In logic and philosophy, an argument is a series of statements (in a natural language), called the premises or premisses (both spellings are acceptable), intended to determine the degree of truth of another statement, the conclusion.
[ "Argument", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy." "In everyday life, we often use the word "argument" to mean a verbal dispute or disagreement. This is not the way this word is usually used in philosophy. However, the two uses are related. Normally, when two people verbally disagree with each other, each person attempts to convince the other that his/her viewpoint is the right one. Unless he or she merely results to name calling or threats, he or she typically presents an argument for his or her position, in the sense described above. In philosophy, "arguments" are those statements a person makes in the attempt to convince someone of something, or present reasons for accepting a given conclusion."] [Ralph H. Johnson, Manifest Rationality: A pragmatic theory of argument (New Jersey: Laurence Erlbaum, 2000), 46–49.] [Ralph H. Johnson, Manifest Rationality: A pragmatic theory of argument (New Jersey: Laurence Erlbaum, 2000), 46.] [The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Ed. CUM, 1995 "Argument: a sequence of statements such that some of them (the premises) purport to give reason to accept another of them, the conclusion"] [ Stanford Enc. Phil., Classical Logic] The logical form of an argument in a natural language can be represented in a symbolic formal language, and independently of natural language formally defined "arguments" can be made in math and computer science.
Logic is the study of the forms of in arguments and the development of standards and criteria to evaluate arguments.
[ "Argument", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy."] Deductive arguments can be valid or Soundness: in a valid argument, premisses necessitate the conclusion, even if one or more of the premisses is false and the conclusion is false; in a sound argument, true premisses necessitate a true conclusion. Inductive arguments, by contrast, can have different degrees of logical strength: the stronger or more cogent the argument, the greater the probability that the conclusion is true, the weaker the argument, the lesser that probability. [ "Deductive and Inductive Arguments," Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.] The standards for evaluating non-deductive arguments may rest on different or additional criteria than truth—for example, the persuasiveness of so-called "indispensability claims" in transcendental arguments, [Charles Taylor, "The Validity of Transcendental Arguments", Philosophical Arguments (Harvard, 1995), 20–33. "Transcendental arguments consist of a string of what one could call indispensability claims. They move from their starting points to their conclusions by showing that the condition stated in the conclusion is indispensable to the feature identified at the start… Thus we could spell out Kant's transcendental deduction in the first edition in three stages: experience must have an object, that is, be of something; for this it must be coherent; and to be coherent it must be shaped by the understanding through the categories."] the quality of hypotheses in retroduction, or even the world disclosure of new possibilities for thinking and acting.
The Latin root arguere
(to make bright, enlighten, make known, prove, etc.) is from Proto-Indo-European argu-yo-
, suffixed form of arg-
(to shine; white).
Formal and informal
Informal arguments as studied in informal logic
, are presented in ordinary language and are intended for everyday discourse
. Formal arguments are studied in formal logic
(historically called symbolic logic
, more commonly referred to as mathematical logic
today) and are expressed in a formal language
. Informal logic emphasizes the study of argumentation
; formal logic emphasizes Entailment
. Informal arguments are sometimes implicit. The rational structure – the relationship of claims, premises, warrants, relations of implication, and conclusion – is not always spelled out and immediately visible and must be made explicit by analysis.
There are several kinds of arguments in logic, the best-known of which are "deductive" and "inductive." An argument has one or more premises but only one conclusion. Each premise and the conclusion are Truthbearer
or "truth-candidates", each capable of being either true or false (but not both). These truth values bear on the terminology used with arguments.
A deductive argument asserts that the truth of the conclusion is a logical consequence of the premises. Based on the premises, the conclusion follows necessarily (with certainty). For example, given premises that A=B and B=C, then the conclusion follows necessarily that A=C. Deductive arguments are sometimes referred to as "truth-preserving" arguments.
