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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Controversies & Solutions

What is an Argument?

Understanding the structure of arguments is important because it enables a reader to critique various works effectively. Arguments consist of two main parts: premises (usually with reasons and evidence to justify the premises) and conclusions.

Socrates is human (premise) → Socrates is mortal (conclusion)

In this common argument, one concludes that Socrates is mortal because he is human (as humans are, in fact, mortal). In this example a single conclusion/claim is drawn from a single premise. However, most of the arguments readers of academic literature encounter are a lot more complicated with numerous reasons given in support of an assertion, and the assumptions that may hold them together may be difficult to uncover.

A more complex argument might look like this:

The example above gives four reasons in support of the main claim. This could have been a lot more complex; one could add six more copremises and significantly increase the justifications. The most important part of the analysis for the critical reader is to determine whether the reasons given really support the main point. For instance, one may ask whether violating important principles of international law by keeping GITMO open would really undermine America’s reputation.

Watch Out for Logical Fallacies

Although there are more than two dozen types and subtypes of logical fallacies, these are the most common forms that you may encounter in writing, argument, and daily life.

Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning

Hasty Generalization

Sweeping Generalization

Non Sequitur

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

False Dilemma