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The 5 Principles of Good Argument

https://medium.com/@ameet/the-5-principles-of-good-argument-63d394ca3051

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The 5 Principles of Good Argument
In our daily lives, we're constantly hearing or making persuasive arguments. We may be listening to a colleague's argument for why we should support one of her initiatives. We may hear an argument for why we should buy a certain product. Or we may need to make our own argument to get approval for one of our projects.

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Reasons for constructing a good argument

How should we evaluate arguments that people make to persuade us? And how should we construct our own arguments to be the most effective?

At its core, an argument consists of a conclusion and one or more premises, or claims.

  • The conclusion is what the communicator wants his or her audience to accept.
  • The premises are the reasons for believing the conclusion to be true.

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Structure of a well-formed argument

It does not use reasons that contradict each other, contradict the conclusion or explicitly or implicitly assumes the truth of the conclusion. Checklist:

  • Does the communication include at least one reason to support the conclusion as being true? If not, it is not an argument, but an opinion.
  • Could any of the key premises be interpreted as making the same claim as the conclusion? If so, then it’s a “circular argument” without independent reason given to support the conclusion.
  • Do any of the premises contradict another premise, or does the conclusion contradict any of the premises?

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The relevance of a premise

A premise is relevant if it provides some bearing on the truth of the conclusion. Checklist:

  • If the premise were true, does it make you more likely to believe that the conclusion is true? If yes, the premise is probably relevant.
  • Even if the premise were true, should it be a consideration for accepting the truth of the conclusion? If no, then the premise is probably not relevant.

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Acceptability

A premise should be acceptable to a mature, rational adult.

The claim should meet the following standards:

  • It is a matter of undisputed common knowledge.
  • It's confirmed by one’s own personal experience or observation.
  • It's an uncontroverted claim from a relevant authority.
  • It's a relatively minor claim that seems to be a reasonable assumption.

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Sufficiency

This principle is a judgment call. Checklist:

  • Are the reasons provided enough to drive to the arguer’s conclusion?
  • Is the premise based on insufficient evidence or faulty causal analysis? Some premises provide evidence that is based on too small a sample or unrepresentative data.
  • Is some key or crucial evidence missing that must be provided in order to accept the argument?

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Rebuttal

A good argument includes an effective rebuttal to all anticipated serious criticisms of the argument. Arguers often use arguments that misrepresent the criticism, bring up trivial objections as a side issue, or resort to humor or ridicule are using devices that clearly fail to make effective responses. Checklist:

  • Does the provided argument address the strongest counterarguments effectively?
  • Does the arguer anticipate and address serious weaknesses in the argument?
  • Does the argument show why alternative positions are flawed?

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Making your own argument stronger

  • Structure: Explicitly call out your conclusion and the supporting reasons.
  • Relevance: Ensure that all materials you’re presenting as part of your argument are relevant. 
  • Acceptability: Soften any absolute claims to make them more acceptable. (e.g. “most politicians” instead of “all politicians”) 
  • Sufficiency: Put yourself in your audience’s place, and see if the reasons are sufficient to accept your conclusion.
  • Rebuttal: Declare upfront what the weakest parts of your argument are and proactively address them.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Basic structure of an argument from incredulity

Premise 1: I can’t explain or imagine how proposition X can be true.

Premise 2: if a certain proposition is true, then I must be able to explain or imagine how that can be.

It’s ok to be incredulous

... and to bring this up as part of an argument. The issue with doing so occurs when this incredulity isn’t justified or supported by concrete information, and when this lack of belief is used in order to assume that a preferred personal explanation must be the right one, despite the lack of proof.

At the same time, it’s also important to remember that it’s possible that the person using the argument from incredulity is right, despite the fact that their reasoning is flawed.

Counter the argument from incredulity

  1. Explain why this sort of reasoning is fallacious: namely the fact that your opponent’s inability to explain a certain phenomenon or to understand a certain theory, does not invalidate current explanations for it.
  2. Shift the burden of proof back to your opponent: ask them to support their initial assertion, and explain why they are incredulous, and why they think that this validates their position.
  3. If possible, you should show that there is scientific evidence that can be used in order to explain the phenomenon that’s being discussed. 

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How to improve your knowledge

How to improve your knowledge

According to the Falsification Principle of Karl Popper, we cannot prove the validity of a hypothesis. We can only disprove it.

However, we can get closer to the truth by improving...

Inductive reasoning: From observation to theory

Inductive reasoning involves looking for a trend or a pattern, then using the observations to formulate a general truth. For example, "When I eat peanuts, my throat swells up and I have difficulty breathing. Therefore, I'm likely allergic to peanuts."

Limitations:

  • Inductive reasoning leads to uncertain conclusions as there is no way to prove the veracity.
  • Inductive reasoning can also lead to wrong conclusions. We may mistake correlation with causation, or apply the particular to the general.

Deductive reasoning: From theory to confirmation

Deductive reasoning starts from established facts, then applies logical steps to reach a conclusion. For example, "Bachelors are unmarried men. Jack is unmarried. Therefore, Jack is a bachelor."

Limitations:

  • If the premise or the logic applied is flawed, deductive reasoning can lead to the wrong conclusions. For example, "All dogs are animals; all animals have four legs; therefore, all dogs have four legs," is false because injury or species characteristics mean not all animals have four legs.
  • It is impractical to use on a daily basis, as it requires a factual premise to start from, which we don't always have access to.
  • Building a premise on an outdated hypothesis can lead to the wrong conclusion.

Begging the question

Begging the question

Begging the question is an example of a fallacy of presumption, also known as a circular argument: The conclusion appears at the beginning and the end of the argument. ...

Begging the question example

"The law says you should drive on the right side of the road, and the law is the law."

When someone is questioning this statement, they are questioning the law. If we say, "because that is the law," we are begging the question. We are assuming the validity of what the other person is questioning.

Structure of circular reasoning

The most simple form of begging the question: A is true because A is true.

Circular reasoning can also be a bit longer:

  • A is true because B is true, and B is true because A is true.
  • A is true because B is true, and B is true because C is true. C is correct because A is true.