In this Point Two episode, Nick and Dave discuss the social and political aspects of hidden premises.
Dave: You are listening to Critically Minded.
Nick: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners. We’re your hosts, Nick . . .
Dave: And Dave. In our regular episode titled Hidden Premises, we spoke about hidden premises, that is, facts that are so widely known that it is not necessary to mention them. We can assume that anyone we speak to understands these things. Still, it is important to remember that any argument has at least two premises, one general, and often unstated, and the others that is spoken, or written.
Nick: As we noted in the earlier episode, we don’t need to give all the reasons why we know that we exist in order to convince most people that we do exist. Most of us are too busy thinking about more normal things. But there are hidden premises that are used to hide the truth, or to prevent us from thinking critically.
Dave: And in many cases the people making these really bad arguments know that their general, unstated, hidden premise is questionable and probably false. But they don’t care.
Nick: And that’s why they don’t say it out loud. They don’t want you to think too carefully about it, because if you see that the premise is questionable, you may start questioning the conclusion.
Dave: They just want to win the argument, so that they can get what they want. And often, what they want, is the power to tell other people how to live their lives.
Nick: Right, so what you’re saying is that hidden premises are often very political. That’s a good point, and it reminds us that hidden premises often come from prejudice. Prejudice about nationality, skin color, religion, sex, age or other backgrounds.
Dave: Looking at a current and controversial political issue like gay marriage can show some good examples of hidden premises. The issue of gay marriage is not simple, since there are so many different sides of the argument and we can’t cover them all here. But one of the most common arguments against gay marriage is that since, homosexuality is condemned by the major religions of the world, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, then there can be no marriage between two people of the same sex.
Nick: But what the people making this argument state is the hidden premise: Marriage is a religious institution. And often they don’t state it because they know that it just isn’t true. First of all, marriage is known to be much older than these three religions.
Dave: Secondly, it doesn’t matter how old marriage is, because, nowadays we can get married without any religious ceremony. In fact, my wife and I got married at city hall. We didn’t want a religious ceremony.
Nick: And you and your wife could have ten or twenty church weddings and you still wouldn’t be married until you did the official paperwork. Having a wedding ceremony and getting married are two things, but people who are against gay marriage don’t want you to think about that. So they form the argument in such a way that unless you think about it carefully, you won’t disagree.
Dave: Another argument against gay marriage is that the purpose of marriage is to have a family. Since homosexuals can’t reproduce, they shouldn’t be able to get married.
Nick: But again, this fails to note that many heterosexual couples get married, but choose not to have children. And some couples are unable to have children for medical or biological reasons. Should they also be prohibited from getting married?
Dave: They can adopt a child, but then in many countries gay couples can adopt a child too. And in the case of lesbian couples, one partner can have a baby through artificial insemination. So, Nick what is the hidden premise in this argument?
Nick: I’d say it’s that the purpose of marriage is mainly for production of children. And as we have just noted, that isn’t always true.
Dave: So whether or not you are for or against gay marriage, you have to admit that this is a weak argument. It’s weak because, the general unstated premise is false.
Nick: This kind of quiet, prejudice is used to maintain, suspicion, fear and injustice against people who are different from ourselves or to discredit ideas we are against. It’s all around us, and once you begin to listen critically, you can hear it in people’s conversations all the time, even among people close to you. Your friends, family, even yourself.
Dave: It’s not nice and you might wish you hadn’t heard it, but part of critical thinking is developing the ability to see, and hear, people as they really are, and not the way we would like them to be.
Nick: So, to sum up, while it is not necessary, during casual conversation, to list all the general premises that everybody already knows, in more serious matters, all the premises need to be carefully expressed so that both the belief and the reasons supporting that belief are clear to everyone.
Dave: And never be afraid to challenge or ask for clarification of hidden premises especially if you believe there may be some hidden prejudice.
Nick: So until next time, this has been, Critically Minded: Critical Thinking for 2nd Language Learners.