PHI 1101 PReasoning and Critical Thinking
Chapter 3: The Structure ofArguments:
• Arguments are organized and connected set of statements, some of which are called
premises and others conclusions. The premises support the conclusion.
• No conclusion, no argument!
• Ex. Of an argument:
• [P] My dog was sick last night and that’s why (conclusion indicator) we had to pay a
visit to the vet [C].
• Ex. Of a non-argument:
• Last night we went to Babylon and we met our Moroccan friend who was wearing a
leather jacket. I found that the leather jacket suited him well. My husband didn’t
think so. But all in all we had a good time at Babylon.
• What is the difference between the two examples?
• (This is merely a description, an account of what happened last night. There is no cause
• Arguments can be of any length, from one statement to a whole book.
• Keep in mind that premises and conclusions don’t always coincide with grammatical
• Arguments may have as many premises as necessary.
• Ex. Of a one-sentence argument:
• Stop picking your nose, its gross! (a very compressed argument)
• What this sentence unfold into is:
• Picking one’s nose is gross [P]. Therefore, you should stop picking your nose, [C}.
• Arguments may involve any subject matter, from math to a common conversation.
• An argument is not a dispute, so you don’t have to necessarily criticize a point to make an
• Abad argument is still an argument! • Context- MissAlabama in the 1994 Miss USAcontest, in response to: If you could
live forever, would you and why?”
• The response: “I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because,
if we were to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever,
which is why I would not live forever.”
• What counts in this example is that the conclusion is meant to be supported by the
• And thus, the intentions of the person making the argument are thus relevant.
Arguments vs. explanations:
• Arguments vs. explanations
• Explanation: when a statement or a passage is explaining why something is the case.
• Arguments give reasons for accepting a claim while explanations don’t.
• Ex: I don’t love you anymore because you always make fun of me. - Explanation
• Ex: Since you stayed on the beach all day, your nose is peeling in that ugly way.
• Ex: We’re sitting in the dark because you forgot to pay the electric bill. – Explanation
• Ex: I dislike smoking. It smells bad and makes my asthma worse. – Explanation
• Ex: I am strong because I ate my Shredded Wheat. – Explanation
• We’re not arguing anything (giving evidence, or trying to convince anyone that
something is the case), we’re just explaining/describing the cause.
• Compare the two statements. Is there a difference?
• 1. People have respect for life because they adhere to certain ethical standards.
• 2. People should have respect for life because their own ethical standards endorse it.
(Argument, “should” makes the intention to convince)
• When we say that the premises support the conclusion, what we mean is not that they
precede chronologically the conclusion (though that may be true) but they precede the
conclusion logically. • In other words, the conclusion is the statement which follows logically from other
statements that provide justification/evidence/supporting reasons for it.
• Arguments whose conclusions do not follow logically from the premises are invalid.
Assumptions, biases, reasons
• Assumptions: statements that we take for granted/self-evidently true.
• Assumptions are starting points for arguments because they do not require further
• Assumptions need to be used with caution as they may turn into biases, and because self-
evident truths are few and far between.
• Bias: an assumption, often unintentional, which clouds our judgement.
• There are good biases and bad biases!
• Ex of assumption: ‘The law of gravity works on our planet.’
• Ex of (bad) bias: ‘Women are often irrational and emotional in their judgements.’
• Assumptions and reasons: we start our arguments with assumptions and in the course of
reasoning try to justify as many assumptions as we possibly can.
• Arguments can be simple:
• Simple arguments have only on premise and one conclusion.
• [P] Joe was beaten up.
• [C] Therefore, Joe is dead. [P] [C]
• Other arguments have two or more premises
• Example 1:
[P1] Either Quebec has seceded from the rest of Canada or it is still in the Confederation.
[P2] Quebec has not seceded from the Confederation. [C] Therefore, it is still in the
• Example 2:
[P1]All members of the Conservative Party carry membership cards. [P2] Stephen
Harper carries a membership card. [C] Therefore, Stephen Harper is a member of the
Conservative Party. • Other arguments are complex:
• Complex arguments are ones with sub-conclusions. They can have one premise,
multiple premises, one main conclusion and at least one sub-conclusion.
• Asub-conclusion is a premise which functions as a sub-conclusion to the main
• Ex: [P1] Most people are surprised to learn that, overall, capital punishment is more
expensive than life imprisonment. [P2] We could make capital punishment less expensive
by greatly limiting the number of possible appeals for someone convicted to death. [P3]A
result of limiting the number of appeals would be that more innocent people would be
executed. [P4] This is not acceptable in a civilized society. [P5] So, appeals cannot be
limited much. [C] Capital punishment must, then, remain the most expensive alternative
if it is kept at all.
• Complex Argument: P1, P2, P3, P4 P5 (sub-conclusion) C
• (There are those who maintain that even if God is not required as the author of the moral
law, he is nevertheless required as the enforcer for it, for without the threat of divine
punishment, people will not act morally). [C] But this position is not plausible. [P1] In
the first place, as an empirical hypothesis about the psychology of human beings, it is
questionable. [P2] There is no ambiguous evidence that theists are more moral than non-
theist. [P3] Not only have psychological studies failed to find a significant correlation
between frequency of religious worship and moral conduct, but convicted criminals are
much more likely to be theists than atheists. [P4] Second, the threat of divine punishment
cannot impose a moral obligation, [P5] for might does not make right. (Threats extort a
• Complex Argument: P2, P3 P1 (sub-conclusion) C P4 (sub-conclusion), P5
• Sometimes arguments have hidden/missing parts (parts which are implied but not
• Missing premises and conclusion. [MP1…], [MC]
• Ex of an argument which has missing premises: The Sopranos is the greatest series in the
history of TV. • Reconstruction: [MP1] All the TV critics are raving about the TV series The Sopranos.
[MP2] I have compared The Sopranos to all other TV shows and I find it outshines them.
[C] The Sopranos is the greatest series in TV history.
• Ex: Every woman has the right to abort her fetus if she chooses so.
• Reconstruction: [C] Every woman has the right to abort her fetus if she chooses so