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Identifying Premises and Conclusions . This tutorial will give you practice in distinguishing premises from conclusions. . Go to next slide. 1. No one under eighteen-years-old can vote. 2. Jen is under eighteen-years-old. 3. Therefore, Jen cannot vote. .

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Identifying Premises and Conclusions

This tutorial will give you practice in distinguishing premises from conclusions.

Go to next slide

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1. No one under eighteen-years-old can vote.

2. Jen is under eighteen-years-old.

3. Therefore, Jen cannot vote.

  • Arguments are composed of one or more premises and a conclusion. Premises are statements offered as reasons for accepting another statement. A conclusion is a statement supported by reasons.
  • In this example, statements 1 and 2 are premises, and statement 3 is the conclusion.
  • Go to next slide
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Distinguishing premises from conclusions is a skill that requires both practice and close attention to the nuances of language. Here are some tips that will help you separate premises from conclusions:

 1. Look for premise indicators--words like because, since, for, and given that--that provide clues when premises are being offered.

2. Look for conclusion indicators--words like therefore, thus, hence, and so--that provide clues when conclusion indicators are being offered.

3. If the passage contains no indicator words, try these two strategies:

(a) Ask yourself, "What claim is the writer or speaker trying to prove?" That claim will be the conclusion.

(b) Try putting the word "therefore" before each of the statements in turn. The statement it fits best will be the conclusion.

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A good society treasures its dissidents and mavericks because it needs the creative thinking that produces new hypotheses, expanded means, a larger set of alternatives, and, in general, the vigorous conversation induced by fresh ideas. (Nel Noddings, Philosophy of Education, 1995)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion in this argument.

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A good society treasures its dissidents and mavericks because it needs the creative thinking that produces new hypotheses, expanded means, a larger set of alternatives, and, in general, the vigorous conversation induced by fresh ideas. (Nel Noddings, Philosophy of Education, 1995)

Premise: A good society needs the creative thinking that that produces new hypotheses, expanded means, a larger set of alternatives, and, in general, the vigorous conversation induced by fresh ideas.

Conclusion: A good society treasures its dissidents and mavericks.

Notice the word because in this passage. This tips us off that a premise is being offered.

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Since in American schools every child is unique and of equal worth with every other child, academic competition, which subverts this egalitarian and individualist creed, must be discouraged. (Stated but not endorsed in E.D. Hirsch, Jr., The Schools WeNeed and Why We Don’t Have Them, 1996)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion in this argument.

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Since in American schools every child is unique and of equal worth with every other child, academic competition, which subverts this egalitarian and individualist creed, must be discouraged. (Stated but not endorsed in E.D. Hirsch, Jr., The Schools WeNeed and Why We Don’t Have Them, 1996)

Premise 1: In American schools every child is unique and of equal worth with every other child.

Premise 2: Academic competition subverts this egalitarian and individualist creed.

Conclusion: Academic competition must be discouraged.

Here the premise indicator since helps us to identify the first premise.

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Make a will. Otherwise, the state will determine who gets your stuff. (Andrew Tobias, "Isn't It Time You Faced the Future?" 2001)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion in this argument.

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Make a will. Otherwise, the state will determine who gets your stuff. (Andrew Tobias, "Isn't It Time You Faced the Future?" 2001)

Premise: If you don't make a will, the state will determine who gets your stuff.

Conclusion: You ought to make a will.

The word otherwise often functions--as it does here--as premise indicator.

Notice that both the premise and the conclusion have been rephrased slightly. The premise has been rephrased in order to make it a complete sentence. The conclusion has been restated in order to make clear that it is intended as a statement rather than as a command.

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Research universities also must aggressively support teaching. After all, a significant percentage of their students are undergraduates, and such institutions are clearly obligated to provide them a quality education. Ernest L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered, 1990)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion of this argument.

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Research universities also must aggressively support teaching. After all, a significant percentage of their students are undergraduates, and such institutions are clearly obligated to provide them a quality education. Ernest L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered, 1990)

Premise 1: A significant percentage of research universities' students are undergraduates.

Premise 2: Such institutions are clearly obligated to provide undergraduates with a quality education.

Conclusion: Research universities also must aggressively support teaching

Notice the phrase "after all." This phrase is often used as a premise indicator.

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The Jews and Arabs have been fighting for centuries and I seriously doubt this will ever be resolved. The United States should get out of this never-ending fight, or the next terrorist bomb might be in Washington--and it just might be nuclear. (John G. Ferguson III, Letter to the Editor, USA Today, February 12, 2001)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion in this argument.

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The Jews and Arabs have been fighting for centuries and I seriously doubt this will ever be resolved. The United States should get out of this never-ending fight, or the next terrorist bomb might be in Washington--and it just might be nuclear. (John G. Ferguson III, Letter to the Editor, USA Today, February 12, 2001)

Premise 1: The Jews and Arabs have been fighting for centuries.

Premise 2: There is serious doubt this will ever be resolved.

Premise 3: If the United States does not get out of this never-ending fight, the next terrorist bomb might be in Washington--and it might be nuclear.

Conclusion: The United States should get out of the never-ending fight between the Jews and the Arabs.

In this passage, there are no indicator words to assist us, however the form of the last sentence ("X should do Y, or else Z will happen") is a common conclusion-premise pattern.

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No one who observes people can pretend that in fact they always seek anything like their own long-run advantage. If this were the case only stupidity could explain how frequently and obviously they act contrary to their own long-run advantage. People are not that stupid! (Charles Hartshorne and Creighton Peden, Whitehead's View of Reality, 1981)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion in this argument.

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No one who observes people can pretend that in fact they always seek anything like their own long-run advantage. If this were the case only stupidity could explain how frequently and obviously they act contrary to their own long-run advantage. People are not that stupid! (Charles Hartshorne and Creighton Peden, Whitehead's View of Reality, 1981)

Premise 1: If people always seek anything like their own long-run advantage, then only stupidity could explain how frequently and obviously they act contrary to their own long-run advantage.

Premise 2: People are not that stupid.

Conclusion: No one who observes people can pretend that in fact they always seek anything like their own long-run advantage.

Here again there are no standard indicator words to assist us. However, by sticking "therefore" in front of each of the three sentences in turn, we can see that only the first sentence makes sense as the conclusion.

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Many people yearn for a return to "religiousness" to education, so they press for laws permitting vocal prayer in the classroom. But I cannot join them. Vocal prayer in class dictates a consensus that does not exist in our pluralistic society, and any prayer that is so vaguely worded that it sounds agreeable to all is, by my limits, no prayer at all. Parker J. Palmer, To Know As We Are Known: Education as a SpiritualJourney, 1993)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion of this argument.

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Many people yearn for a return to "religiousness" to education, so they press for laws permitting vocal prayer in the classroom. But I cannot join them. Vocal prayer in class dictates a consensus that does not exist in our pluralistic society, and any prayer that is so vaguely worded that it sounds agreeable to all is, by my limits, no prayer at all. Parker J. Palmer, To Know As We Are Known: Education as a SpiritualJourney, 1993)

Premise 1: Vocal prayer in class dictates a consensus that does not exist in our pluralistic society.

Premise 2: Any prayer that is so vaguely worded that it sounds agreeable to all is, by my limits, no prayer at all.

Conclusion: Although many people yearn for a return to "religiousness" to education, and for this reason press for laws permitting vocal prayer in the classroom, it would be a mistake to enact such laws.

In this argument, while it is relatively easy to identify the premises, it is tricky to accurately state the conclusion. Notice how some creative rephrasing is necessary in order to capture precisely the claim the

writer wants to defend.

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We have good reason to believe that people will exist in the future and that they will be similar enough to us that we can have a good idea of what their well-being requires. Knowing this and knowing that our present actions can influence their future well-being, it is reasonable to conclude that future people must be given some ethical consideration by presently living human beings. (Joseph R. DesJardins, Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to EnvironmentalPhilosophy, 3rd ed., 2001)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion of this argument.

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We have good reason to believe that people will exist in the future and that they will be similar enough to us that we can have a good idea of what their well-being requires. Knowing this and knowing that our present actions can influence their future well-being, it is reasonable to conclude that future people must be given some ethical consideration by presently living human beings. (Joseph R. DesJardins, Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to EnvironmentalPhilosophy, 3rd ed., 2001)

Premise 1: We have good reason to believe that people will exist in the future and that they will be similar enough to us that we can have a good idea of what their well-being requires.

Premise 2: We know that our present actions can influence future peoples' well-being.

Conclusion: Future people must be given some ethical consideration by presently living human beings.

In this passage, the conclusion indicator "it is reasonable to conclude that" helps us identify the conclusion.

Notice that the second premise has been restated in order to make it a complete sentence.

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With what group do I belong? I am with those who would be pleased to be refuted if I should say anything that is not true, and pleased to be the refuter of anyone who should say anything that is not true--more pleased, in fact, to be refuted than to refute. I think that's a greater good, you see, insofar as it's a greater good to be relieved of a great evil than to relieve another of the same. (Socrates, in Plato's Gorgias)

Identify the premise(s) and conclusion of this argument.

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With what group do I belong? I am with those who would be pleased to be refuted if I should say anything that is not true, and pleased to be the refuter of anyone who should say anything that is not true--more pleased, in fact, to be refuted than to refute. I think that's a greater good, you see, insofar as it's a greater good to be relieved of a great evil than to relieve another of the same. (Socrates, in Plato's Gorgias)

Premise: It is a greater good to be relieved of a great evil than to relieve another of the same.

Conclusion: It is a greater good to be refuted than to refute.

In this passage, the premise indicator "insofar as" helps us to identify the premise.

Notice that the first two sentences aren't strictly part of the argument. Their function, instead, is to provide background or contextual information necessary to understand the argument.

This concludes this tutorial