A deductive argument is said to be valid or invalid. If one assumes the premises to be true (ignoring their actual truth values), would the conclusion follow with certainty? If yes, the argument is valid. If no, it is invalid. In determining validity, the structure of the argument is essential to the determination, not the actual truth values. For example, consider the argument that because bats can fly (premise=true), and all flying creatures are birds (premise=false), therefore bats are birds (conclusion=false). If we assume the premises are true, the conclusion follows necessarily, and it is a valid argument.
If a deductive argument is valid and its premises are all true, then it is also referred to as sound. Otherwise, it is unsound, as "bats are birds".
If all the premises of a valid deductive argument are true, then its conclusion must be true. It is impossible for the conclusion to be false if all the premises are true.
An inductive argument asserts that the truth of the conclusion is supported by the probability of the premises. For example, given that the U.S. military budget is the largest in the world (premise=true), then it is probable that it will remain so for the next 10 years (conclusion=true). Arguments that involve predictions are inductive since the future is uncertain.
An inductive argument is said to be strong or weak. If the premises of an inductive argument are assumed true, is it probable the conclusion is also true? If yes, the argument is strong. If no, it is weak.
A strong argument is said to be cogent if it has all true premises. Otherwise, the argument is uncogent. The military budget argument example is a strong, cogent argument.
A deductive argument
, if valid, has a conclusion that is Entailment
by its premises. The truth of the conclusion is a logical consequence of the premises If the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. It would be self-contradictory to assert the premises and deny the conclusion, because negation of the conclusion is contradictory to the truth of the premises.
Deductive arguments may be either valid or invalid. If an argument is valid, it is a valid deduction, and if its premises are true, the conclusion must be true: a valid argument cannot have true premises and a false conclusion.
An argument is formally valid if and only if the denial of the conclusion is incompatible with accepting all the premises.
The validity of an argument depends not on the actual truth or falsity of its premises and conclusion, but on whether the argument has a valid Argument form. The validity of an argument is not a guarantee of the truth of its conclusion. A valid argument may have false premises that render it inconclusive: the conclusion of a valid argument with one or more false premises may be true or false.
Logic seeks to discover the forms that make arguments valid. A form of argument is valid if and only if the conclusion is true under all interpretations of that argument in which the premises are true. Since the validity of an argument depends on its form, an argument can be shown invalid by showing that its form is invalid. This can be done by a counter example of the same form of argument with premises that are true under a given interpretation, but a conclusion that is false under that interpretation. In informal logic this is called a counter argument.
The form of argument can be shown by the use of symbols. For each argument form, there is a corresponding statement form, called a corresponding conditional, and an argument form is valid if and only if its corresponding conditional is a logical truth. A statement form which is logically true is also said to be a valid statement form. A statement form is a logical truth if it is true under all interpretations. A statement form can be shown to be a logical truth by either (a) showing that it is a tautology or (b) by means of a proof procedure.
The corresponding conditional of a valid argument is a necessary truth (true in all possible worlds) and so the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, or follows of logical necessity. The conclusion of a valid argument is not necessarily true, it depends on whether the premises are true. If the conclusion, itself, is a necessary truth, it is without regard to the premises.
All Greeks are human and all humans are mortal; therefore, all Greeks are mortal. : Valid argument; if the premises are true the conclusion must be true.
Some Greeks are logicians and some logicians are tiresome; therefore, some Greeks are tiresome. Invalid argument: the tiresome logicians might all be Romans (for example).
Either we are all doomed or we are all saved; we are not all saved; therefore, we are all doomed. Valid argument; the premises entail the conclusion. (This does not mean the conclusion has to be true; it is only true if the premises are true, which they may not be!)
Some men are hawkers. Some hawkers are rich. Therefore, some men are rich. Invalid argument. This can be easier seen by giving a counter-example with the same argument form:
Some people are herbivores. Some herbivores are zebras. Therefore, some people are zebras.'' Invalid argument, as it is possible that the premises be true and the conclusion false.
