When we hear the word “argument,” we tend to think of an adversarial confrontation between two or more people, with bickering, defensiveness, and increased negative emotions. This is only one kind of argument—not the kind we will be focusing on in this book. Academically and logically, an argument is an attempt to persuade someone of something by offering reasons to accept a given conclusion. We make and hear arguments every day and often do not recognize them. We are constantly being bombarded with persuasion and led to conclusions, without being consciously aware. Sometimes the persuasion is very subtle, sometimes the reasons are implied, and sometimes the conclusion is assumed. For the purpose of this book, we just need to be able to recognize arguments when we hear them or make them.
An argument is made up of premises and a conclusion. The premises can also be referred to as reasons, supporting evidence, or claims.
Premise 1 (P1). Pizza is the best-selling food in America.
Premise 2 (P2). We can reasonably assume that "best-selling" means that people like it.
Conclusion (C). People in America like pizza.
If we just stated that "people in America like pizza," we wouldn't technically be making an argument; we would just be stating a proposition, assertion, claim, or even opinion. We cannot talk about logical fallacies unless they are in the context of an argument. Often, arguments are less formal as in
People in America like pizza. This is obvious because it is the best-selling food in America.
From this structure, we can still spot the premise and conclusion. Thus, we can talk about logical fallacies. Again, if we just asserted the conclusion, logical fallacies are unlikely to apply.
I use the terms "arguer" and "opponent" or "audience" to represent the one making the argument and the person or persons considering the argument, respectively. Keep in mind that the arguer could be a political candidate, Jehovah's Witness, a spouse, the 17-year-old kid at the returns desk in Walmart, or anyone capable of rational communication. The opponent/audience could be a police officer, your best friend, your spouse, or anyone else capable of rational communication.
Deduction is a form of reasoning and argument in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. Sticking with the classic example:
Premise 1: All humans are mortal.
Premise 2: Socrates is a human.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.
If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. That is what makes an argument deductive. This is also referred to as a formal argument.
Arguments where the conclusion is merely based on probability, not necessity, are considered inductive arguments. These are usually constructed through inductive reasoning, which is the process of making general conclusions from specific instances. For example:
Premise 1: The sun has risen every day so far.
Conclusion: Therefore, the sun will likely rise tomorrow.
Because the sun could explode tonight, the conclusion is just very probable; therefore, this is an inductive or informal argument.
I will be using these terms throughout the book. If you don’t understand them now, you will very soon.
Arguments are everywhere. You make them every day, and you hear them every day. Where you find arguments, you find fallacious arguments. Where you find fallacious arguments, you find fallacious reasoning.Questions about this fallacy? Ask our community!
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