Some premises live inside of other premises. In this episode, Nick and Dave discuss major and minor premises.
Nick: You’re back with the Critically Minded: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners and we’re your hosts, Nick . . .
Dave: And Dave.
Nick: Today we’re going to discuss major and minor premises.
To understand the difference between major and minor premises, it’s important to understand that not all premises are equal. The major premise will be the more general or fundamental premise. And the minor premise will be more specific, concerning particular people, places or this or that condition.
Dave: Here are a few examples of arguments with major and minor premises. Let’s try a very simple one first.
All books have pages.
This dictionary is a book.
Therefore this dictionary has pages.
Nick: So you can tell which is the minor premise and which is the major, which premise is more general; which is more specific. The word “all” in the first premise about all books suggests a very general category. And the word “this” in the second premise is indicating a specific object, this dictionary. So the major premise is that all books have pages and the minor premise is that this dictionary is a book.
Dave: The conclusion combines the general fact about books and the specific fact about this dictionary. You listeners might like to know why this important. I mean sure one premise is general, the major, and the other is specific, the minor, but so what?
Nick: You might think that it’s a pretty useless argument, but we have used a super simple example so that you can easily understand our main point about major and minor premises. In fact, this same kind of argument is used in arguing constitutional law, business administration and every branch of science. Understanding the relationship between major and minor premises is very, very important.
Dave: Let’s look at a more visual example, based on a map of Japan. Sensouji Temple is in Asakusa. And Asakusa is a district of Tokyo. Thus, Sensouji Temple is in Tokyo. Alright, the smaller or minor premise is Sensouji Temple is in Asakusa. And the larger major premise is that Asakusa is a district of Tokyo. What if it were not in Asakusa? What if it were in Ueno? That’s still in Tokyo. So it is possible for minor premises to be slightly wrong and for the argument to still basically work. But, what if we change that, say to Asakusa is in Osaka? Well, then the conclusion that the Sensouji Temple is in Tokyo wouldn’t make any logical sense. So, when a major premise is false, the argument will be completely wrong.
Nick: How about this one? Only birds have feathers. Penguins have feathers. Thus, penguins are birds. I’m giving this example because a student of mine once argued that a penguin was not a bird. She reasoned that because it didn’t fly and it swam in the sea, that it wasn’t a bird. And she wasn’t going to believe me when I said it was. She did, however, agree that only birds have feathers. And so she finally understood, through using logical argument, that penguins are birds. Well, Dave, I think that probably brings us to the end of our program today.
Dave: I agree. In our next episode we’ll discuss the variety of major premise indicators and minor premise indicators. So, until next time, this has been Critically Minded: Critical Thinking for 2nd Language Learners.