In the above second to last case (Some men are hawkers...), the counter-example follows the same logical form as the previous argument, (Premise 1: "Some X are Y." Premise 2: "Some Y are Z." Conclusion: "Some X are Z.") in order to demonstrate that whatever hawkers may be, they may or may not be rich, in consideration of the premises as such. (See also: Existential import).
The forms of argument that render deductions valid are well-established, however some invalid arguments can also be persuasive depending on their construction (inductive arguments, for example). (See also: Formal fallacy and Informal fallacy).
A sound argument is a valid argument whose conclusion follows from its premise(s), and the premise(s) of which is/are true.
Non-deductive logic is reasoning using arguments in which the premises support the conclusion but do not entail it. Forms of non-deductive logic include the statistical syllogism, which argues from generalizations true for the most part, and induction, a form of reasoning that makes generalizations based on individual instances. An inductive argument is said to be cogent
if and only if the truth of the argument's premises would render the truth of the conclusion probable (i.e., the argument is strong
), and the argument's premises are, in fact, true. Cogency can be considered inductive logic
's analogue to deductive logic
". Despite its name, mathematical induction is not a form of inductive reasoning. The lack of deductive validity is known as the problem of induction.
Defeasible arguments and argumentation schemes
In modern argumentation theories, arguments are regarded as defeasible passages from premises to a conclusion. Defeasibility
means that when additional information (new evidence or contrary arguments) is provided, the premises may be no longer lead to the conclusion (non-monotonic reasoning). This type of reasoning is referred to as defeasible reasoning. For instance we consider the famous Tweety example:
- :Tweety is a bird.
- :Birds generally fly.
- :Therefore, Tweety (probably) flies.
This argument is reasonable and the premises support the conclusion unless additional information indicating that the case is an exception comes in. If Tweety is a penguin, the inference is no longer justified by the premise. Defeasible arguments are based on generalizations that hold only in the majority of cases, but are subject to exceptions and defaults.
In order to represent and assess defeasible reasoning, it is necessary to combine the logical rules (governing the acceptance of a conclusion based on the acceptance of its premises) with rules of material inference, governing how a premise can support a given conclusion (whether it is reasonable or not to draw a specific conclusion from a specific description of a state of affairs).
Argumentation schemes have been developed to describe and assess the acceptability or the Fallacy of defeasible arguments. Argumentation schemes are stereotypical patterns of inference, combining semantic-ontological relations with types of reasoning and logical axioms and representing the abstract structure of the most common types of natural arguments.
A typical example is the argument from expert opinion, shown below, which has two premises and a conclusion.
|+ Argument from expert opinion|
|Source E is an expert in subject domain S containing proposition A.|
|E asserts that proposition A is true (false).|
|A is true (false).|
Each scheme may be associated with a set of critical questions, namely criteria for assessing dialectically the reasonableness and acceptability of an argument. The matching critical questions are the standard ways of casting the argument into doubt.
Argument by analogy
may be thought of as argument from the particular to particular. An argument by analogy may use a particular truth in a premise to argue towards a similar particular truth in the conclusion. For example, if A. Plato was mortal, and B. Socrates was like Plato in other respects, then asserting that C. Socrates was mortal is an example of argument by analogy because the reasoning employed in it proceeds from a particular truth in a premise (Plato was mortal) to a similar particular truth in the conclusion, namely that Socrates was mortal.
Other kinds of arguments may have different or additional standards of validity or justification. For example, philosopher Charles Taylor said that so-called transcendental arguments are made up of a "chain of indispensability claims" that attempt to show why something is necessarily true based on its connection to our experience,
[Charles Taylor, "The Validity of Transcendental Arguments", Philosophical Arguments (Harvard, 1995), 20–33.]
while Nikolas Kompridis has suggested that there are two types of "fallible
" arguments: one based on truth claims, and the other based on the time-responsive disclosure of possibility (world disclosure
[Nikolas Kompridis, "Two Kinds of Fallibilism", Critique and Disclosure (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 180–183.]
