Archive for December, 2009

There’s No Need to Be Terse! (Chapter 11)

December 1, 2009

For today’s objective, we want to look at some terse arguments. The book defines a terse argument as one “which leaves one or more important factors assumed but unstated (312).” Some of the most frequent users of this type of arguments are people who are hoping to deceive or mislead the audience. By making the connections seem obvious (when in actuality they may not always be), these speakers bring the audience fluidly down whatever train of thought he or she wishes.

Another common offender, which we will see in today’s example, are stupid people. They probably just don’t realize that something’s missing. Although for today’s assignment, they specified that it should be a print media, I think this video will be way more fun to analyze.

She starts off strong! She says that “U.S. Americans” are unable to locate America on a map because some of them don’t have maps. Good job, Miss North Carolina. This is an idiotic answer, but at least it follows some sort of pattern (1)<They cannot find America on a map> [because] (2) <they don’t have maps.> (2) => (1). Now we’re cooking. What does she say next?

Next she mumbles about how our education system in the United States should help South Africa and Iraq so that we “will be able to build up our future for our children.” WHAT?!

Ok, obviously the conclusion is that <we will be able to build up our future for our children>. And somehow <our education system should help South Africa and “the Iraq”> is a premise… but how she gets from point a to point b needs a little assisting. Let’s try and see if we can figure it out.

(1)<America has a good education system.> [So] (2) <we should help South Africa and Iraq (by educating them),> [which will] (3) <build a better future for our children.>

Diagrammed, this looks something like this

(1) => (2) => (3)

This argument may now at least flow in a logical way but it is still very weak. The question asked seems to be implying that the American education system is not good, so that knocks out premise (1). (This was the premise I had to include in order for this argument to make sense). (2) goes as soon as we ask the question of relevance… no one was talking about South Africa or Iraq, why did she randomly bring them up? (3) makes sense, if you follow her sub-par logic, because a better future for our children will surely be built upon a better education. However, a strong conclusion does not a strong argument make. Beauty queen’s argument get’s a big WEAK rating.

As I mentioned, deceitful leaders are often the proprietors of terse arguments. Who is a better example of that than Adolf Hitler? In this translated version of one of his speeches, it is easy to find examples as such. Like this first one, for example:

“Changes of Government have occurred frequently in history, and in the history of our people. It is certain, however, that never was a change of Government attended with such far-reaching results as that eight years ago. At that time the situation of the Reich was desperate.”

The big question one would then ask is… so what? He goes on and on about how hard times have been but nowhere for quite a long time does he give any idea as to where he is going with it– there is no conclusion. He spends a long time bemoaning what bad shape they were in.Let’s analyze.

(1)<Changes of Government have occurred frequently in history, and in the history of our people.> It is certain, however, that (2)<never was a change of Government attended with such far-reaching results as that eight years ago.> (3)<At that time the situation of the Reich was desperate.>

Were he to have added a statement something like (4) <This is why we need the Nazi power in control.> then this paragraph would not be terse. But by just adding and adding to the doom and destruction, he (I guess) hopes that it will be implied. Had that sentence been added in, it would have  looked something like this.



(2) + (3)



This would have been a strong argument. The premise (1) is strong because it is common knowledge, and it is relevant to the rest of the facts. (2) and (3) together help to build the picture of how dim the situation is, and that something needs to be done. Finally, (4) answers the problem raised by the premises, and is properly strong for the evidence supplied. So we can see (this should come as no surprise) that Hitler made strong arguments… I guess that makes sense.


So today we’ve covered Hitler and a beauty queen. Hopefully we understand terse arguments a little better now!


“Surely Clarity is the Most Beautiful Thing in the World” (Chapter 10)

December 1, 2009

The prompt for today’s lesson asks for a dense argument, so obviously the first thing I thought of was the current debate about health care reform. There are so many different notions and ideas floating around about it that it seems like no one has any kind of definitive idea of what it will actually mean for America. I basically just picked the first article that came up. Let’s see what we can do with this article.

This study indicates that for most Americans, the bill will have a modestly positive impact on their premium costs. For the remainder, more will see their costs go down than up,” he said in a statement.

