1.1 Arguments – The Basics

1.1.1 What Is An Argument?

In philosophy, an argument is a connected series of statements, including at least one premise, intended to demonstrate that another statement, the conclusion, is true. The statements that serve as premises and conclusions are sometimes referred to as “propositions.” Statements (or propositions) are declarative sentences.

Arguments offer proof for a claim, or conclusion. A premise is a statement that supports, or helps lead to, an argument’s conclusion. A conclusion is the statement that is inferred (reasoned) from the argument’s premises. Arguments are “inferential; they intend to “infer” something. The process by which we reason in order to reach a conclusion is referred to as inference.

Quite often the arguments have two or more premises and require multiple inferential steps to reach the conclusion. One type of argument, called an immediate inference,has a single premise (a single inferential step) supporting its conclusion. Here’s an example:

Premise: No items on this menu are chicken dishes.
Conclusion: Therefore, no chicken dishes are items on this menu.

We will encounter examples of more elaborate arguments in the section 1.3 “Argument Types.”

When “doing philosophy,” we examine arguments made to support claims, or positions, put forth by philosophers on various questions. If we are not convinced by an argument, our pursuit, as students of philosophy, is to devise an objection (or rebuttal) argument to demonstrate that the original argument is defective. A rebuttal argument, too, is a claim (conclusion) supported by reasons (premises).


1.1.2 Identifying Arguments

When we read or listen (whether it be philosophical writings or news stories or lectures or political speeches or conversation partners), it is important to differentiate between arguments and other language that is not inferential. Non-inferential language does not offer proof for a claim. It may take various forms including (but not limited to) explanations, examples, reports, announcements, and so forth.

“Signal words” in speech or text can serve as alerts that there is an argument afoot.

The word “because” and all of its synonyms may alert a reader (or listener) that a premise, or reason. is being provided to support a claim.

Examples of words and phrases that may signal a premise:

as due to on the ground that
as indicated by for owing to
as a result of for the reason that seeing that
because in as much as since
being that in that thanks to
by reason of in the view of through
by virtue of in inferred from whereas

 

The word “therefore” and its synonyms are clues that a conclusion, or claim, is being made.

Examples of words and phrases that may signal a conclusion:

accordingly [it] follows that thence
as a result [it] proves that therefore
consequently hence [we] conclude that
for this reason so [we] infer that
implies that thus whence

 

Signal words can be helpful in identifying arguments, but keep these caveats in mind:

  1. Argument signal words are not always present when an argument is being made.
  2. Sometimes words that could function as signal words for an argument are used in other contexts, where there is no argument present.

Coursework

Arguments encountered in philosophy texts and elsewhere are not usually in the neat and convenient forms that will be used in sample arguments. Skill in deciphering arguments made in ordinary-language is highly useful overall, not just in understanding philosophical texts.

This quiz allows you to practice the basic argument-recognition skill of differentiating between premises and conclusions.