Kompridis said that the French philosopher Michel Foucault
was a prominent advocate of this latter form of philosophical argument.
[Nikolas Kompridis, "Disclosure as (Intimate) Critique", Critique and Disclosure (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 254. In addition, Foucault said of his own approach that "My role ... is to show people that they are much freer than they feel, that people accept as truth, as evidence, some themes which have been built up at a certain moment during history, and that this so-called evidence can be criticized and destroyed." He also wrote that he was engaged in "the process of putting historico-critical reflection to the test of concrete practices… I continue to think that this task requires work on our limits, that is, a patient labor giving form to our impatience for liberty." (emphasis added) Hubert Dreyfus, " Being and Power: Heidegger and Foucault" and Michel Foucault, "What is Enlightenment?"]
World-disclosing arguments are a group of philosophical arguments that according to Nikolas Kompridis employ a world disclosure
approach, to reveal features of a wider ontology
or cultural-linguistic understanding – a "world", in a specifically ontological sense – in order to clarify or transform the background of meaning (tacit knowledge
) and what Kompridis has called the "logical space" on which an argument implicitly depends.
[Nikolas Kompridis, "World Disclosing Arguments?" in Critique and Disclosure, Cambridge: MIT Press (2006), 118–121.]
While arguments attempt to show that something was, is, will be, or should be the case, explanations try to show why
something is or will be. If Fred and Joe address the issue of whether
or not Fred's cat has fleas, Joe may state: "Fred, your cat has fleas. Observe, the cat is scratching right now." Joe has made an argument that
the cat has fleas. However, if Joe asks Fred, "Why is your cat scratching itself?" the explanation, "...because it has fleas." provides understanding.
Both the above argument and explanation require knowing the generalities that a) fleas often cause itching, and b) that one often scratches to relieve itching. The difference is in the intent: an argument attempts to settle whether or not some claim is true, and an explanation attempts to provide understanding of the event. Note, that by subsuming the specific event (of Fred's cat scratching) as an instance of the general rule that "animals scratch themselves when they have fleas", Joe will no longer wonder why Fred's cat is scratching itself. Arguments address problems of belief, explanations address problems of understanding. Also note that in the argument above, the statement, "Fred's cat has fleas" is up for debate (i.e. is a claim), but in the explanation, the statement, "Fred's cat has fleas" is assumed to be true (unquestioned at this time) and just needs explaining.
[JONATHAN F. OSBORNE, ALEXIS PATTERSON School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA Received 27 August 2010; revised 22 November 2010; accepted 29 November 2010 DOI 10.1002/sce.20438 Published online 23 May 2011 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com)]
Arguments and explanations largely resemble each other in use. This is the cause of much difficulty in thinking critically about claims. There are several reasons for this difficulty.
People often are not themselves clear on whether they are arguing for or explaining something.
The same types of words and phrases are used in presenting explanations and arguments.
The terms 'explain' or 'explanation,' et cetera are frequently used in arguments.
Explanations are often used within arguments and presented so as to serve as arguments.
[ Critical Thinking, Parker and Moore]
Likewise, "...arguments are essential to the process of justifying the validity of any explanation as there are often multiple explanations for any given phenomenon."
Explanations and arguments are often studied in the field of Information Systems to help explain user acceptance of knowledge-based systems. Certain argument types may fit better with personality traits to enhance acceptance by individuals.
[Justin Scott Giboney, Susan Brown, and Jay F. Nunamaker Jr. (2012). "User Acceptance of Knowledge-Based System Recommendations: Explanations, Arguments, and Fit" 45th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, January 5–8.]
Fallacies and non-arguments
Fallacies are types of argument or expressions which are held to be of an invalid form or contain errors in reasoning. There is not as yet any general theory of fallacy or strong agreement among researchers of their definition or potential for application but the term is broadly applicable as a label to certain examples of error, and also variously applied to ambiguous candidates.
