CRIT THINKING ABOUT MORAL PROB
CRIT THINKING ABOUT MORAL PROB PHIL 201
Virginia Commonwealth University
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Date Created: 10/28/15
Excepts from S Morris Engel s With Good Reason 2 LOGIC AS THE STUDY OF ARGUMENT Logic is the study of argument As used in this sense the word means not a quarrel as when we quotget into an argumentquot but a piece of reasoning in which one or more statements are offered as support for some other statement The statement being supported is the conclusion of the argument The reasons given in support of the conclusion are called premises We may say quotThis is so conclusion because that is so premisequot Or quotThis is so and this is so premises therefore that is soquotconclusionquot Premises are generally preceded by such words as because for since on the ground that in as much as and the like Conclusions on the other hand are generally preceded by such words as therefore hence consequently it follows that thus so we may infer that and we may conclude that The first step toward understanding arguments therefore is learning to identify premises and conclusions To do so look for the indicator words as they are called just listed In arguments where such indicator words are absent try to find the conclusion by determining what is the main thrust of the argument the point39 the argument is trying to establish That will be its conclusion the rest its supporting grounds or premises Distinguishing the conclusion from the premise or premises in the following two arguments is easy for in the first case one of its statements is preceded by the word for which tells us that what follows is a premise and what remains must be its conclusion and in the second one of its statements is preceded by the word hence which tells us that what follows is a conclusion and what remains must be its premise a Jones will not do well in this course for he is having a hard time concentrating on schoolwork this semester and has hardly attended any classes b She has antagonized nearly everyone in the office hence it is unlikely that she will be granted the promotion In the following two examples however no such helpful indicator words are present c There are no foxes in this area We haven39t seen one all day d All conservatives opppose public housing Senator Smith opposes it he must be a conservative To distinguish the premise from the conclusion in cases of this sort ask yourself such questions as what is being argued for and what is the person trying to persuade us of In case c what is being argued for is not that quotwe haven39t seen a fox all dayquotfor the other person obviously already knows this and is simply being reminded of itbut rather that in light of this known fact there must be no foxes in this area That is the conclusion of the argument Similarly with example d what is being argued for is not that quotall conservatives oppose public housingquot nor that quotSenator Smith opposes itquotfor in this argument these are assumed to be shared statements of fact and stated as suchbut rather that in the light of these facts Smith must be a conservative Finding the conclusion in an argument where it is not clearly indicated as such will not always be easy or certain Our best aid will be attending carefully to the content and tone of the argument and to the direction of its reasoning An argument is a piece of reasoning in which one or more statements are offered as support for some other statement The statement being supported is called the conclusion of the argument the reasons given in support of it are called the premises Indicator words such as since because and for generally precede premises words such as therefore hence and consequently precede conclusions In arguments where such indicator words are absent try to find the conclusion by determining the point the argument is trying to establish That will be its conclusion the rest will be its supporting grounds or premises 3 ARGUMENTS AND NONARGUMENTS As we have seen an argument is a piece of reasoning in which one or more statements are offered as support for some other statement If a piece of writing makes a claim but gives no such reasons for us to believe it it is not an argument Likewise a passage that makes no assertion at all is not an argument Thus questions are not arguments nor are announcements complaints compliments or apologies Such passages are not arguments because again they make no effort to persuade us For example quotAre there any plans to put The Little Rascals39 on the air againquot is merely a question not an argument It requests information not assent to some claim The same is true of the following examples a I39m not going to watch anymore TV programs with laugh tracls There39s laughter if someone shuts a door I39ll laugh when I want to laugh Ithinkthey should put the laugh trach on the evening news when the weather forecasters are on the air b I spent 125 to attend a reincamation seminar and the leader appeared in a racing jacket jeans and a Tshirt advertising a California guitar shop I consider that bad taste in Philadelphia He is certainly the best regressionist I39ve seen in my sixty years but you can have his KungFu approach to spirituality c The sincerest satisfaction in life comes in doing and not in dodging duty in meeting and solving problems in facing facts in being a dependable person Example a is an expression of contempt and disgust b is a complaint and c merely a statement of a point of view without any attempt either to argue or persuade us of it None of these then are arguments This does not mean that such passages are bad arguments it simply means that they are not arguments at all They ful ll other legitimate and often necessary functions More difficult are those cases in which reasons are indeed offered but more in way of clarification rather than justification Although appearing like arguments such passages are often no more than a collection of statements one expanding on the other Consider for example the following oftquoted aphorism of Francis Bacon d He that hath wife and children bath given hostages to fortune for they are impediments to great enterprise