Analysis: A Rulebook for Arguments - Ch. 6

In Weston’s sixth chapter, Deductive Arguments, he explains that “deductive arguments differ from the sorts of arguments so far considered, in which even a large number of true premises does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion (although sometimes they make it very likely).” [5]

In Weston’s first point of chapter six, Modus ponens, he deciphers what exactly is the structure of a traditional deductive argument:

“Using the letters p and q to stand for declarative sentences, the simplest valid deductive form is

If [sentence p] then [sentence q].
[sentence p].
Therefore, [sentence q].

Or, more briefly:
If p then q.
Therefore, q.”

This form is called modus ponens, and it’s important to note this specific structure because it can be used to develop deductive arguments. For example, we can use this structure or guide to create an argument of our own:

If drinking while driving causes more accidents, then drivers should be prohibited from being drunk, or being intoxicated, while driving. 

Drivers who are intoxicated while driving do cause more accidents.
Therefore, drivers should be prohibited from driving while intoxicated.

This form of argument allows us to see the two premises differently and separately to evaluate them clearly.

In the authors next point, Modus tollens, he wants to explain a second structure for deductive arguments:

If p then q.
Not q.
Therefore, not p.”

Essentially it is the same as the previous example of modus ponens, but this one, instead of being simply p or q, they’re not p etc.

In Weston’s twenty-fourth point introduces a third deductive form: “hypothetical syllogism.” This one is different from the other two because it has three factors and goes as follows:

If p then q.
If q then r.
Therefore, if p then r.

In this one, if p and q are equal, and q and the third variable are equal than that must mean that p and the third variable, r, are equal. An example can be, if I am getting really bad allergies then the pollen in the air must be high. If the pollen in the air is higher than usual, then it must be Spring. Therefore, if I am having worse-than-usual allergies then it must be Spring-time.

The next deductive form that the author introduces is “disjunctive syllogism”:

P or q
Not p.
Therefore, q.

Disjunctive syllogism, like the other deductive forms, is self-explanatory; it implies that if there are two options but if one is not the answer then it must be the other. Right? Well, Weston actually introduces the idea that, in the English language, there are actually two different interpretations of the word “or.” “Or” can either mean that at least one of p or q is true, and possibly both. In this sense, however, we are using “or” as an “exclusive” term, in which there must be one true between whether p or q is true.

Another valid deductive form is the “dilemma.” In which,

P or q
If p then r.
If q then s.
Therefore, r or s.

“Rhetorically, a dilemma is a choice between two options both of which have unappealing consequences.” [6] This is important to note because the “dilemma” deductive form demonstrates a situation in which a dilemma is proposed, so to speak. A simplified argument that Weston introduces in reference to Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Hedgehog’s Dilemma”:

“Either we become close to other or we stand apart.
If we become close to others, we suffer conflict and pain.
If we stand apart, we’ll be lonely.
Therefore, either we suffer conflict and pain or we’ll be lonely.” [7]

Although the example may be simple and brief, it truly covers the breadth the importance and central point of the “dilemma” deductive form.

In Weston’s twenty-seventh point, he introduces a traditional deductive strategy that is fundamentally apart of the modus tollens deductive form: reductio ad absurdum. In this one, however, instead of simply disproving the second option consequentially, we need to show that q is indeed false. “Arguments by reductio (or “indirect proof,” as they’re sometimes called) establish their conclusions by showing that assuming the opposite leads to absurdity: to a contradictory or silly result. Nothing is left to do, the argument suggests, but to accept the conclusion.” [8] This is important to note because the argument is fundamentally proving one variable correct, that there is no other conclusion other than that variable must be correct. The reductio ad absurdum form:

To prove: p.
Assume the opposite: Not p
Argue that from the assumption we’d have to conclude: q.
Show that q is false (contradictory, “absurd” morally or practically unacceptable...)
Conclude: p must be true after all.

Weston’s last point of chapter six is deductive arguments in several steps, “many valid deductive arguments are combinations of the basic forms introduced in Rules 22-27.” [9] Essentially, Weston introduces some methods of deciphering a larger argument into smaller increments to “decode” an argument more efficiently.

