Unit 11: The Nature of Argument
Unit 10 explored the degree to which emotionalism plays in influencing decisions that we make. This unit examines the role of reasoning in influencing us--or the nature of argument.
In an informal sense, the word "argument" evokes images of heated words and maybe even violent reactions to another's words, claims, or insinuations. Even in such a popular sense, argument can usually be analyzed formally.
In their work, Elements of Reasoning, Conway and Munson identify an argument as a "set of claims" that can be classified as either "premises" (reasons for conclusions) or "conclusions" (claims supported by reasons). We experience arguments in readings when we sense the argument "inference"--the sense that one or more claims are meant "to lead to" another claim or claims.
Editorials like "A Shocking Start for a Freshman" are argumentative as well as persuasive (emotionally). That is, they are meant to engage our reasoning, and we are asked to accept such arguments. Arguments based upon feelings alone reflect a type of logical fallacy, often referred to as "begging the question." Arguments based upon reasoning, however, reflect our sense that one or more claims function as reasons for a position or claim.
Very often, we refer to our sense of argument in conversations with each other. When we acknowledge that something "makes sense," we are recognizing argument. When we confess that something "is logical," we mean the same thing. The same is true when we say something is "reasonable." Any set of claims that cause us to recognize the presence of a conclusion that "makes sense," that "seems logical," or "is reasonable" is our acknowledgement of argument.
At the same time, however, what may seem reasonable to us may not be acceptable, either to us or to others, as a valuable argument. Arguments can be judged as either "True/False," "Acceptable/Unacceptable," or "Unquestioned/Questionable." These criteria for judging arguments have even legal significance and are used to determine guilt or innocence of defendants in court trials or for determining the validity of charges brought against people or agencies in civil courts. Arguments lie behind decisions in every walk of life: whether or not to invest our money, to vote for a candidate, to select a mate, to choose a profession or career path, or even between nations to go to war. This was particularly true for the American Revolutionary War when the American revolutionaries had no assurances at all that the rest of the colonial population would rise up in arms against their fellow British citizens and risk separation from their extended families across the Atlantic Ocean. Today, what seemed to be acceptable reasons in 2003 for going to war against Iraq many Americans have now called into question. The same thing happened after a protracted war in Viet Nam. Some arguments can have literally "life and death" significance.
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This page was last modified on November 5, 2006,
and is maintained by Dr. Geoffrey Grimes.