either of virtue or mischief Rather than offering reasons why in his view women and children stand in a man39s way are hostages to fortune Bacon simply explains himself by expanding and repeating the point So this is not an argument But cases will not always be so clearcut and often enough one will meet examples where explanation and justification simply blend into each other e In Hollywood a girl39s virtue is much less important than her hairdo You39re judged by how you look not by what you are Hollywood39s a place where they39ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul I know because Itumed down the first olTer often enough and held out for the fifty cents Marilyn Monroe My Story Although this passage contains reasoning and may seem to be an effort to establish the conclusion that in Hollywood a quotgirl39s virtue is much less important than her hairdoquot that it39s quota place where they39ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fr y cents for your soulquot nevertheless its primary and dominant intent is not so much to convince the reader of all thisas if he or she did not already know thatbut rather to allow Monroe to share with the reader a common observation perhaps throwing some further light on it And that is perhaps another way in which we might distinguish passages whose main purpose is to explain rather than convince an explanation takes something that is considered a fact and tries to clarify it further an argument takes something not generally known or yet agreed upon and tries to establish that it is a fact An explanation that is to say begins with the assumption that a certain statement is true and attempts to elaborate on what its author means precisely to assert An argument attempts to establish that the statement in question is true by offering supporting reasons for it The purpose of an argument is to get us to agree with the speaker or writer about something Not all pieces of writing or communication are arguments There are many that simply are nonarguments we need not expect these to display careful logic o If a passage is hard to categorize try to decide What is its dominant or main purpose To let off steam To convey or request information To explain To persuade 7 EVALUATING ARGUMENTS TRUTH VALIDITY AND SOUNDNESS People are sometimes heard to say quotThat may be logical but it39s not truequot or quotWhat39s logical isn39t always right H Both of these views are correct yet they do not mean that logic is unconcerned with truth Indeed logic defines truth rigorously and separates it from two other concepts validity and soundness with which it is sometimes confused in ordinary speech Together these three concepts provide a basis for evaluating any argument Aristotle who founded the science of logic in the fourth century BC was the first to discover this distinction between truth and validity It was perhaps his most important contribution to this subject Validity refers to the correctness with which a conclusion has been inferred from its premiseswhether the conclusion follows from them Truth on the other hand refers to whether those premises and conclusion accord with the facts It is thus possible in logic to start with true premises but reach a false conclusion because we reason badly with those premises or to reason correctly or validly without reaching a true conclusion because our premises are false Soundness results when the premises of an argument are true and its conclusion validly derived from them Otherwise the argument is unsound Truth and falsity validity and invalidity can appear in various combinations in argument giving rise to these four possibilities I We may have our facts right our premises are true and we may use them properly our inference is valid In such a case not only will our argument be valid but our conclusion true The argument as a whole will be sound a All men are mortal Socrates is a man Therefore Socrates is mortal 2 We may have our facts right our premises are true but we may make improper use of them reason invalidly from them In this case our conclusion will not follow and the argument as a whole will be unsound b All cats are animals All pigs are animals Therefore all pigs are cats On some occasions the conclusion of such an argument may accidentally happen to be true as in c All cats are animals All tigers are animals Therefore all tigers are cats In such a case we cannot determine the truth of the conclusion from the argument itself the conclusion may be true but not for the grounds offered in defense of it in this argument 3 We may have our facts wrong one or more of our premises is false but we may make proper use of them reason validly with them In this case our argument will be valid but unsound d All movie stars live in Hollywood Robert Redford is a movie star Therefore Robert Redford lives in Hollywood Here the first statement is clearly false yet the reasoning is valid and the conclusion follows from the premises As in case 2 above the conclusion may happen to be true but we cannot determine its truth within the terms of the argu ment It might be true despite the falsity of the first premise on the other hand it might be false despite the validity of the reasoning In order to reach a conclusion that we can depend on to be true it is not enough to reason validly we must do so from true premises 4 There is finally the case in which our facts are wrong one or more of our premises is false and we also make improper use of them reason invalidly from them In such a case the argument will be both invalid and unsound e I like this course All final examinations are easy Therefore I will receive a high grade in this course Since only one of the argument types we have discussed can yield conclusions that must be true the reader may wonder why we should be interested in arguments whose premises are false For better or worse we are sometimes in a position where we do not know whether our premises are true Being able to infer validly the consequences which would ow from such premises if they were true enables us to judge whether they are true For if by a deductively valid inference we should arrive at a conclusion that we