Episode 2: Organizing an Argument 1
In this episode, Nick and Dave introduce the concept of an argument as a logical progression from premises to a conclusion. They discuss classical syllogisms and suggest challenging one’s own conclusion with alternate arguments.
Nick: Welcome once again to Critically Minded: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners. I’m Nick.
Dave: And I’m Dave. In our previous episode we discussed some of the goals of this podcast. We explained that we are not teaching English conversation here; that we are teaching critical thinking. And we explained that in the context of language learning, that means argument analysis and argument evaluation. That is the close examination of the organization of reasons and conclusions, followed by making some judgement of the quality of the argument.
Nick: Let’s have a look at a very simple argument. I’m 17 years old. Tomorrow is my birthday. So, tomorrow I will turn 18.
Dave: That is a simple argument. Let’s examine it more closely. It is made up of two reasons why the speaker believes he will turn 18 tomorrow. First, he is 17 now, and second, his brithday is tomorrow. Those two reasons are followed by the conclusion, that he will turn 18 tomorrow.
Nick: You might think that this argument is so simple that it would be difficult to find any problems during the evaluation.
Dave: But think again. We have two facts given as reasons: first, the speaker says he is 17. Perhaps that’s not true. He might be mistaken. He might be lying. Second, he says his birthday is tomorrow. He might be mistaken or lying about that too.
Nick: Usually we would have no special reason to doubt this person’s claim about his age. However, if he has some reason to lie, then we may question their reasons. And in fact, people lie about their age all the time, for all kinds of reasons.
Dave: Let’s look at another example, “Someone must have drunk the beer, because the can is empty.” This argument starts from the conclusion, Someone drank the beer, and works backwards to the reason, because the can is empty. The order of organization is the opposite of the first example, but the process of the analysis and evaluation is the same. And how about the evaluation, Nick?
Nick: There are other possible explanations. Someone may have spilled the beer, or poured it down the sink. Someone may have opened it and left it sitting there for a very long time until it dried up. It is possible that I drank the beer and I forgot about it. Or my dog may have drunk it. My dog likes beer, and he will steal it, if he can.
Dave: In critical thinking we not only look at the argument itself, but we also look for other explanations, and then decide which is the most probable. When we think of arguments, we often think of one person trying to persuade another person to accept his or her point of view.
Nick: Alright, now that you probably understand reasons and conclusions, we’re going to teach a new word. The word is: premise. The word premise is very simple. A premise is just a reason, and the word conclusion is what you judge to be true, because reasons 1, 2, and maybe more, lead you to believe so.
Dave: So why don’t we just use the word reason? Well the word premise relates specifically to arguments. The word reason might relate to an argument, but it also might relate to why someone did something. For example, listen to this sentence: “The girl went to the store to buy milk.” The reason the girl went to the store was to buy milk. But this is not an argument. There’s no conclusion supported logically by reasons. It’s just a simple statement.
Nick: Compare that statement with the following example:
There is ice on the pond, so the temperature must have been zero or below last night.
The premise (or reason) is, “There is ice on the pond.” And the conclusion is, “the temperature must have been zero or below last night.” That’s because, the only way for water to freeze, in normal conditions, is if the temperature of the water falls to zero or below zero. These two examples should help you to understand how reasons and premises can sometimes be different. Well, I think that is probably enough for today, don’t you, Dave?
Dave: It’s a good start, So until next time, this is Critically Minded: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners.
Episode 2: Organizing an Argument 1