What Is An Argument



According to Johnson (2007), "... in logic, an argument is an identifiable piece of reasoning in which a point is expressed and reasons offered for that point" (p. 2). Gensler (2002) takes a slightly different stance - "An argument, in the sense used in logic, is a set of statements consisting of premises and a conclusion; normally the premises give evidence for the conclusion. Arguments put into words a possible act of reasoning" (p. 2). The key here for me is the word "possible". If a woman is choosing to get married or not, one could lay out a logical argument for her to marry - and one could also lay out a logical argument for her NOT to marry. Both are possible and both could be equally logical, when looked at from a certain standpoint.

Priest (2000) has something interesting to say about the nature of arguments. "[Logic] is not concerned with whether the premisses of an inference are true or false. That's somebody else's business ... it is interested simply in whether the conclusion follows from the premisses (p. 3). That is, say we had this series of statements:

1. If you're about to be late on your rent, the most important thing is to pay that bill no matter how you get the money.
2. Lisa is about to be late on her rent.
3. Lisa steals her rent money from her father.
4. Lisa is able to pay her rent on time.
5. Lisa has done what was necessary to meet her rent obligation.

From a logic standpoint, that is logical. The criteria within the logic statement have been met and the equation adds up. There is no sense in logic whether something is "ethically right" - only that the argument is internally valid. It is up to other disciplines like sociology and psychology to then evaluate the larger context for the statements.

So for example, I am against spanking a child. I feel children are better taught through other means. But let's say someone with a different point of view presented this argument:

1. A child under age 3 only learns not to hit by being hit.
2. James is a 2 year old child.
3. James has just hit his 2 year old friend.
4. I must hit James to teach him not to hit.

This argument would be valid. In my point of view it does not agree with my stance - but it is still logical.

Related to this, an argument can be quite logical - but can be missing out on the actual key cause. For examples, studies find that western men are most attracted to women with a waist to hip ratio of 0.7. There are many evolutionary reasons for this. So we could create an argument of:

1. My new girlfriend is a redhead
2. I am drawn to redheads
3. I am drawn to my new girlfriend

But really, it could be that the guy in question went past 10 other redheads without even seeing them, because this girl in question had the ideal waist to hip ratio. he was drawn in by her. So even though some of those other redheads might have been far better matches in terms of interests and hobbies, he never struck up a conversation with them because of that initial eyeball-draw, so they never made it to "stage 2".

Logical arguments only concern themselves with the internal integrity of how the statements add up. They don't look at the larger question of whether those statements are valid in terms of sociology, biology, psychology, or ethics.

References

Gensler, Harry. (2002). Introduction to Logic. New York, NY: Routledge.
Johnson, Robert M. (2007). A Logic Book. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cenage Learning.
Priest, Graham. (2000). Logic: A Very Short Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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