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Argument

Sep 5, 2022
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Arguments can be found anywhere, but it does not mean that they are all arguments. You’re not arguing when you get up and go fetch a coke from the fridge. The Matrix‘s closing credits are not an argument. When you murmur “Goodnight,” it’s not an argument. So much is self-evident. But how obvious is it really? 

Consider how a father’s sharply muttered “Goodnight!” to his boisterous children could be interpreted as an implied “or else!” and therefore become an argument: the conclusion is that the children must go to bed, and the reason is that if they don’t, they will not like what occurs. Also, what if a film teacher used the credits at the end of The Matrix to make a point about how one should not display movie credit information—in this scenario, the credits would be part of a rationale for a general conclusion, and thus be included in an argument. 

Argument identification consists of three steps: 

  • Understand the Context: Is someone attempting to persuade you of something? 
  • Identify the Conclusion: What are they attempting to persuade you of? 
  • Identify the Reasons: Why do they believe you should believe them? 

Now, let us take a look at these three steps in detail. 

Understand the Context: 

You must become skilled at identifying arguments if you want to become skilled at dealing with them, and knowing where they are frequently found can help you become skilled at spotting them. You expect arguments when you turn on the television to watch the Bush-Kerry debates. You expect disagreements when you open Newsweek to the back page for George Will’s column. The same can be said about the editorial page, C-Span, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, and advertisements. The same cannot be said about comic books (unless you enjoy This Modern World), Jackie Chan films, or the Eredivisie on Fox Sports World. 

This illustrates the fact that you can expect an argument in certain settings (dubbed “argument contexts“), but you could be shocked to discover one in others. As a critical thinker, knowing the contexts of arguments puts you ahead of the game. It makes you wary, making you want to be careful not to be pulled in by a weak argument. (Think about shoe advertisements.) We’re all familiar with the obvious argument contexts: debates, classes, the media, political conversations among friends, and so on. We’re especially alert to words and phrases that indicate an argument, such as argument, my opinion, my viewpoint, and what you should think. However, the first step in improving critical thinking capacity is to reflect on this insight. 

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Identifying the Conclusion: 

“Lance Armstrong will win the Tour de France for the sixth time since he has a 1.25-seconds advantage with only five stages remaining. Viva la Lance!” This is a persuasive argument designed to persuade you that Armstrong will win the Tour de France. The primary goal of most arguments is to make a point. That is, arguments are used to persuade or convince people to accept something. The success of an argument is determined by whether it provides compelling reasons to believe its conclusion, but first things first—-you can’t evaluate an argument’s effectiveness without first recognizing its conclusion. 

You can improve your critical thinking skills by learning how to discern the conclusions of arguments, just as you do with argument contexts. Most of the time, this won’t be too tough; after all, the arguer’s best interests are served by a clear conclusion. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. One strategy is to place the conclusion towards the beginning or end of the argument, such as at the beginning or end of the paragraph containing the argument. Another option is to repeat the conclusion numerous times throughout the argument, emphasizing that it is the most significant point.  

Finally, there are words and phrases that are used to introduce the conclusion, which are referred to as conclusion markers. Therefore, thus, therefore, as a result, in that case, then, so, accordingly, the bottom line, and for this reason, are examples of conclusion markers. However, not all uses of these phrases denote conclusions; for example, then frequently denotes the following event in a sequence. 

Identifying the Reasons: 

The reasons are another crucial aspect of the argument that must be traced. These are claims that support the conclusion and offer you reason to believe it, as their name implies. There is no argument without them—-only a claim. As a result, responding to a request for your argument with “Bush will win in 2004!” is a mistake. This may be your conclusion, but there is no argument without reasons. 

There are methods for identifying causes, just as there are for identifying conclusions. One quick technique is to consider everything in the argument that isn’t a conclusion to be a cause. This might result in false positives, or claims that are considered reasons but aren’t, because arguments sometimes include assertions that serve other goals (e.g., humor, small talk, rhetorical flourish, etc.). Searching for reason markers is the most successful way. These phrases include because, since, for, in light of, reason, assuming, according to, considering, by, if, in fact, and others. As previously said, you must exercise caution when examining the appearances of these phrases because not all appearances denote reasons.

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