How to structure a Formal Argument: A beginner's guide.
How to Structure a Formal Argument: A Beginner's Guide.
- by Colin Reynolds
Preface: The intention of this article is to introduce a few basic argument forms that are universally recognised by both the philosophical and scientific academic communities.
Not all discussion and argument belong in this formalised format, and the title was chosen to suggest exactly that; this article by definition may exclude some or all informal discussion; Not all statements need be arguments, yet all arguments are statements. (This is an example of the difference between a necessary and a sufficient condition - that is to say - that the characteristic of a phrase being an argument is a sufficient condition to warrant the phrase in question to be recognised as a statement, and that the characteristic of a being a statement is a necessary condition to accept the phrase as an argument.)
So what precisely is an argument?
An argument is any statement that is made in such a fashion to convince the intended audience of the truth or possibility of the statement. This requires at a bare minimum two (2) things:
1. The Conclusion - the statement you intend to convince the audience of.
2. A Premise - a reason to believe the conclusion, in other words, a conditional statement such that if you believe the condition has been met, it follows that the conclusion is true. When a deductive argument has all true premises, we refer to this as a sound argument. When an inductive argument has either all true or likely true premises, we call this a strong argument.
In a deductive argument, the premises (if true) exclude any possibility to doubt the truth of the conclusion. Here is a brief example:
Premise 1 - Every brown dog has white paws
Premise 2 - My dog is brown
Conclusion - My dog has white paws.
The conclusion is such, that in order to doubt the truth of it, you need to doubt the truth of one or both of the premises.
In an inductive argument, the premises do not conclusively prove the conclusion, rather that they suggest the possibility of the conclusion and/or suggest the possibility to be a strong one. An example:
Premise 1 - Every Saturday for the last two years, it has rained where I live.
Conclusion - It is going to rain this Saturday.
As you can see, an eternal optimist might be hopeful that Saturday brings good weather, even though prudence dictates he should pack an umbrella should he decide to go have a picnic. Saturday could very well arrive and have nice weather, hence despite the premise being true, the conclusion turned out to be false.
Most progress in the field of science relies on the value of inductive arguments. The sun rising every morning so far observed in the east is a good reason to believe that the same thing will happen the next day. This does not exclude the possibility of a catastrophic polar shift or giant interstellar meteorite collision resulting in the untimely orbital decay of the planet changing the directional bias of the earthen axial spin; and making the sun rise in the north the next day, but absent any further information than the previous daily observations, it seems pretty darn unlikely. Therefore, if we are really going to be convinced that the past celestial history of the earth is a good indicator of plenty more eastern sunrises to come, this means that we are confident in the power of inductive argument to make meaningful and/or accurate predictions about the natural world.
In a multi-tiered argument, one or more premises will be accompanied by one or more additional premises that are intended to convince you of the truth of the premises, and hence the conclusion.
Here is a brief example:
1: Chuck Liddell is a competent kickboxer.
2: Chuck Liddell is a competent wrestler.
3: Chuck Liddell competed under an MMA ruleset, winning many bouts.
3.1: Chuck Liddell competed in the UFC, and gained and defended the light heavyweight title.
3.2: The UFC utilises an MMA ruleset.
C: Chuck Liddell is a competent mixed martial artist.
Note how premises 3.1 and 3.2 are used together to convince you of the truth of premise 3, and premises 1, 2, and 3 are used together to convince you of the conclusion. This is a multi-tiered argument.
Scientific progress relies on our ability to use deductive and inductive arguments to construct concepts we can relate to, and communicate to others. The Argument forms a large part of our ability to communicate effectively with others, so having a formal system of argument has been crucial in aligning our schools of philosophy with those of science, and dispensing with the bullshido of traditional and dogmatic explanations of the phenomena of the natural world. eg: Zeus lives on a mountain throwing down lightning bolts, as opposed to:
1: Electrical Charges fill the atmosphere
2: When competing electrical charges interfere with each other, there is an electric release.
3: After Lightning strikes the ground, it creates damage consistent with electrical fire.
C: Lightning bolts are caused by atmospheric phenomena, not a man on a mountaintop.
To restructure this whole article into a formal argument:
1: This Article defines two universally accepted forms of argument, deductive and inductive.
1.1: A deductive argument has the characteristic that believing all the premises requires you to believe the conclusion.
1.2: An inductive argument has the characteristic that believing one or all of the premises increases the likelihood of the conclusion.
2: Understanding the natural world and our place in it relies on (among other things) our ability to employ and interpret structured arguments.
2.1: Philosophy requires structured argument
2.2: Science requires structured argument
2.3: Understanding how science relates to philosophy is important to understanding the natural world.
3: Using universally recognised argument structure is an effective way to communicate ideas
3.1: Both scientists and philosophers recognise deductive and inductive argument structure.
C: Using a structured Deductive or Inductive argument is an effective way to communicate your ideas, and this article will help you familiarise yourself with these forms.
Authors note: If this kind of basic philosophy interests the community, I'd be happy to expand on the curriculum.
Discussion question: What role (if any) should formal arguments play on Bullshido?
Last edited by Colin; 3/22/2011 6:41pm at .
44 views 0 replies...
Analytical philosophy falling on deaf ears?
Maybe the right people haven't logged in yet ^_^
No one is replying because formal debates tends to go in the pedantic direction where everybody turns into an ass and just debates technicality without moving the discussion forward.
I, for one, appreciate the effort. You of course are correct, and the world would be a better place if more people understood (or at least followed) these principles. However, I think for the most part it's going to fall on deaf ears.
Hehe, well I certainly wouldn't bother posting anything like this over at Sherdog, GameFAQs, 4chan, or basically anywhere other than this site. This is pretty much the only Forum of its type that I think has the depth in the community to take a thread like this seriously :) Since there aren't really any philosophy-specific boards, I thought YMAS might at least attract a few of the more interested/interesting users.
tl;dr is something I should probably expect from most people.
Boff topic would probably be a more relevant place for this, thats where most of the arguments that at least resemble a cohesive debate occur. Also good effort but most people who can't put forth an intelligible argument in the first place are going to tl;dr this. Also I tl;dr'ed this so do with that what you will...
Regarding the original post, everything you said is pretty much standard reading for anybody studying critical thinking. These are things that everybody does on an instinctual level. If you were able to cite an interesting example of when your instinctual logic failed and warranted step-by-step analysis of your thought process, this would be many times more interesting.
You could be right. (in regards to Boff topic)
In addition, comparing my writing to something that you read while studying is about the greatest compliment I could hope to receive. I'm effectively publishing thesis level material, by your standards :)
Last edited by Colin; 3/23/2011 2:09am at .
Thanks for this, Colin. Good on you for taking the time.
In my experience, what helps philosophy students argue isn't just the formal rationality or logic classes. It's continually arguing with folks who exemplify logic and rationality, but who aren't dicks about it.
This allows students to get into the swing of being rational - which involves the scary possibility of being publicly wrong - without having to follow a numbered syllogism.
This is also what the more reasonable posters on Bullshido do. Their posts are informed by rationality (if not philosophical or scientific logic), but they don't have the meta-discussion about this rationality. They just do it, and sometimes it rubs off.
Still, a pinned thread to refer to (like this one) might help this process.
Last edited by DAYoung; 3/23/2011 4:13am at .
Martial Arts and Philosophy: Beating and Nothingness
to order on Amazon
How about a guide for complete idiots, my head hurts if I try to read your post.