Analysis: A Rulebook for Arguments - Ch. 2

In Weston’s second chapter, he emphasizes the importance of having “one or more examples in support of a generalization.” He includes an example, in which the author consists of three examples to show that women in the earlier times were married young. It is essential to write short arguments in this fashion: when do premises like these adequately support a generalization? One requirement, he mentions, is that, in regards to rule 3, it needs to start from reliable premises. Although an argument might be based on reliable premises, “even then, generalizing from them is a tricky business.” 

In Weston’s seventh point in his second chapter, he reiterates the importance of using more than one example: “A single example can sometimes be used for the sake of illustration.” Weston includes an instance in which one statement concludes from the single example that french fries are high in fat that all fast foods are unhealthy. However, this sort of generalizing from weak premises is not as effective as including more examples: french fries are high in fat; milkshakes are high in fat and sugar; deep-fried chicken and cheeseburgers are high in fat; therefore, all fast foods are unhealthy. Although, the second example may still be “weak,” it is far more effective than the example that claimed all fast foods were unhealthy from the sole fact that french fries were high in fat. Weston writes that “the strongest argument should consider all, or at least many, of the examples.” Just like if you were to talk about the solar system, you would want to talk about all of the planets instead of one to base your findings.

Weston's eighth point is to use representative examples. He mentions that “even a large number of examples may still misrepresent the set being generalized about.” Therefore, it is imperative to include relevant examples or facts about what is generalized about to create the most compelling argument possible. An example he uses, in regards to representative examples, as if “everyone in my neighborhood favors McGraw for president. Therefore, McGraw is sure to win.” This argument is weak, Weston states because the small neighborhood is not representative of the neighborhood as a whole. Instead, a much more larger-scale finding would be more effective than generalizing from a tiny aspect. Weston writes, “It is often an open question then, how representative a given sample may be. Anticipate this danger!” Ask if the examples you chose to represent your argument could stand under criticism or when scrutinized: “In general, look for the most accurate cross-section you can find of the population being generalized about.”

Weston’s ninth point is background rates may be crucial. He includes a brief example in which someone mentions that they are a “first-rate” archer after showing someone their bullseye. However, it is essential to ask “how many times did you miss the bullseye.” If they said first-try, than it would be an accurate statement, but if it was after multiple tries and attempts than maybe their account is not as stable. Weston includes, “[t]o evaluate the reliability of any argument featuring a few vivid examples, then, we need to know the ratio between the number of ‘hits,’ so to speak, and the number of tries.” This statement is representative of Weston’s ninth point: looking at the “background” is potent to the claim being made.

Additionally, in many cases, people see statistics and inherently see them as true. This is not the case; in Weston’s tenth point, he highlights the importance of using a critical eye when looking at statistics. “Statistics seem to have an aura of authority and definitiveness,” when this is not the case. It is essential to always look at the statistics and facts included because they are not there for aesthetic or a sense of relief, but rather, should be criticized under examination of the claims.

Weston’s last point in his second chapter is to consider counterexamples. “Counterexamples are examples that contradict your generalization.” In including counterexamples, it shows different sides of the argument that might be brought up, but you are able to say why your claim is probably more accurate. Not only is it important to recognize counterexamples in your own arguments but to “ask yourself about counterexamples when you are assessing other’s arguments ... Ask whether their conclusions might have to be revised and limited, or rethought in more subtle and simple directions.”

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