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The Elements of

Building Blocks of Arguments:
Statements and Truth
Note: Don’t confuse “truth value” with “truth.”

“Truth value” = can be treated as a true or false

“Political always tell the complete
• Has truth value (is not a question,
command, etc)
• Is false.

These have no truth value; they cannot be either

true or false.
grammatical unit)

Question Command Statement

“This is a
“Today is
class “I enjoy logic.”
in logic.”
Statements in other forms
1. Re: “Cellphones swamping 911
system,” Aug 26

How is it that we can spend billions on the

Iraq war but cannot afford to adequately
staff 911 call centers in the U.S.?
Bruce R. Feldman, Santa Monica
LA Times, Aug 29, 2007
Statements and Propositions

 Statements have “propositional content”

 Propositional content is the meaning of
the statement.
 Meanings can be expressed in many
 Ich habe kein geld = I don’t have any money
 Rhetorical questions are statements in
non-standard form.
Building Blocks – Summary (1)

 In standard form, an argument contains

only statements.

P1 – statement
P2 – statement (etc)
C - statement
Building Blocks – Summary (2)

 Statements offer information that is

either true or false (statements have
truth value)

 Statements may have to be rephrased to

more clearly capture their propositional
content (meaning)
The Structure of Arguments

Statements are either premises or

conclusions, depending on their role in
an argument.

Premises Conclusion
Statements which are used Statements which are
to support other statements supported by other
The Structure of Arguments

 The crucial element that “makes” a

group of statements an argument is an

 An inference is supposed to establish

the truth of the concluding
Example: Inferences and non-
A description of a person can be used:

 In a novel, used to create a character

 Verbally, to explain why you think a
person is homeless
 In jury testimony, used to support an
inference of guilt or innocence
The two claims in any
Identifying Arguments -
Conclusion Hints
Premise Hints
Arguments with no or few hints
“Reasonable Person” Test

 Of any two statements, which is more

likely to follow from the other?

 Focus closely on the content of each

statement when applying this test.
Test 1:
P: The national defense depends on the space program.
C: Therefore, the space program deserves increased
expenditures in the years ahead.

Test 2:
P: The space program deserves increased expenditures in
the years ahead.
C: Therefore, the national defense depends on the space
Heuristic signs of a conclusion

 In ordinary discourse, the conclusion is

often expressed first.

 Look for a statement that can unify all

the other statements in the passage
– or which all the other statements
could support.
Example of a “Unifying

Sometimes we have small dips in the use

of oil, but the general trend shows no sign
of a permanent decrease. And remember
that oil reserves are not being discovered
as fast as oil is being consumed. The world
is simply going to have to learn how to do
without oil.
Summary of Argument

 Look for premise and conclusion


 Apply the “reasonable person” test

 Use heuristic indicators of a conclusion

Practice: What is the
Real Life Arguments – What Is
the Conclusion?
The alleged dumping of the paraplegic on skid
row begs for someone to file a huge civil lawsuit.
With a large award in such a case, perhaps
hospitals would decide it is not in their best
interests to continue this egregious practice.
Apparently, threats of legal actions are not a
sufficient deterrent.
(LA Times, 2-12-07; Bill Busch, Redondo Beach)
Common Mistakes in
Identifying Conclusions
 Focusing on what seems to be the most
controversial statement.
Common Mistakes in
Identifying Conclusions
 Confusing a relation between premises
as an indication of an inference.
One Last Note: Non-Essential
Statements in an Argument

 Statements are expressions with truth-value

 All arguments contain two claims: about content
and about reasoning
 The conclusion is the “main point” of a passage,
or the statement that other statements to “lead
 Premise/conclusion indicators
 The “Reasonable Person” test
Arguments and Non-
Discerning Non-Arguments

Some passages bear a superficial

resemblance to arguments

 They contain controversial statements

 They give examples of a point
(anecdotal evidence?)
 They use “indicator” terminology

 They seem generally persuasive

Theme: Human Freedom
P1: Human actions have
P1: Every event has causes.
a cause. P2: None of these causes
P2: Human actions are under our control.
are events. P3: Without control over
________________ the causes of our
behavior, we are not
C: Human actions _____________________
have causes. C: We are not free.
Statement of Belief and

Belief: “People are not free. Those who

think they are free are hopelessly naïve.
People are no more able to control their
own destinies than are ants, and it’s just
anti-scientific to say so.”

Illustration: “People are not free; just look at

how many abusers were abused as a child.”

(To a psychology class): We know that people are

not free because, like all other mammals,
behavior is rooted in centuries of evolutionary
selection for certain kinds of behaviors and

(In a philosophy class, developing the claim):

Although people are not free, we feel that we are
because the controls of our behavior are internal
and so do not feel that they are being imposed
from without and against our will.
Expository Passage

“People are not free, although human

freedom has been highly prized
throughout our history. Its value is
affirmed by religious doctrines. Civil and
criminal justice systems incorporate the
idea that behavior is freely chosen into
sentencing guidelines. Clearly it has
been an important concept in many
areas of human activity.”

“If I were you, I’d accept the fact that we’re

not free. In fact, you’d be wise to stop
treating others with the respect that real
freedom would require and simply
approach others as stimulus-response
machines, to be manipulated for your
own gain.”
Conditional Statement

“If people are not free, then they cannot be

held morally responsible for their

 Is the aim of the passage to support a

 Note: not all arguments aim to persuade
 Are there indicator words?
 Is the passage an argument or an
 Is the explanation a justification?

 What seems to be the main intention of

the speaker/writer?
Themes for Discourse Practice
 The Use of Medical Marijuana

 Single-Payer Health Care

 Physician-assisted Suicide

 Competitive Sports for Children

 Or…??