One type of fallacy occurs when a word frequently used to indicate a conclusion is used as a transition (conjunctive adverb) between independent clauses. In English the words therefore, so, because and hence typically separate the premises from the conclusion of an argument. Thus: Socrates is a man, all men are mortal therefore Socrates is mortal is an argument because the assertion Socrates is mortal follows from the preceding statements. However, I was thirsty and therefore I drank is not an argument, despite its appearance. It is not being claimed that I drank is logically entailed by I was thirsty. The therefore in this sentence indicates for that reason not it follows that.
Elliptical or ethymematic arguments
Often an argument is invalid or weak because there is a missing premise—the supply of which would make it valid or strong. This is referred to as an elliptical or ethymematic argument (see also ). Speakers and writers will often leave out a necessary premise in their reasoning if it is widely accepted and the writer does not wish to state the blindingly obvious. Example: All metals expand when heated, therefore iron will expand when heated.
The missing premise is: Iron is a metal.
On the other hand, a seemingly valid argument may be found to lack a premise – a "hidden assumption" – which, if highlighted, can show a fault in reasoning. Example: A witness reasoned: Nobody came out the front door except the milkman; therefore the murderer must have left by the back door.
The hidden assumptions are: (1) the milkman was not the murderer and (2) the murderer has left by the front or back door.
Robert Audi, Epistemology, Routledge, 1998. Particularly relevant is Chapter 6, which explores the relationship between knowledge, inference and argument.
J. L. Austin How to Do Things With Words, Oxford University Press, 1976.
H. P. Grice, Logic and Conversation in The Logic of Grammar, Dickenson, 1975.
Vincent F. Hendricks, Thought 2 Talk: A Crash Course in Reflection and Expression, New York: Automatic Press / VIP, 2005,
R. A. DeMillo, R. J. Lipton and A. J. Perlis, Social Processes and Proofs of Theorems and Programs, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 22, No. 5, 1979. A classic article on the social process of acceptance of proofs in mathematics.
Yu. Manin, A Course in Mathematical Logic, Springer Verlag, 1977. A mathematical view of logic. This book is different from most books on mathematical logic in that it emphasizes the mathematics of logic, as opposed to the formal structure of logic.
Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric, Notre Dame, 1970. This classic was originally published in French in 1958.
Henri Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis, Dover Publications, 1952
Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst, Speech Acts in Argumentative Discussions, Foris Publications, 1984.
K. R. Popper Objective Knowledge; An Evolutionary Approach, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.
L. S. Stebbing, A Modern Introduction to Logic, Methuen and Co., 1948. An account of logic that covers the classic topics of logic and argument while carefully considering modern developments in logic.
Douglas N. Walton, Informal Logic: A Handbook for Critical Argumentation, Cambridge, 1998.
Walton, Douglas; Christopher Reed; Fabrizio Macagno, Argumentation Schemes, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Carlos Chesñevar, Ana Maguitman and Ronald Loui, Logical Models of Argument, ACM Computing Surveys, vol. 32, num. 4, pp. 337–383, 2000.
T. Edward Damer. Attacking Faulty Reasoning, 5th Edition, Wadsworth, 2005.
Charles Arthur Willard, A Theory of Argumentation. 1989.
Charles Arthur Willard, Argumentation and the Social Grounds of Knowledge. 1982.
Salmon, Wesley C. Logic. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall (1963). Library of Congress Catalog Card no. 63-10528.
Aristotle, Prior and Posterior Analytics. Ed. and trans. John Warrington. London: Dent (1964)
Mates, Benson. Elementary Logic. New York: OUP (1972). Library of Congress Catalog Card no. 74-166004.
Mendelson, Elliot. Introduction to Mathematical Logic. New York: Van Nostran Reinholds Company (1964).
Frege, Gottlob. The Foundations of Arithmetic. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press (1980).
Martin, Brian. The Controversy Manual (Sparsnäs, Sweden: Irene Publishing, 2014).