow, because just because something has been done in the past doesn't mean we must necessarily continue it in the future.

In summary, we have covered an introduction to elements of arguments. We've covered the definition of an argument as a group of statements containing at least one factual claim and at least one inferential claim. Factual claims are those that some fact or facts obtained in the world. Inferential claims are those where the premises support the conclusion. We also looked at some non-inferential claims and four examples.

Terms to Know

A group of statements containing both a factual claim or claims and an inferential claim or claims

Factual Claim

A claim that some fact or facts obtain in the world

Inferential Claim

A claim that the premises support the conclusion