What is an argument?

What is an argument?

Written by
William holds a degree in philosophy from the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM), specializes in teaching and works as a philosophy teacher in high school.
January 31, 2021 - 5 min read

An argument is a set of connected statements of which at least one (the premise) is intended to provide reasons for showing that the other (the conclusion) is true. So, in order to have an argument we need premises and conclusions.

Let’s see what that means by looking at several examples of arguments.

In everyday life, it is not uncommon to think that an argument is a verbal fight, commands, suggestions, beliefs and opinions. But strictly speaking, this is not an argument. Instead. If an argument is a rational attempt to convince people, then a fight is just the opposite, as it uses aggression to convince people.

What is a conclusion?

The conclusion is that statement in the argument that presents or exposes an idea or opinion that you want to defend.

So, if two people are debating about the advantages and disadvantages of different means of transport on urban roads, and one of them says that

“the bicycle is one of the best means of transport on urban roads, when the distance to be covered is not very long”

will be stating your conclusion on the matter at hand.

What is a premise?

In order to have an argument, a conclusion is not enough, it is necessary that, in addition to a conclusion, we have premises, which are statements that have the function of justifying, sustaining, defending, saying the reason for the conclusion. Continuing with the previous example, the person who stated the above conclusion could add

“Because a city in which many people use bicycles as a means of transport does not have as many congestions as those in which it is not done; people who use bicycles as a means of transport are healthier because they constantly exercise, which represents not only greater individual well-being, but also less public spending on health; a greater number of bicycles in circulation and a smaller number of motor vehicles generates less pollution, which not only benefits the health of the population immediately, but contributes to reducing global warming. ”

thus, in addition to the conclusion, we would also have the premises of the argument, that is, the statements that support the conclusion.

An argument always has a conclusion and one or more premises. In principle, the greater the number of premises the more convincing the argument will be.

Thus, in order to have an argument, two types of statements are necessary: ​​premises and conclusions. In addition, it is essential that they are related and the conclusion is inferred from the premises. And inferring here is nothing more than concluding one statement from another.

Indicators of premises and conclusion

The language has several expressions that are indicators of conclusion and premises. It is important to know some, both to be able to identify what are premises and conclusions in an argument and to, when writing or speaking, make more clear what is meant to be said. See some examples of this indicators:

Indicators of premises

  • if…
  • given that…
  • for the reason that…
  • because…

Indicators of conclusion

  • then…
  • logo…
  • from here it is inferred…
  • therefore…
  • so…

If you look again at the example of the text’s argument, you will see that the premises start to be presented with a “because”.

Analysis of sample arguments

Let us now consider some examples so that you can clarify some doubts about the meaning of these concepts and, most importantly, know how to identify when they are being used in a text, film or in a dialogue.

Example 1

“A new report by the British NGO Oxfam on social inequality in Brazil shows that the six richest Brazilians concentrate the same wealth as the poorest 100 million Brazilians. ”

This is an argument?

Always remember that, in order to have an argument, from a logical point of view, it is important to have premises and conclusion and to be clear that the person who made the statement made an inference, that is, he wanted to justify the conclusion using the premises.

In this case, is there anything like that? As you may have noticed, the answer is no. The above statement has only description and therefore there is no argument.

Example 2

Yesterday I went to the market. I bought two liters of milk, some meat and bread. All very expensive. I wonder how people who are unemployed in Brazil manage to survive. I come home sad with these thoughts.

And in that case, do we have an argument?

Again the answer is no. We see in this sentence a person reporting his thoughts when going to the market. She is just describing something that occurred to her, she is not arguing.

Example 3

Rats are mammals and have a nervous system that includes a developed brain. Humans, like rats, are also mammals that have a nervous system that includes a developed brain. When exposed to Nervous Agent 274, 90% of the rats died. Therefore, if exposed to Nervous Agent 274, 90% of humans will die.

And that last example, is it an argument?

This is a clear example of an argument. The last sentence starts with “therefore ”, which shows that a conclusion is being drawn from the previous statements, which act as premises.

References

Walton, Douglas. Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *