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The Elements of Arguments. Building Blocks of Arguments: Statements . Statements and Truth. Note: Don’t confuse “truth value” with “truth.”. “Truth value” = can be treated as a true or false statement. “Political always tell the complete truth.”

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statements and truth
Statements and Truth

Note: Don’t confuse “truth value” with “truth.”

“Truth value” = can be treated as a true or false statement

  • “Political always tell the complete truth.”
    • Has truth value (is not a question, command, etc)
    • Is false.
non statements

These have no truth value; they cannot be either

true or false.

statements in other forms
Statements in other forms
  • Re: “Cellphones swamping 911 system,” Aug 26

How is it that we can spend billions on the Iraq war but cannot afford to adequately staff 911 call centers in the U.S.?

Bruce R. Feldman, Santa Monica

LA Times, Aug 29, 2007

statements and propositions
Statements and Propositions
  • Statements have “propositional content”
  • Propositional content is the meaning of the statement.
  • Meanings can be expressed in many forms:
  • Ich habe kein geld = I don’t have any money
  • Rhetorical questions are statements in non-standard form.
building blocks summary 1
Building Blocks – Summary (1)
  • In standard form, an argument contains only statements.

P1 – statement

P2 – statement (etc)


C - statement

building blocks summary 2
Building Blocks – Summary (2)
  • Statements may have to be rephrased to more clearly capture their propositional content (meaning)
  • Statements offer information that is either true or false (statements have truth value)
the structure of arguments
The Structure of Arguments

Statements are either premises or conclusions, depending on their role in an argument.

the structure of arguments11
The Structure of Arguments
  • The crucial element that “makes” a group of statements an argument is an inference.
  • An inference is supposed to establish the truth of the concluding statement.
example inferences and non inferences
Example: Inferences and non-inferences

A description of a person can be used:

  • In a novel, used to create a character
  • Verbally, to explain why you think a person is homeless
  • In jury testimony, used to support an inference of guilt or innocence
reasonable person test
“Reasonable Person” Test
  • Of any two statements, which is more likely to follow from the other?
  • Focus closely on the content of each statement when applying this test.
Test 1:

P: The national defense depends on the space program.

C: Therefore, the space program deserves increased expenditures in the years ahead.

Test 2:

P: The space program deserves increased expenditures in the years ahead.

C: Therefore, the national defense depends on the space program.

heuristic signs of a conclusion
Heuristic signs of a conclusion
  • In ordinary discourse, the conclusion is often expressed first.
  • Look for a statement that can unify all the other statements in the passage – or which all the other statements could support.
example of a unifying statement
Example of a “Unifying Statement”

Sometimes we have small dips in the use of oil, but the general trend shows no sign of a permanent decrease. And remember that oil reserves are not being discovered as fast as oil is being consumed. The world is simply going to have to learn how to do without oil.

Sometimes we have small dips in the use of oil, but the general trend shows no sign of a permanent decrease. And remember that oil reserves are not being discovered as fast as oil is being consumed. The world is simply going to have to learn how to do without oil.

summary of argument identification
Summary of Argument Identification
  • Look for premise and conclusion indicators
  • Apply the “reasonable person” test
  • Use heuristic indicators of a conclusion
real life arguments what is the conclusion
Real Life Arguments – What Is the Conclusion?

The alleged dumping of the paraplegic on skid row begs for someone to file a huge civil lawsuit. With a large award in such a case, perhaps hospitals would decide it is not in their best interests to continue this egregious practice. Apparently, threats of legal actions are not a sufficient deterrent.

(LA Times, 2-12-07; Bill Busch, Redondo Beach)

common mistakes in identifying conclusions
Common Mistakes in Identifying Conclusions
  • Focusing on what seems to be the most controversial statement.
common mistakes in identifying conclusions25
Common Mistakes in Identifying Conclusions
  • Confusing a relation between premises as an indication of an inference.
  • Statements are expressions with truth-value
  • All arguments contain two claims: about content and about reasoning
  • The conclusion is the “main point” of a passage, or the statement that other statements to “lead to”
    • Premise/conclusion indicators
    • The “Reasonable Person” test
discerning non arguments
Discerning Non-Arguments

Some passages bear a superficial

resemblance to arguments

  • They contain controversial statements
  • They give examples of a point (anecdotal evidence?)
  • They use “indicator” terminology
  • They seem generally persuasive
theme human freedom
P1: Every event has a cause.

P2: Human actions are events.


C: Human actions have causes.

P1: Human actions have causes.

P2: None of these causes are under our control.

P3: Without control over the causes of our behavior, we are not free.


C: We are not free.

Theme: Human Freedom
statement of belief and illustration
Statement of Belief and Illustration

Belief: “People are not free. Those who think they are free are hopelessly naïve. People are no more able to control their own destinies than are ants, and it’s just anti-scientific to say so.”

Illustration: “People are not free; just look at how many abusers were abused as a child.”


(To a psychology class): We know that people are not free because, like all other mammals, behavior is rooted in centuries of evolutionary selection for certain kinds of behaviors and dispositions.

(In a philosophy class, developing the claim): Although people are not free, we feel that we are because the controls of our behavior are internal and so do not feel that they are being imposed from without and against our will.

expository passage
Expository Passage

“People are not free, although human freedom has been highly prized throughout our history. Its value is affirmed by religious doctrines. Civil and criminal justice systems incorporate the idea that behavior is freely chosen into sentencing guidelines. Clearly it has been an important concept in many areas of human activity.”


“If I were you, I’d accept the fact that we’re not free. In fact, you’d be wise to stop treating others with the respect that real freedom would require and simply approach others as stimulus-response machines, to be manipulated for your own gain.”

conditional statement
Conditional Statement

“If people are not free, then they cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.”

  • Is the aim of the passage to support a statement?
    • Note: not all arguments aim to persuade
  • Are there indicator words?
    • Is the passage an argument or an explanation?
    • Is the explanation a justification?
  • What seems to be the main intention of the speaker/writer?
themes for discourse practice
Themes for Discourse Practice
  • The Use of Medical Marijuana
  • Single-Payer Health Care
  • Physician-assisted Suicide
  • Competitive Sports for Children
  • Or…??