PP217 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Fallacy, Assisted Suicide

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20 Feb 2017
I. Arguments
i. Conclusions and Reasons
A conclusion is a statement that someone is trying to prove true. We often use words like
"claim" and "position" to refer to a conclusion.
Now, a rational person doesn't accept a claim just because someone asserts it: we want to
be given reasons for agreeing with a conclusion. An argument is a set of reasons given in
support of a claim. If an argument works (is sound, or informally, good) then it proves
that the conclusion is true.
The most important point here is simply this: arguments and conclusions are not the
same thing! Remember, an argument is the set of reasons given for accepting a
conclusion; the conclusion to an argument is what it aims to prove. A conclusion can be true
even if an argument is not sound; but if an argument is sound, the conclusion must be true.
Again: whether an argument is good and whether a conclusion is true are two different
A consequence is that when we look for counter-arguments or responses to arguments for a
particular conclusion, it will not do simply to attack the conclusion: it is the argument,
the reasons given for accepting the conclusion, that we need to attack. Only if the argument
is unsound can the conclusion be false (of course, showing that an argument fails is only
half the job: one must still show there is no other argument that will establish the
Let's make this more concrete with some examples. Here is a simple argument:
Premise 1: Xanthippe is a woman.
Premise 2: All women are mortal.
Conclusion: Therefore, Xanthippe is mortal.
This argument consists of two statements, or premises, which if both true will ensure that
the conclusion is true. Now, there are two ways we might try to counter this argument.
Providing evidence that Xanthippe is immortal is not one of them: that attacks the
conclusion, not the argument. We usually need to show why the argument isn't sound, if we
are to convince someone who disagrees. The first way we can do this is by showing that one
of the premises is false or doubtful either that Xanthippe is not a woman, or that some
women are not mortal. Second, we can try to show that even if both premises are true, the
conclusion doesn't follow. This next argument is unsound in this second way:
Premise 1: Xanthippe is a woman.
Premise 2: All dogs have tails.
Conclusion: Therefore, Xanthippe has a tail.
Clearly, the conclusion doesn't follow-it's a complete non sequitur. Some arguments fail in
more subtle ways, of course; the Sorites Fallacy is one which we will see in a few weeks.
ii. Reading Arguments
Not every argument gets spelled out in terms of an explicit list of premises and a
conclusion, as we have done above. In fact, it is very rare that authors are so clear. Part of
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