But critics found grist in the CBO report for their own talking points. After trillions in government spending, new taxes, and cuts to Medicare, most people “will end up paying more or seeing no significant savings,” said Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, in a floor speech today. “This is not what the American people are asking for. And it’s certainly not reform.”

The CBO report is highly qualified. Any estimates of the impact of such substantial changes in the health insurance and health care sectors must reflect “considerable uncertainty,” the report concludes.

But the nuances quickly fell out of the political firestorm around healthcare reform.

To the insurance industry, today’s report confirms that “the current health care reform proposal fails to bend the health care cost curve and will result in double-digit premium increases for millions of Americans,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, in a statement.


This seems to be going back and forth; it will raise costs, oh wait, no it won’t. Let’s get down to what they really mean.

(1) <This bill will bring most people’s premiums down moderately.> (2) <After all the additional costs, we will see a lot more charges and very little savings.> (3) <The report is very accurate.> (4) <The report reflects considerable uncertainty.> (5) <This report confirms that the proposal will not help keep health care costs down.>




/   |   \

(1) (2) (5)

The first premise (3) is not very reliable, because it is not supported by the conclusions. Also, it is coming from politicians, who have a reputation for dishonesty.

The intermediate premise (4) is reliable because it makes only a moderate claim, which is substantiated by all the other evidence we have.

The three conclusions all seem accurate on their own, but when compared and contrasted to each other, they fall flat because they contradict each other. After analyzing all of these things, we see that this is a very weak argument.


So what does this really tell us? Basically, this article with all it’s back and forths and contradicting of itself is telling us all what we already knew– that no one really knows what the effects of this bill will be. We just have to cling whichever confident but unsure politician we chose to side with and hope for the best. But we didn’t need an analysis to tell us that.

Compound Arguments (Chapter 8)

December 1, 2009

Well, after reading that last blog entry, I bet you thought we were done with argument analysis, didn’t you?

SO DID I! But oh no! Now we move on to the more difficult and tedious compound arguments!! According to the book, “a compound argument contains arguments of two or more different basic types as its parts (193).” As with every other chapter, I think the best way to demonstrate this is with examples. The best kinds of sentences to analyze for such examples are ones which are very polarized and vehement, because they work harder to form actual arguments rather than just talking. So let’s use this article which outlines the evils of abortion and find us some examples.

The first bullet point is a perfect example of a compound linked argument.

(1)<Abortion is never an easy decision,> [but] (2)<women have been making that choice for thousands of years, for many good reasons.> (3) <Whenever a society has sought to outlaw abortions, it has only driven them into back alleys> (4)<where they became dangerous, expensive, and humiliating.>



(2) + (3)


The first premise (1) is something that has to be true for all the other things to be true and analyzed effectively.

The two linked premises, (2) and (3) are reliable because they are based on specific information, this person with knowledge of the background of the subject has claimed them to be true. It is establishing a historical reference for the conclusion, saying that it happens whether legal or not, and that it would continue to happen whatever the legal situation. However, they conclude with (3) by saying that when it is illegal, it is far less appealing and more dangerous. This is a strong argument because the first premise supports the main premises, which supports the conclusion.

Ahhh if only that were all there was to it! No, no, there is more. Let’s move now to a compound convergent argument, which is presented in this paragraph:

(1) <Abortion is terrible, and must be stopped.> (2)<Part of the democratic process is the free discussion of ideas.> (3)<Others are expressing their opinions, and some of them are against mine.> (4)<I should express my opinions, too.> (5)<I will thus support the democratic process.>



(3) (4) (1)



(2) is common knowledge, and is relevant because it is important to know that before you can understand (3).

(1) is an opinion based argument, but because this is an issue of opinions, we will say that it is reliable. (3) and (4) are both observational statements which contribute to the conclusion drawn in (5) in which all the premises come together to form one solid conclusion.


Let’s move on to a compound serial argument, which we find in this paragraph:

(1)<Abortion are “absolutely necessary” in only two cases: the mother’s health or the baby’s health.> (2) <Abortions based on the mother’s health account for 3% of abortions.> (3)<Abortions based on the baby’s health account for 3% of abortions.> (4)<Women don’t feel that abortion is “absolutely necessary.”> (5)<Women feel selfishly inconvenienced by pregnancy.>



(2) + (3)






The first premise is reliable because it is general knowledge– there are no other instances in which someone could correctly say “She HAS TO get an abortion.” It is relevant to the argument because it sets the stage for the next two arguments, (2) and (3) to make sense.

