Source: With Good Reason, An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (6 ed, 2000) by Prof. S. Morris Engel PhD. Here, 'apology' means expression of regret, and not the Ancient Greek meanings

[p 10:] As we have seen, an argument is a piece of reasoning in which one or more statements are offered as support for some Other statement. If a piece of writing makes a claim but gives no such reasons for us to believe it. it is not an argument. Likewise, a passage that makes no assertion at all is not an argument. [1.] Thus, questions are not arguments, nor are announcements, complaints, compliments, or apologies. Such passages are not arguments because, again, they make no effort to persuade us. [End of 1.]

[p 11:] More difficult are those cases in which reasons are indeed offered but more in way of clarification rather than justification. Although appearing like arguments, such passages are often no more than a collection of statements, one expanding on the other.

[p 12:] And that is perhaps another way in which we might distinguish passages whose main purpose is to explain rather than convince: an explanation takes that is considered and a fact and tries to clarify it further; an argument takes something not generally known or yet agreed upon and tries to establish that it is a fact. An explanation, that is to say, begins with the assumption that a certain statement is true and attempts to elaborate on what its author means, precisely, to assert. An argument attempts to establish that the statement in question is true by offering supporting reasons or it.

How is 1 always true? What if an announcement, complaint, compliment, or expression of sorriness asserts (i.e. propounds supporting reasons) to establish itself true?

  • i agree with you that i can try and persuade without an explicit argument, in a complaint e.g..
    – user6917
    Jun 5 '16 at 13:17

The author has already explicitly taken a technical definition of 'persuade' that excludes emotion or other irrational psychological response: "an argument is a piece of reasoning in which one or more statements are offered as support for some Other statement." Feeling happy for someone, taken advantage of, angry or sympathetic, for instance, are not statements, and attempts to manage them are not arguments. Such a definition is common in logic texts, but not warranted, and I consider it incorrect, but he has just stated that this is his position.

From that perspective, then, attempts to persuade us to have a logical reaction and not an emotional one are never 'arguments'.

Take one case, 'complaint', the others are parallel.

A complaint that contains an argument that is supposed to motivate you to respond constructively rather than emotionally does not 'persuade' in this sense. It only argues for or against a sheerly emotional reaction to the difficulty at hand: disappointment, or the lack thereof; which is not a statement.

Stripped of the emotional trigger that makes the embedded argument necessary, the remaining statement of disapproval is no longer persuasive in the accepted sense. Even if it might change your behavior, it will not do so on the basis of the logic accepted here, but out of social motivations driven by emotion.

So, from this perspective, there are two entirely separate things in the most common form of a complaint: the complaint proper, and an attempt at persuasion to take a different action than the one being complained about. The former is not an argument, even if the latter is.


Announcements, complaints, compliments, and apologies (in the modern sense) can include arguments, but functionally, they don't have the role or structure of an argument. An announcement is a statement intended to be taken at face value, it isn't considered controversial by the speaker (even if it is, when judged objectively) or intended to be persuasive. A complaint is a statement about your own personal feeling and attitudes, again, it isn't intended to be persuasive. A compliment is a positive announcement about another person. An apology (as an expression of sorriness, not in the older sense) is again a statement about your own personal feelings and attitudes.

If something is intended to persuade through reasons, then it is an argument, not one of those other things. Persuasion alone, and reasons alone, are not enough to compose an argument. If I say "I don't like Candidate X because Reason Y," that's a complaint. If I say "You shouldn't like Candidate X because Reason Y," that's an argument. If I say "No one should like Candidate X," that's an announcement.

It's important to note, however, that not all arguments are explicit. If I say "I don't like Candidate X because Reason Y", but what I mean is "You shouldn't like Candidate X because Reason Y," then the second statement is the implicit argument implied by the first.

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