Understanding Arguments Part 1 ( Higher / IB Philosophy ) – 2 Types of Argument

First a quick recap of some definitions:

Argument: the most basic sort of reasoning; combines several ‘truth statements’ to arrive at a conclusion – showing/demonstrating it to be true.

Premise: must make a true or false claim (be a statement) – not all sentences do this (imperatives,questions, exclamations). If you are studying Higher Philosophy you will have to select these from a real argument. Look for give away words like [are, is etc.] to help you.

Conclusion: the product of an argument’s reasoning, i.e. what it is hoped is shown to be true by the argument. Again for Higher Philosophy students look for words like [since, in conclusion, therefore etc.].

Now we need to sort out some different sorts of arguments which again (surprise surprise) philosophers give precise names to. Here are two arguments:

1 Michael lives in Cape Town

2 Cape Town is in South Africa

C Michael lives in South Africa


1 all the other days have not been the end of the world

2 tomorrow is another day

C tomorrow will not be the end of the world

At first glance, these two arguments are very familiar, but on closer inspection there is a subtle but important difference. In the first, the conclusion absolutely must be true if both of the premises are. Philosophers call this sort of argument a deductive argument. In the second argument, however, the conclusion does not absolutely have to be true even if both the premises are. Scary as it may be, all the other days that have gone by simply do not ensure that tomorrow will come. They may (and, in this case, do) make it highly probable that tomorrow will come, but I cannot claim the conclusion with absolute certainty. Philosophers call this sort of reasoning an inductive argument. Another example might be something like:

 1 All the cats I have seen or heard of have tails.

2 My friend says she has a cat called Floyd.

C Floyd has a tail

Again, if the premises were true, this argument does seem persuasive but to say that it was convincing beyond any doubt would be untrue. No matter how improbable it is, I have to admit that there is a chance that Floyd may belong to a new species of cat that has no tail, or has been involved in a fight or accident in the past that has led to the loss of his tail.

You’re now ready to look at some bad arguments….

Click here: Bad Arguments

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