Monday, 26 August 2013

Critical Thinking 3: Standard Form

Higher Philosophy Podcast
Critical Thinking: Standard Form

This is available as an MP3 or to download as a podcast through iTunes
for Desktop and Apple devices, as well as PodcastHD for Android Devices.

An argument is composed of premises and conclusions.  The interesting point here is that they are both statements.  If an argument is a connected series of statements to prove or disprove a claim then the statements are premises and the claim is the conclusion.

In CT arguments are expressed in and reconstructed into Standard Form.  In other sections – especially Metaphysics and Epistemology – you should try and express your arguments in standard form.  A Syllogism is a logical argument in which the conclusion is inferred from two or more premises – this is what we refer to as Standard Form as this is how, ideally, we should express our arguments.

We need to lay out our arguments in a clear and concise manner – Standard Form allows us to do this by clearly labelling the premises and the conclusions.  The premises are numbered.  This allows us to discuss and refer to individual premises; for example in Aquinas’ cosmological argument we can comment on a contradiction in two of the premises (usually P1 and P5).  ALL of your arguments in CT, and where possible elsewhere, should be laid out in this manner to show you have secure understanding of the topic. 

Argument reconstruction can, at times, be tricky; it is, however, worth quite a few marks in the exam.  You will, invariably, be asked to reconstruct an argument; moreover, both in your head and on paper you will already be doing this to, first of all, identify what is being argued and, lastly, whether or not the argument is valid and sound.

The first step is to identify each element to be slotted in to standard form.  The easiest being the conclusion.  What is the argument trying to put forward.  There are some indicators that hint towards a conclusion, the most common being “therefore...”“consequently...”“it follows that...” and “so...” which should point towards the claim the argument is trying to prove or refute.  However, there are arguments where these indicators are missing and you, the philosopher, must dig it out.  The arguer won’t hide the conclusion; it is, after all, the main point of what they are saying.  These are normally conclusions such as “abortion is murder”“smoking will kill you”“exams will help you”, etc; although not saying therefore before each we get the idea that the statement would work when we say it to ourselves, for example “therefore smoking will kill you”.  In our previous argument we can clearly identify the conclusion – gay marriage is wrong.

Next we identify the premises.  There are two main types of arguments you will come across – conditional and unconditional.  Unconditional arguments come in the form of “All men are mortal, Andrew is a man, Andrew is mortal”; conditional arguments will come in the form “If Andrew is a man, then Andrew is mortal, Andrew is a man, therefore Andrew is mortal.  The latter being the one we use more commonly in CT.  In our argument is main premise is clear – if a man marrying a man is okay then the bible would say it is.  We can now reconstruct the argument into standard form:

Hidden Premise is a premise that is not explicitly mentioned in the main argument mainly because it is assumed or it is so obvious there is no need to mention it.  The inclusion of a hidden premise however may add to the argument giving it a valid structure or adding strength to the force of the argument.  In our argument there are a lot of assumptions: morality comes from God, the bible is the word of God, God is infallible, a man marrying a man constitutes gay marriage, etc.  If we insert these hidden premises into the argument it reinforces the structure and flow of the argument making it stronger.

We’re adding to the argument to give it more structure.  We call this the Principal of Charity, where we interpret the argument to give it the most rational form.  We can, of course, do more than add hidden premises.  We can resurrect previously discarded components to add to the argument. 

If we look back at the argument the second question isn’t a standard question – “you’re kidding right?”.  This is a Rhetorical Question as it is not looking for an answer, per se; it is trying to add drama to the argument.  Rhetorical questions have no answer, they are either circular or simply don’t seek an answer.  “Are you stupid or something?” – this question can be both asking if the audience is in fact a little stupid, or the arguer is trying to belittle or ridicule the audience.  Rhetorical questions can be converted into statements and, where appropriate, be used as a premise in the argument.  “you’re kidding right?” can be changed to “gay marriage is a serious issue” or something to that effect.  If we wanted to add it to our argument we would add it as another premise, not a hidden premise.  However, considering the other premises this does not add anything to our argument; therefore we will discard it.

No comments:

Post a Comment