Argument Basics

  • Arguments come in two forms: deductive and inductive. A deductive argument is intended to provide logically conclusive support for a conclusion; an inductive one, probable support for a conclusion. Deductive arguments can be valid or invalid; inductive arguments, strong or weak. A valid argument with true premises is said to be sound. A strong argument with true premises is said to be cogent.

Judging Arguments

  • Evaluating an argument is the most important skill of critical thinking. It involves finding the conclusion and premises, checking to see if the argument is deductive or inductive, determining its validity or strength, and discovering if the premises are true or false.

Finding Missing Parts

  • Sometimes you also have to ferret out implicit, or unstated, premises. Finding implicit premises is a three-step process.

Argument Patterns

  • Arguments can come in certain common patterns, or forms. Two valid forms that you will often run into are modus ponens (affirming the antecedent) and modus tollens (denying the consequent). Two common invalid forms are denying the antecedent and affirming the consequent.
  • Using the counterexample method can help you determine whether a deductive argument is valid or invalid.

Diagramming Arguments

  • Analyzing the structure of arguments is easier if you diagram them. Argument diagrams can help you visualize the function of premises and conclusions and the relationships among complex arguments with several subarguments.
  • Assessing very long arguments can be challenging because they may contain lots of verbiage but few or no arguments, and many premises can be implicit. Evaluating long arguments, though, requires the same basic steps as assessing short ones: (1) Ensure that you understand the argument, (2) locate the conclusion, (3) find the premises, and (4) diagram it to clarify logical relationships.