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PHIL& 115: Critical Thinking

What is an Argument?

See handout! We will be using these basic
concepts (argument, premise, conclusion,
validity, soundness) extensively throughout
the course. Treat this handout as a quick
reference sheet.
What argument is not:
What good are arguments?

Being able to give arguments allows us to
have clear reasons for our beliefs

Being able to weigh different arguments allows
us to choose more reasonable beliefs

Being able to spot faulty arguments allows us
to avoid unreasonable beliefs and gives us the
power to resist manipulation
Reasons for beliefs
Reasons for beliefs

Most of us believe that murdering innocent
people is wrong...but what if we are faced with
someone like the Joker, who completely

Being able to provide arguments means
understanding reasons for our beliefs. Beliefs
with reasons are more resilient.
Choosing more reasonable beliefs
Choosing more reasonable beliefs
Choosing more reasonable beliefs

Sometimes it is difficult to determine which
view is correct.

For example: should ‘assault weapons’ be
banned for civilian use?

Being able to evaluate arguments means the
ability to see the reasons for each view and
choose based on REASONS instead of based
on first impressions or momentary feelings.
Identifying bad arguments
Identifying bad arguments
Identifying bad arguments

We are constantly bombarded by
advertisements suggesting reasons to buy

It is almost time for a presidential election, the
Great American Bad Argument Extravaganza.

Being able to analyze arguments protects us
from deceptive rhetoric.
Distinguishing premises and

The conclusion is what one is trying to prove.

Conclusions can be signaled by words like
‘therefore,’ ‘hence,’ ‘so,’ ‘we can see that,’ etc.

Conclusions are frequently (but not always!) at
the ends of arguments.

In longer essays, the conclusion for which you
are arguing is called your ‘thesis.’
Distinguishing premises and

The premises of an argument are the claims
that are set up to support a conclusion.

Premises are frequently introduced by terms
like ‘because,’ ‘since,’ ‘assuming that,’ etc.

One of the major tasks in good analysis of
arguments is getting the premises perfectly
Find the premises and the
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of
Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to
abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and
organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety
and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should
not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn,
that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right
themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of
abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce
them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such
Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the
patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them
to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great
Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the
establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.