Daily Archives: July 4, 2008

Want to argue?

I’ve been blogging about different terms and concepts within the realm of the philosophy of logic, in order to augment Christian apologetics, and realized I might need to start a bit further “back” in terms of basic concepts.  Two of the basic ideas of logic and critical thinking are; both to be able to formulate proper arguments yourself, and to recognize and “break down” arguments used by others.  Also, in order to understand concepts like inductive and deductive logic, it is important to understand what an argument really is.

When teaching my college students about arguments, the first thing I have to do is to undo what they believe they know about arguments.  Here’s what I mean; if I were to say “We do a lot of arguing in my Logic class,” many people would immediately think it was something negative, same thing if I said, “My husband and I argued last night.”  Most people would think of an aggressive back and forth, an emotional discussion that often gets heated.  This isn’t what we are referring to in logic.  I sometimes try to help people distinguish the two ideas behind arguments by labeling what we do in class as “formal” argumentation.

An argument is simply this; a set or structure of claims, where one claim or statement is said to support another.  To add in labels and vocabulary, you must have at least one conclusion, and at least one premise.  The premise is said to support the conclusion.  “You need to take your umbrella today, because it is supposed to rain.”  In this example the conclusion is the claim “you need to take your umbrella” and the premise, or reason given is “it is supposed to rain.”  You can have multiple premises to support the conclusion, and in most complex issues, you will have more than one. Notice, arguing doesn’t have to get emotional at all, although it often does, even in formal argumentation.

“The Bible is made up of ancient documents.  It has been found to be historically accurate, archaeologically accurate, and internally consistent.  Also, prophecies contained within that collection of historical documents have indeed been fulfilled as prophesied.  The above are just some of the reasons why we can, and should, use the scriptures when discussing Christian apologetics.”  Sometimes it is indeed easier to spot the conclusion first: “we can/should use the scriptures when discussing Apologetics” and then the premises “it has been found to be historically accurate, archaeologically accurate, and internally consistent” and also, “prophecies have been fulfilled as predicted.” Notice that I don’t have to give every premise I have for a conclusion (notice I said above, “just some of the reasons”), as long as there is at least one, it is an argument.

Now, to add to the complex nature of arguments, there does indeed have to be at least one premise and a conclusion; however, one or the other can be left unstated, and it is still considered to be an argument.  If someone asks me, “Do you like anchovies?” And I proceed to make a bad face and say, “they taste like hair.”  I actually did make a complete argument…what is my unstated conclusion?  “No, I don’t like anchovies.”  The idea is, if you can logically reason out a premise or conclusion, even if unstated, you still have an argument.

Another confusion; you do not have to have two or more people to form an argument.  An argument is not a discussion.  I can be alone in a room and formulate arguments all day long; the definition of an argument is concerned with the form of statements/claims, not with discussion between people.  Also, you do not have to be formulating arguments in order to persuade someone of something (keep in mind as well that there are many things we use to try to persuade someone without using arguments…take flattery for instance); again, if I write an argument on a napkin, and then throw it away without anyone ever reading it, I’m not trying to persuade anyone, and it is just as much an argument as if I stand up in front of a class and attempt to persuade the students to give me ten dollars each.  And, finally, there is a difference between an argument and an explanation.  When you ask your mechanic what was wrong with your brakes, and they tell you the brake pad was worn, that is an explanation.  When a science teacher gets up if front of the class and explains what happens when you mix two specific chemicals together, that doesn’t constitute an argument (although explanations can indeed turn into arguments).

In the realm of Christian apologetics, as well as in the other areas of your life, it is important to be able to both formulate arguments, and to recognize and break down any arguments offered by the other side of the issue.  This helps to clarify what exactly is being discussed, and it also helps in spotting rhetoric.  One of the key points to remember is that someone may be offering rhetoric instead of an actual premise to support their conclusion; if that is the case, if someone only offers rhetoric as a premise, then it is not a proper argument.  And, just because someone includes some rhetoric in their argument, it doesn’t always mean that the argument isn’t a proper argument; you can’t just dismiss it offhand.  Also, sometimes a discussion partner will assume you are offering an argument, instead of an explanation.  You don’t always have to be engaging in formal argumentation in apologetics, you can just be offering an explanation.

Make sure everyone is on the same page on the definition of “argument,” especially if you go up to a loved one and ask, “Want to argue?”


Filed under Apologetics, Logic