Side note: Sorry the format is extremely messed-up, but the fixing the deductive formats was becoming very tedious.

Analysis: A Rulebook for Arguments - Ch. 3 & 4

Arguments by analogy are examined in Weston’s third brief chapter. He first mentions that there is an exception to the rule previously mentioned, rule seven, that said to use more than one example. What arguments by analogy aim to do is argue from one specific example to another, reasoning that just because two examples are “alike in several ways, they are also different in one further specific way.” How do we evaluate arguments by analogy? Well, in regards to our third rule, that said, make sure the premise is true, it’s essential to include relevant examples to support your premise that has already been determined as reliable.

Furthermore, in Weston’s twelfth chapter, he focuses on analogies requiring relevantly similar examples. In arguments by analogy, it is not essential that the examples utilized be precisely like the conclusion. One notable case that uses an analogy to try to establish the Creator of the world. Just how beautiful and well-built houses must have “makers”: designers and builders. Well, the world is like a beautiful and well-built house; therefore, the world must have a maker, and that maker is God. Although the premise of this argument is questionable (Weston includes an argument from Hume suggesting “that the universe is not relevantly similar to a house”), this is an effective example of arguments by analogy.
In Weston’s fourth chapter, sources, he highlights the importance of using sources from reliable and valid sources. Opening up with: “No one can be an expert through direct experience on everything there is to know.” There are only a few persons qualified to give expert advice on given topics. In Weston’s thirteenth point, he says to cite your sources. Although there are some instances that everyone knows are inherently true, there are other instances in which they need supporting evidence. When providing this supporting evidence, it is crucial to cite your sources. Citation styles vary, but they all have a common goal, and that is for the reader to quickly find the source from which your evidence or information comes from.
In Weston’s fourteenth point, he reiterates the importance of having informed sources. As previously mentioned, it is important to have sources that are sufficiently knowledgeable on the topic or a primary source: “Sources must be qualified to make the statements they make.” He mentions some examples of people that are qualified to give information on a certain topic: hondas, midwives, and obstetricians. Additionally, it is essential to understand that when a source’s qualification isn’t entirely clear, “an argument must explain them briefly.” It is also important to note that just because a person is knowledgeable in one topic does not mean they know everything. Weston includes this example: “Einstein was a pacifist. Therefore, pacifism must be right.” He adds that Einstein’s genius in physics does not establish him as a knowledgeable person in political philosophy. Even more so, just because someone has “Doctor” before their name does not mean they are any more qualified in something that someone else when they are qualified in the particular field. Lastly, Weston mentions that truly informed sources are not likely to press their agenda but rather provide evidence and facts to support whomever’s claim.
Weston’s fifteenth point is to seek impartial sources. Essentially, the main “take-away” from this point is to understand “[p]eople who have the most at stake in a dispute are usually not the best sources of information about the issues involved.” Adding that in certain circumstances they sacrifice veracity for the sake of the situation. Some sources that could be considered impartial sources are independent government agencies, university studies or other independent sources. Weston gave an example of Doctors Without Borders, in that they could be considered impartial sources because they practice medicine and are not bent on politics, so to speak. Even then, however, some independent groups could be funded or ran by someone that is not an impartial source. In conclusion, “[a]t the very least, try to confirm for yourself any factual claim quoted from a potentially biased source.”
In the author’s sixteenth brief point, he points out the importance of cross-checking sources. It is essential to cross-check or “consult and compare a variety of sources to see if the other, equally good authorities agree.” Essentially, it is crucial to understand that mere disagreements do not determine the integrity of a source, and furthermore, some things are common sense, such as the Earth is round. Lastly, Weston’s seventeenth point is to use the web with care. In increasingly advanced technological times, it is easy to fall for sources that are not reliable. Weston then mentions some essential questions to ask when looking at the web for some references to contributing/utilize for your argument: “Who created this site? Why did they create it? What are their qualifications? What does it mean if they don’t tell you? How can you double check and cross-check its claims?” In conclusion, when utilizing web sources, it is crucial to go beyond the standard web result, to find the most reliable sources.

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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