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Atheism FAQ

Atheism FAQ



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Published by Psycholex
Athiesm FAQ
Athiesm FAQ

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Published by: Psycholex on May 12, 2008
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 Atheism FAQ: Creating a Logical Argument
Constructing a Logical ArgumentIntroduction There is a lot of argument on Usenet; unfortunately, most of it isofvery low quality. This document attempts to provide you with agentleintroduction to logic. Hopefully it will help you to spot bogusarguments and improve the level of debate. Logic is the science of reasoning, proof, thinking, or inference[Concise OED]. Logic will let you analyze an argument or a pieceofreasoning, and work out whether it is correct or not. To use thetechnical terms, logic lets you work out whether the reasoning isvalid or invalid. Of course, you don't need to study logic to reason correctly.However,a little basic knowledge of logic is often helpful whenconstructingor analyzing an argument. _________________________________________________________________ Caveats Note that I am not claiming that logic is the only way ofconductingdiscussion and debate. Whether logic is universally applicable isitself an issue which is very much open to debate. This documentonlyexplains how to use logic; you must decide whether logic is therighttool for the job. Note also that this document deals only with simple boolean logic.Other sorts of mathematical logic, such as fuzzy logic, obeydifferentrules. When people talk about logical arguments, though, theyusuallymean the type being described here. One problem with boolean logic is that people don't have to beconsistent in their goals and desires. People use fuzzy logic andnon-logical reasoning to handle their conflicting goals; booleanlogicisn't good enough. For example: "John wishes to speak to the person in charge. The person inchargeis Steve. Therefore John wishes to speak to Steve." 
Logically, that's a totally valid argument. However, John may haveaconflicting goal of avoiding Steve, meaning that the answerobtainedby logical reasoning may be inapplicable to real life. Garlictastesgood, strawberry ice cream tastes good, but strawberry garlic icecream is only logically a good idea. Sometimes, principles of valid reasoning which were thought to beuniversal have turned out to be false. For example, for a longtimethe principles of Euclidean geometry were thought to be universallaws. However, keeping those caveats and limitations in mind, let's goon toconsider the basics of boolean logic. _________________________________________________________________ Basic concepts The building blocks of a logical argument are propositions, alsocalled statements. A proposition is a statement which is eithertrueor false. For example: "The first programmable computer was built in Cambridge." "Dogs cannot see colour." "Berlin is the capital of Germany." Propositions may be either asserted (said to be true) or denied(saidto be false). Note: This is a technical meaning of the word "deny", not theeverydaymeaning. When a proposition has been asserted based on some argument, weusually say that it has been affirmed. The proposition is generally viewed as the meaning of thestatement,and not the particular arrangement of words used. So "An evenprimenumber greater than two exists" and "There exists an even primenumbergreater than two" both express the same (false) proposition. Sometimes, however, it is better to consider the wording of theproposition as significant, and use linguistic rules to deriveequivalent statements if necessary. _________________________________________________________________ 
What is an argument? An argument is, to quote the Monty Python sketch, "a connectedseriesof statements to establish a definite proposition". There arethreestages to an argument: premises, inference, and conclusion. Stage one: Premises For the argument to get anywhere, you need one or more initialpropositions. These initial statements are called the premises oftheargument, and must be stated explicitly. You can think of the premises as the reasons for accepting theargument, or the evidence it's built on. Premises are oftenindicatedby phrases such as "because", "since", "obviously", "let'sassume",and so on. (The phrase "obviously" is often viewed with suspicion, as it getsused to intimidate people into accepting things which aren't trueatall. If something doesn't seem obvious to you, don't be afraid toquestion it. You can always say "Oh, yes, you're right, it isobvious"when you've heard the explanation.) Stage two: Inference Next the argument continues step by step, in a process calledinference. In inference, you start with one or more propositions which havebeenaccepted. You then use those propositions to arrive at a newproposition. The new proposition can, of course, be used in laterstages of inference. There are various kinds of valid inference -- and also someinvalidkinds, but we'll get to those later. Inference is often denoted byphrases such as "implies that" or "therefore". Stage three: Conclusion Finally, you arrive at the conclusion of the argument, anotherproposition. The conclusion is often stated as the final stage ofinference. The conclusion is affirmed on the basis the original premises, andtheinference from them. Conclusions are often indicated by phrasessuchas "therefore", "it follows that", "we conclude" and so on. _________________________________________________________________ 

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