In Episode 7 Nick and Dave discuss the first of three different kinds of argument patterns.
Dave: You are listening to Critically Minded.
Nick: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners. We’re your hosts, Nick . . .
Dave: And Dave. In our earlier episodes we discussed the organization of arguments. We noted that arguments are made up of premises leading to a conclusion.
Nick: And that is a rule that is going to remain in effect throughout this series. But in the next three episodes, we’re going to talk about three variations on that basic format. They are called side-by-side-premise arguments . . . chain premise arguments . . . and major and minor premise arguments.
Dave: Side-by-side arguments are the easiest to understand. Here’s a simple example: “This morning on television, the weather report predicted rain all day. I looked outside and it’s raining. Today is June 30th, the height of the rainy season in Japan. Therefore, I need an umbrella today.”
Nick: Those are three very good reasons why you need an umbrella, but I can think of one more.
Dave: Sure you could probably think of a hundred more.
Nick: Yes, but I’m thinking of the unstated premise, the premise that you haven’t mentioned.
Dave: Oh, I get it. I think I know it. You mean this premise: “I am going out today.”
Nick: That’s it. Clearly, if you’re not going out, you won’t need an umbrella.
Dave: Of course. But as for these other reasons, you said there are three good reasons that I will need an umbrella. But really wouldn’t any one of these be a good reason to take an umbrella. I mean, if the weather report predicts rain and you look outside and it’s not raining, what are you going to do?
Nick: Well, what I’m NOT going to do is to assume that just because it’s not raining now that it won’t be raining later. I’m going to trust the weather report.
Dave: And what if the weather report says the whole country will remain sunny all day, but you look outside and it’s raining.
Nick: Well first I’m going call the television station and demand that they get a new weather reporter! And after that, I’m going to take my umbrella with me.
Dave: And what if you didn’t see the weather report? You look outside and it’s not raining, but you look at your calendar and realize that it’s June 30th, the height of the rainy season.
Nick: That’s a tough question. I might or might not take an umbrella, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see other people with umbrellas.
Dave: Sure. So in other words, each of these reasons are independent of the other reasons. If only one of these is true, that would probably be enough to convince you to take an umbrella.
Nick: Yes, that’s right. Although, in my opinion the third reason on its own is the weakest, but sure, any of the three would be a good reason to take an umbrella. Side-by-side premises are indicated by words like “first”, “second”, “furthermore”, and “finally”.
Dave: Okay, so I think everybody understands side-by-side premises. Now let’s look at chain premises. Can you give us an example of an argument that looks like this?
Nick: Sure. Chain arguments often use what is sometimes called the if/then statement.
For example, how many times have you heard a teacher say, “If you read the book, you’ll pass the test.” ? What they are actually saying is, “If you read the book, then you’re ready for the test. And if you’re ready for the test, then you’ll pass it.
X -> Y: “If you read the book, then you’re ready for the test.
Y -> Z: “If you’re ready for the test, then you’ll pass it.”
X -> Z: “If you read the book, you’ll pass the exam.
Dave: So the argument is composed entirely of conditional claims. The ‘if’ plus a premise, and the ‘then’ followed by a conclusion.
Nick: Yes, the argument is arranged so that the conclusion of the first argument becomes the premise of the next. This “linking” by repeating information is why it’s often called a chain argument.
Dave: So the argument will have as many premises as there are “links” in the chain.
Nick: Right, but what is important here, is that the word ‘if’ assumes or supposes something. It doesn’t mean it actually happened or will happen.
Dave: And, of course you may have read the book, but didn’t understand most of it.
Nick: So reading the book doesn’t automatically mean you are ready for the test.
Dave: Or that you’ll pass it.
Nick: And so, on those words of wisdom. Study hard, and think deeply.
Dave: And beware of the words, ‘if ‘and ‘then’.
Nick: Alright, we hope you can see the difference between these two patterns of argument.
Dave: So until next time, this has been, Critically Minded: Critical Thinking for 2nd Language Learners.