(2) and (3) are reliable because they are based on specific information. They go together to form the point that the number of necessary abortions is very low– they work best as a pair. They are relevant because they prove that the large majority of abortions are NOT necessary, which is what points (4) and (5) talk about.

(4) and (5) are reliable because they are observations, and logical conclusions that comes from all the evidence. they are both strong arguments because they use strong language, but because there is strong evidence to support them, the argument is a strong one.

Our final task is to find a compound divergent argument. This paragraph presents us with just that:

(1)<Many hard battles have been fought to win political and economic equality for women.>(2)< These gains will not be worth much if reproductive choice is denied.> (3)<To be able to choose a safe, legal abortion makes many other options possible.> (4)<Otherwise an accident or a rape can end a woman’s economic and personal freedom.>


/   \

(2)     (3)+(4)

The premise (1) is reliable because it is common knowledge. It is relevant because it is a precursor to the conclusions that it spurs.

(2) is a moderate claim, because the language it uses is not very strong (‘will not be worth much’), so does not need as much evidential support. (3) and (4) together form a strong conclusion.


Compound arguments are a little more difficult to understand and analyze. They are especially a pain to diagram when typing!! Hope this was legible and you were able to understand!

“Take a step back, evaluate what is important, and enjoy life.” (Chapter 7)

December 1, 2009

Chapter 7 gives us more information about how to evaluate arguments. The best way to demonstrate is to give a few examples.

First, I will analyze a simple argument. That is an argument in which there is one premise, and it leads to one conclusion. For these examples, I will refer to this article about the mysterious Tiger Woods car accident. The first sentence is a simple argument. It reads:

(1) <By Saturday morning, nothing much had changed in the Tiger Woods story,> [which means that] (2) <we were still supposed to believe that his wife, Elin Nordegren, somehow turned one of Tiger’s Nike SQ drivers into the Jaws of Life.>

In this sentence, the diagram would look like this (1) => (2).

Now that we have diagrammed the sentence, we can more easily analyze it. The first thing to question is whether or not the premise is reliable. Because this is a follow-up article, we assume that everyone reading the article has at least a basic knowledge of the original incident. Thus, the premise is a statement of general knowledge– that makes it reliable. Thus, it can support a conclusion, as it does this one.

Next, we look at relevance. According to the book, “a premise is probatively relevant when either by itself or linked with other premises it can contribute to establishin the conclusion (162).” Because the premise is directly related to the conclusion, we can see that it is relevant.

Now we turn our attention to the conclusion. The words ‘we are still supposed to believe,’ and ‘somehow’ show a sarcasm and undermine the strength of the conclusion. This makes it a bold claim, because “a bold claim claims more, and it takes correspondingly more evidence or better reasons to support it (163).” Because there is not much evidence or good reasoning, this bold claim falls flat.

So we see that despite the fact that there is a strong premise, the conclusion weakens the argument. So this is an example of a simple, weak argument.

Let’s take things up a notch now, and look at a more complicated claim. The next paragraph contains a convergent argument:

(1) <Woods was driving a Cadillac Escalade out of his own driveway, which is the same as driving a tank.> (2) <He wasn’t going fast enough to deploy his air bags.> [But we’re supposed to believe that in a rescue worthy of the new series, “Trauma,”] (3)<his wife had to bust a back window to pull her husband to safety after he ran over a fire hydrant and into a tree.>

(1)     (2)

\     /


First, let’s analyze this argument. The first premise is reliable, because it is common knowledge that Escalades are big and bulky cars that (for all intents and purposes in this discussion) may as well be a tank. It is also relevant, because if he were driving a little Neon or some other, frailer car, it would have been a much different situation as far as the safety of the car and the condition of it after the accident.

The second premise is also reliable because it is common knowledge that a car has to be going at a certain speed in order for the airbags to deploy. And it is relevant because in order to cause most major accidents, one has to be going at speeds higher than that in most situations.

