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The 5 Principles of Good Argument

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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The 5 Principles of Good Argument

The 5 Principles of Good Argument

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

medium.com

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Key Ideas

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.

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?

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

The argument from incredulity

Is a logical fallacy where someone concludes that since they can’t believe that a certain concept is true, then it must be false and vice versa.

Its 2 basic forms:

I c...

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.

Conclusions: proposition X is false.

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.

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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.
Straw man arguments

A straw man argument is a misrepresentation of an opinion or viewpoint, designed to be as easy as possible to contradict.

The only purpose is for it to be easy to expose. I...

Hollow man arguments

This is a weak case (similar to the Straw man arguments) attributed to a non-existent group: Someone will fabricate a viewpoint that is easy to contradict, then claim it was made by a group they disagree with. Arguing against an opponent which doesn’t exist is a pretty easy way to win any debate.

People who use hollow man arguments will often use vague, non-specific language without explicitly giving any sources or stating who their opponent is.

Iron man argument

It is designed to be resistant to attacks by a defier.There arguments are difficult to avoid because they have a lot of overlap with legitimate debate techniques.

A person using an iron man argument will most likely make their own viewpoint so vague that nothing anyone says about it can weaken it. They’ll use jargon and imprecise terms. This means they can claim anyone who disagrees didn’t understand them, or they’ll rephrase their argument multiple times.

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Convince Them With Confidence
  • Speak confidently, be concise, and try not to repeat yourself. 
  • Give the appearance that you truly know what’s right from the beginning, even if you don’t have all o...
Avoid Common Argument Fallacies

Winning an argument often comes down to who can go the longest without contradicting themselves and keeping sound logic, not direct persuasion of the other party.

Anecdotal Fallacy

Using a single personal experience as the foundation of your argument or your big piece of evidence. 

For example, your phone may have broken right after you bought it, but you can’t use that to argue that those phones are not worth the purchase for others.

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Win the black belt in political argument
  • People think emotionally, so forget facts
  • When people are asked to explain their beliefs about how a given thing works, they’ll actually become less confident...
Cherry picking

It is a logical fallacy and it happens when we choose and focus only on evidence that supports our views and arguments while ignoring anything that may contradict us.

The problem with cherry picking
  • It fails to take into consideration all the available information
  • It presents information in a misleading way.
  • It might lead to improper analysis and might cause someone to paint a misleading picture of a certain outcome.
The principle of total evidence

Also referred to as Bernoulli’s maxim, it states that, when assessing the probability that a certain hypothesis is true, we must take into account all the available information.

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The "counterexample method"
The "counterexample method"

While the premises may be true in an argument, the conclusion may or may not be correct, making the argument invalid. Example of an incorrect argument: Some New Yorkers are rude, some ...

Proving an argument is not valid

The counterexample method is effective at exposing the invalidity of deductive arguments.

  1. Isolate the argument form in a simple, easy to digest form, like by replacing names with letters.
  2. Create an analogy, a counterexample that substitutes the original argument, and it is a given that it would also be as invalid as the original argument’s conclusion
  3. Reduce the new argument in it’s most barebones form by affirming the antecedent, that exposes the fallacy of the original argument.
The Illusion of Explanatory Depth

We are overconfident about what we think because we're familiar with the material. 

We think we know more than we actually do because it's ava...

How to Win an Argument

If you want to win an argument, simply ask the person trying to convince you of something to explain how it would work.

Chances are they have not done the work required to hold an opinion. If they can explain why they are correct and how things would work, you'll learn something. If they can't you'll soften their views, perhaps nudging them ever so softly toward your views.

To Persuade or Convince

When people disagree with us we assume they are ignorant … that they lack information. So we try to convince them with information. It seldom works.

  • Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device.
  • It’s much easier to persuade someone if they’re already convinced, but it’s impossible to change someone’s mind merely by convincing them of your point.

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The argument from dictionary
The argument from dictionary

The argument from a dictionary is a logical fallacy and happens when someone's argument is based, in a problematic way, on the definition of a particular term as it appears in a diction...

An example of the appeal to definition

"We should ignore the theory of evolution because the dictionary says that a theory is just an opinion that you have about something you can't prove."

The person using this fallacy is basing their statement on a specific definition of the word "theory" while ignoring alternative definitions that will better capture the meaning of the term as it's used in a scientific context.

Appeal to definition: when the process becomes fallacious

Not every use of a definition is necessarily fallacious. If the definition is properly justified and is selected in a properly justified way, it is generally not fallacious. However, it is fallacious when at least one of the following conditions are true:

  • There is no valid reason for using the definition.
  • The definition was cherry-picked out of a range of possible definitions.

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The Appeal to Force
The Appeal to Force

This fallacy occurs when a person makes a threat of physical or psychological violence against others if they refuse to accept the conclusions offered. It can also happen when a person clai...

An Examples of the Appeal to Force

Adults use the fallacy more subtly.

"If you don't support the spending bill to develop better airplanes, our enemies will think we are weak and will attack us at some point, killing millions." The person offering this argument is using psychological pressure to get agreement. There is no apparent connection between "our enemies" and the conclusion that it will be in the country's best interest.