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Sometimes I cannot distinguish arguments from Nonarguments. For example, according to the book "A concise introduction to logic" by Hurley the following is an example of an argument:

"There appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women. Women today are working more and relaxing less, while men are working less and relaxing more. Forty years ago a typical woman spent 40 minutes more per week than the typical man performing an activity considered unpleasant. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes and growing."

On the other hand, the following passage is considered to be a Nonargument:

"Authoritarian states are characterized by strong central governments that fairly stringently limit the range of political activity. More often than not, they are one-party states, which means that only one party, that which supports the government, is allowed to engage in political activity. Free discussion and association are strictly curtailed in these systems. Anyone who might dare to criticize the government or to express ideas that are not in conformity with its policies can be severely punished, even by death."

In one section Hurley gives examples of Nonarguments. An "explanation", according to him, is such a case. He points out that an important feature of explanations is that the phenomenon in question is usually accepted as a matter of fact. This piece of evidence gave me reason to believe the first example is an argument, because a growing happiness gap between men and women is not something which is obvious from the start. The second example, though, is not considered an argument and just an explanation, because "strong central governments that fairly stringently limit the range of political activity" is an intrinsic attribute of Authoritarian states and thus an accepted matter of fact.

I got example number 2 wrong and thought it was an argument, when in fact it is not. In an attempt to justify this, I came up with the reasoning written in italic. Is my reasoning good?

  • The basic feature of an argument is that it has a conclusion, and thus it has also (one or more) premises. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 31 '18 at 19:53
  • I have more problem with the first text. If it is an argument, it has a hidden premise - that performing unpleasant activities make one unhappy, or hinders one's efforts to be happy. This is probably one of those things considered so obvious that it isn't worth making it explicit. But without that, it isn't, in my opinion, an actual argument. (The hidden premise, of course, may well be true - but it is not demonstrated, and so remains an ad hoc piece in the reasoning.) – Luís Henrique Feb 19 '18 at 23:10
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Yes, your reasoning is good; arguments tend to try and establish matters of fact. There's a more formal explanation too.

In his logic textbook Teller defines an argument as a set of declarative sentences with a conclusion. That is, an argument has a sentence in it that can be rephrased to something like: "And because of all that, such-and-such." It's more complicated than that, because logical implication isn't intuitive at all. But this is a good rule for natural language.

If we take the first example, we can see that we can slightly rephrase it as

Women today are working more and relaxing less, while men are working less and relaxing more. Forty years ago a typical woman spent 40 minutes more per week than the typical man performing an activity considered unpleasant. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes and growing. Because of all that, there appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women.

(I take it that the new first sentence is not supposed to be a result based on the next two sentences, but just that author telling you what they are about to tell you.)

But the second example cannot be similarly rephrased. It's hard to see that any sentence could rightfully be said to "follow" from another, instead of just providing more detail.

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1 Wherever there is an argument there is a 'conclusion'.

2 A conclusion needs to be supported by reasons, which are called 'premises'.

3 There need to be at least two premises.

Take an example :

(1) Either global warming is real or it is an invention of scientists. (Premise)

(2) Global warming is not an invention of scientists. (Premise)

(3) Global warming is real. (Conclusion)

The premises support the conclusion in this way : the conclusion cannot be false if the premises are true. The premises necessitate the conclusion. It doesn't matter whether the premises or conclusion are actually true or not. It's just that it's impossible both to hold that the premises are true and to deny the truth of the conclusion without self-contradiction. That's the case in a deductively valid argument.

Contrast this with :

(1) When I get up during the night, I always find my alarm clock has stopped. (premise)

(2) There is a hobgoblin in my bedroom every night (conclusion)

This isn't an argument; it's just an assertion. To make it into an argument we would have to revise it to :

(1) When I get up during the night, I always find my alarm clock has stopped. (premise).

(2) Hobgoblins exist, there is one in my bedroom at night, and only a hobgoblin could stop my alarm clock every night ((premise).

(3) There is a hobgoblin in my bedroom every night (conclusion).

I have set this out very informally, but I guess you can see that the premises support the conclusion and that without them we don't have an argument at all, only an assertion.

In the alarm clock example there was a missing premise, (2), which was needed to convert an assertion into an argument.

There's also an absence of argument when there is no conclusion that follows from a set of statements. Take :

(1) Red is a color.

(2) Water is H2O.

(3) Grover Cleveland died in 1908.

(4) Dogs are mammals.

(5) Diamonds are hard.

These statements are independent of one another; there is no conclusion that you can draw from them. They do not add up to an argument. They are mutually irrelevant.

So an argument requires that the premises necessitate the conclusion as in the revised alarm clock example. And, just an extension of the same point, the premises in an argument must be mutually relevant.

The crucial test for whether you have an argument is whether the premises could be true and the conclusion false. If they could, you don't have an argument - at least not a deductively valid argument.

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Novelty is not a good criterion, people carefully prove their accepted facts all the time. And whether something is an accepted matter of fact depends on who you are. It is sort of a clue, but it is not a good deciding criterion.

I also don't buy this distinction between arguments and explanations. But an explanation that is an argument uses data and logic to establish the fact that it describes reality or applies productively to a given range of cases. This text does not, it is simply a set of definitions and facts, without evidence. (So, in my book, it also is not an explanation, just an empty explanatory structure, which does not explain anything. Having a set of definitions that may or may not apply to reality has never made anything clearer. But that is to some degree quibbling.)

I also disagree that looking for a conclusion is the right criterion. If there is argument, there is also an implied conclusion. But the conclusion may be omitted or unclear. "You never bring me flowers. You never sing me love songs. You hardly talk to me anymore when you come through the door at the end of the day." is an argument, but the conclusion is omitted. It is is an argument because it gives evidence, and not simple facts. It is meant to imply things and not just describe a state.

The relevant issue is the matter of evidence and/or connecting logic. Arguments argue: they have a position to support or advance and they are using facts and logic to provide that support.

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