Argument (philosophy)

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An argument, in logic and philosophy, may be defined in its most ordinary sense as a set of statements, one of which is the conclusion, the others premises (or premisses). The premises are intended or purported to show that the conclusion is, or is probably, true. An argument in this sense need not be part of a heated verbal dispute or disagreement. Arguments are perhaps the most essential element of reasoning.

When an argument is presented to show that its conclusion is true (not just probably true), the argument is called deductive. When an argument is presented to show that its conclusion is probably true, the argument is called inductive. A major part of the study of logic is the development of tests and techniques for determining whether or not the premises actually do support an argument's conclusion as intended. The introduction of a vocabulary for the description of argument types and argument components assists in this study.

Examples of Arguments

Here is an example of a simple argument:

No birds are hamsters.

Polly is a bird.

Therefore, Polly is not a hamster.

There is one problem with this as an example of an argument, however: since everyone already believes that Socrates is mortal, one might get the idea from this example that arguments are used to formalize things that everyone believes already. Generally, the function of argumentation is to give logical support, and hence credibility, to claims that others might otherwise be inclined to doubt. Nevertheless, anything that exhibits the logical form of an argument is usually treated as an argument, at least in discussions of argumentation by logicians and philosophers.

The argument above is not presented as it might occur in its "natural habitat," i.e., in the context of ordinary speech or discussion. Rather, it is presented in a way that makes plain the various parts of the argument: the premises come first, the conclusion (signalled by the word therefore) is put last. Put in this way, we may further dissect the argument even further an analyze the relationship between the premises and the conclusion.