Given the quotation:

As much as you can, keep worldly life in your hand--not in your heart. That means when someone insults you, keep it out of your heart so it doesn't make you bitter or defensive. When someone praises you, also keep it out of your heart, so it doesn't make you arrogant and self-deluded. When you face hardship and stress, don't absorb it in your heart, so you don't become hopeless and overwhelmed. Instead, keep it in your hands and realize that everything passes. When you're given a gift by God, don't hold it in your heart. Hold it in your hand so that you don't begin to love the gift more than the giver. And so that when it is taken away you can truly respond with 'indeed we belong to God, and to God we return'.

can you please explain if this passage an argument or a non-argument?

  • 2
    Depends how you define 'argument'. – user20253 Mar 23 '20 at 12:31
  • 1
    This is an exhortation, not an argument. The author is merely urging the reader to do something, without building a code for it or deriving it from other principles. – Ted Wrigley Mar 23 '20 at 15:09
  • Welcome to SE Philosophy! Please be aware that questions are subject to editing and closure, and that reflects the site's policies on acceptable questions and NOT a personal attack. What to avoid in questions. Questions, including those that are closed, can be edited to bring them within guidelines. Keeping questions on-topic. Additional clarification at the meta site. – J D Mar 23 '20 at 15:38
  • @TedWrigley An exhortation is not mutually exclusive with argumentation. In fact, a good argument often involves invoking logos. – J D Mar 23 '20 at 15:43
  • I should have said that a good exhortation, which is act of persuasion, often invokes not only pathos and ethos, but also logos. – J D Mar 23 '20 at 15:50

I'm going to follow Habermas here, and assert that what we mean by 'reasoning' is an effort to use language to convince some person of normativity, such as the rightness, goodness, propriety, acceptability, or similar positive valuation of a belief or action. With that in mind, there are four basic modes of rationality:

  • Teleological rationality: an amoral, goal-oriented, 'ends justifies the means' form of reasoning similar to the political concept of realpolitik or the economic principles of game theory or rational actor theory, where we convince others of the 'rightness' of our behavior by succeeding at tasks or accomplishing goals.
  • Normative rationality: a form of reasoning that reflects back on pre-given, authoritative norms that are held to be true a priori. We try convince others by pointing at authoritative texts or utterances, resting on the authority of the text or utterance to carry our case.
  • Dramaturgical rationality: Reasoning that calls on the sincerity, authenticity, or virtue of the speaker to convey the 'rightness' of what is said. One convinces others by saying (e.g.) "I am a good, righteous person, so you can trust what I say is true."
  • Communicative rationality: A form of reasoning that focuses solely on the argument itself, without regard to questions of practicality, authority, or personal integrity. This, perhaps, is the never-achieved ideal of intellectual discussion.

Generally when people use the word 'argument' (in the sense of a set of reasoning that one presents to others), we tend to think we mean it in the last sense. But the passage presented in the question is clearly not communicative rationality as defined; it's a form of normative rationality, which is attempting to convince the reader of its 'rightness' by reference to certain authoritative values given a priori within a religious worldview. There is certainly reasoning going on in the passage: all of Habermas' categories are thoughtful, they merely use different metrics of persuasion. But this reasoning is not he intellectual/academic type that develops intricate chains of logical associations to reach a conclusion; nor is it the teleological type that only seeks specific goals; nor does it rest entirely on the credibility and persuasiveness of any particular speaker.

To the extent that this passage represents an effort to convince others of the 'rightness' of a particular attitude, it can be considered an argument. But it is an argument of the normative form — aiming to convince others by exhorting them to follow authoritatively dictated principles — not an intellectual argument as we might normally be inclined to use the term. It is a different form of persuasion, which is useful, valid, and effective within appropriate contexts, but not within every context.

  • I wasn't aware of this taxonomy. You blew my mind away. Which work should I read for this? – J D Mar 24 '20 at 18:30
  • Does Habermas claim then that all positive statements ultimately rest on normativity through convention and universals of human psychology? That man as a biological and social animal constructs truth from stem to stern? – J D Mar 24 '20 at 18:38
  • 1
    @JD: Read Habermas' "Theory of Communicative Action" a huge two-volume tome of dense Germanic prose, but worth the effort. Habermas moved past this with "Between Facts and Norms" (where he gets into the notions of 'linguistic colonization' and 'the lifeworld', but I still find a lot of value in the TCA. – Ted Wrigley Mar 24 '20 at 18:46
  • Ausgezeichnet! Vielen Dank, mein Freund! – J D Mar 24 '20 at 18:49
  • @JD: I'm considering rolling back your edit. Habermas has a streak of idealism: I think he would say that values like 'rightness' and 'goodness' are not precisely normative, but rather things that are established by the mode of rationality being used. E.g., in dramaturgy, authenticity and sincerity are the source of all valuation; they're not norms so much as they are Wittgensteinian rules that are inseparable from the act of reasoning itself. But let me think on it... – Ted Wrigley Mar 24 '20 at 18:52

Your question hinges, as PeterJ points out, on the definition of argument. Many might be tempted to dismiss this as an argument because in the narrow technical sense, the natural language obscures the propositions at play. But they are there under the metaphorical exhortation. If we understand using head and heart as figurative metaphor for using reason and using emotion, then this argument is clearly a stoic, theological argument that attempts to persuade one towards goodness by managing life experience through choosing how to deal with attachment and how to cope with the vagaries of life.

To wit, a reasonable interpretation of this figurative language:

P1. Life is full of day to day ups and downs and good and bad in accordance with God's will.
P2. It is possible to deal with those ups and downs by being reasonable about them instead of allowing them to trigger and overwhelm you.
C. Therefore, by being reasonable instead of irrational, you will dissolve the ego and embrace the goodness that is God's plan which is much bigger and more important than you.

This agathism is a type of definition of argumentation exemplified in the Wikipedia article here:

Argument is an informal calculus, relating an effort to be performed or sum to be spent, to possible future gain, either economic or moral. In informal logic, an argument is a connection between:
- an individual action
- through which a generally accepted good is obtained

According to this definition, this passage is clearly an informal argument.


This is not a logical argument because it presents no conclusion which follows from premises but instead, presents an idea ("as much as you can, keep worldly life in your hand--not in your heart.") along with its applications ("when...") and consequences ("so [that]...").

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.