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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Communication

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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.

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?

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.

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?

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?
  • 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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RELATED IDEAS

  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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IDEAS

Criticisms of the Kalam cosmological argument
  1. The assumption that an uncaused beginning of all things is impossible.
  2. The Causal Principle cannot be extrapolated to the universe from inductive experience (eg. the phenomenon of quantum indeterminacy , where, at the subatomic level, the causal principle appears to break down).

"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.

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