The conclusion is a strong claim because it uses strong language such as ‘had to’ ‘bust’ ‘to safety’. Because it is a strong claim, it needs more evidence to back it up and since the premises do not support the argument, this makes the argument a weak one.

Next, we’ll move on to a linked argument, as follows.

(1)<No one is suggesting for one minute that Tiger Woods’ marriage is some kind of national security issue. Neither is a minor traffic accident in which he was the only person injured.> (2)<But it is a police matter, has been from start, from the time they were called to his home and the most famous athlete on the planet, and the richest, ended up in the hospital because of whatever happened in his insulated Isleworth neighborhood at a time of the night when nothing good ever happens, and you can look that up.>

(3)<If this was a “minor” accident, Mr. and Mrs. Woods could have explained it by now, no problem.>

(1)  +  (3)


First, let’s analyze the first premise (1). This premise is reliable because it is obvious (aka common knowledge) that neither of these offenses are serious. It is relevant because the author is saying that although these things are not “matters of national security,” there are pertinent reasons that it is a serious offense. Thus, it is relevant.

The second premise (3) is reliable because  it is an observation statement– other celebrities have surely gotten in minor accidents before, admitted it, and moved on. All the avoiding and secrecy makes it obvious that this is no minor incident.

The conclusion (2) uses strong language, with the words ‘has been from the start,’ ‘from the time they were called,’ etc. However, unlike the other two examples, the premises actually support the conclusion. In (2) the author is saying that it is neither a matter of national security, nor is it nothing– it is a police matter for a very public figure. This conclusion is supported by the premise. In (3) the is saying that is a serious incident because if it were not it would be out in the open already. This supports the conclusion. Thus, the argument is strong.

For the next few arguments, let’s use this article from the always hilarious

Now let’s try a divergent argument, using this paragraph:

(1)<When you think about tattoo parlors, it conjures up images of sailors, gang members, hepatitis, and spring break.>  (2)<All of these are things that white people do not like, except for sailors but that only counts if they were sailing before Vietnam.>(3)<Yet in spite of this, more and more white people are getting tattoos.>


/   \

(2) (3)

Let’s start by analyzing the premise. This premise is reliable because it is an observation statement, which the books says are often reliable, but “we need to consider the conditions where the observations were made, as well as whether the observer has normal faculties and is trustworthy (160).” Obviously, this is a joking website, but for the sake of analysis we’ll say that the author is trustworthy on the preferences of white people, considering he has an entire website devoted to them. So we’ll say that the premise is reliable. It is probatively relevant because it contributes to establishing the conclusions– it needs to be true in order for the two conclusions to be of any relevance.

Now let’s look at the conclusions. The first conclusion (2) uses strong language, saying things like ‘all of these things’ and ‘do not.’ The second conclusion (3) uses strong language, too using the words ‘more and more.’ Thus, these are both bold claims, which means the evidence needs to securely back them up. The premise supports the first conclusion (2) because all the things listed, which tattoo parlors are supposed to conjure, are all very negative so it would make sense that white people do not like them. The premise does not support the second conclusion (3) because if tattoos really did conjure images of all those negative things, people would not continue getting them. So the first conclusion is strong, and the second is weak.

Finally, for our last example, I will analyze a serial argument. I will analyze this paragraph:

(1)<A white person getting a tattoo is a major step in their life> [as it] (2)<presupposes that their taste at this given moment is good enough to sustain them for the rest of their lives.> (3)<This is why you don’t see a lot of white people with R.E.M. or Strokes tattoos.>

(1) => (2) => (3)

The first premise (1) is reliable because it is an observed statement, which we have established are reliable form this author. It is relevant because it allows the other statements to be true.

The intermediate premise (2) is reliable because it is common knowledge, one only gets a tattoo of something that they feel they will enjoy for the rest of their lives. It is relevant because it directly explains the conclusion (3).

The conclusion is a strong claim, because it uses strong language. However, it has ample support from the premises, so we see that this is a strong arguement.


Hopefully our understanding of arguments and what makes them weak or strong is a little fuller now! I can’t hardly wait to see what the next chapter brings.

The conclusion

The Intermediate