Monday, 26 August 2013

Critical Thinking 1: Features of a Statement

Higher Philosophy Podcast
Critical Thinking: Features of a Statement

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There are four elements that make up arguments: statements, questions, commands, and exclamations.  We are only interested in statements, for reasons that will become clear.  Look at the argument below, we can see that it included all four of these:


Statements are sentences that have a truth value.  They can only be true or false and can be used to either support or refute a claim.  They cannot be valid, or invalid – only true or false.  When reconstructing arguments we can only use statements; therefore, we must highlight these and draw them out.  The simplest way to accomplish this is to remove everything that is not a statement.

Questions are by far the simplest to remove.  How do we know it’s a question?  If it has a question mark then…well…it’s a question.  Questions cannot be true or false, they simply probe or enquire.  “Does this t-shirt fit me okay?”...sure the t-shirt fitting or not has a truth value; however, that’s not what it says.  It asks, which is different to stating, if the t-shirt fits.  In its current state it is a question and cannot prove or disprove a claim.  In the above argument the questions are obvious and thus easy to remove:

Commands, similar to questions, cannot be true or false.  Commands instruct you to do something.  “GET DOWN!” is a command and it should be clear that this can’t be true or false – it simply is.  We could change it to “you should get down” but then that means it is no longer a questions – it’s a statement.  We can therefore remove commands from the argument.

As with questions and commands Exclamations have no truth value.  They simply express an emotion.  “Wow”, “OMG”, “Yum!”...they’re sometimes noticeable by an exclamation mark; however they stand out in an argument as the person expressing an emotion.

We can’t do anything with questions, commands, and expressions.  We can say they are right or wrong, true or false.  Therefore we can’t use them to prove or disprove a claim, all they do is tell us something about person putting the argument forward; however, again, we’re not interested in this.  When we remove all what we have left are statements:

It is statements that we take forward to construct, or reconstruct, an argument.  When put in the correct form the argument with either support or refute the claim the person is trying to make.  In CT we call the statements Propositions, as what is being stated is propositional knowledge.

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