In Episode 8 Nick and Dave discuss premises that help us to predict future events.
Dave: You are listening to Critically Minded.
Nick: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners. We’re your hosts, Nick . . .
Dave: And Dave.The next topic we’re discussing today is conditional statements and hypothetical premises.
Nick: A conditional statement says that when one set of conditions exist, then another set of conditions will also exist as a result of the first. We use conditional statements in business contracts, and legal documents. For example, When you buy this item on the first Wednesday of any month, you get a 10% discount. You are buying on Wednesday, February 4th. So you only need to pay $900, not $1000.
Dave: So, in this case, saving $100 is connected conditionally to buying on Wednesday the 4th. Here’s another one. Whenever I eat at that restaurant, I have a stomachache afterwards.
Nick: But does that mean that eating at that restaurant caused your stomachache?
Dave: I don’t know. It’s a reasonable assumption.
Nick: But critical thinking means not assuming things.
Dave: That’s right. So in order to determine whether or not eating at that restaurant is the cause of my stomachache we need to be able to make a prediction about future events, and then test that prediction to see if it is true or false. We need to form a hypothesis.
Nick: A hypothesis is a way of describing a cause-and-effect relationship between a condition that we control and what will happen in the future. Hypothetical premises often consist of a two-part structure: “If x . . . then y”. To test whether or not eating at the restaurant causes you to have a stomachache requires more than a conditional statement about general facts and an assumption. It requires a hypothesis. And hypotheses are expressed through hypothetical premises. Can you think of one?
Dave: Sure. If I eat at that restaurant, then I will have a stomachache later that day.
Nick: Yes, that kind of works. You have the initial conditions using the word “If” plus the present tense phrase, eating at that restaurant, and the future event, expressed by the future tense phrase will have and the resulting condition, have a stomachache. That allows us to test whether or not the food at that restaurant made you sick. However, to be sure, we should test days that you don’t eat at that restaurant.
Dave: A hypothetical premise testing that would be: If I eat at a different restaurant, then I am not going to get a stomachache. Again the word If, suggesting a controlled condition, eating at a different restaurant, the predicted outcome expressed by the future tense, not going to, and the outcome not getting a stomachache. It’s very scientific and a very reasonable way to think through problems in everyday life.
Nick: Speaking of science, we couldn’t do science without hypothetical premises. For example here’s something everyone learned in junior high school science class: If we remove all the oxygen from this jar, then the candle inside will not burn. And, as everyone knows, a candle will not burn without oxygen. We could use the word “unless” instead of “if”. That would read: “Unless there is oxygen in the jar, then a candle will not burn.” Okay, let’s look at one last example. My house was robbed last night. Some thieves came in and stole some valuable items.
Dave: But Nick, why didn’t your dog bark?
Nick: I don’t know. It is strange. I think maybe the the dog knew the thief.
Dave: Why do you think so?
Nick: Because, if a stranger had come into the house, then the dog would have barked.
Dave: Okay, you’ve made a conditional statement, in the past tense. We could rephrase that statement as Whenever a stranger comes into the house, the dog barks. That still only makes a statement about a general fact. It still doesn’t provide a way of testing the claim. To phrase this example as a hypothetical premise, the first half of the sentence must use verbs in the present tense, and the second half of the sentence should use auxiliary verbs like “will be” or “will do” to form a future tense and refer to future outcomes.
Nick: Alright, how about: If a stranger comes into the house, then the dog will bark. In the first half of the sentence we used the present tense form of the verb come, as in “a stranger comes.” And in the second half of the sentence we use the future tense, “will bark.”
Dave: We could also use the word “unless” like this: Unless the person coming into the house is a friend or family member, the dog will bark.
Nick: And, I believe that if our listeners read through our examples, then they will be able to understand conditional statements and hypothetical premises.
Dave: So until next time, this has been, Critically Minded: Critical Thinking for 2nd Language Learners.