The following is a transcript from the course Critical Thinking in Global Challenges where we explore the concept of an argument. The course is offered by the University of Edinburgh as part of MOOCs. Thanks to Professor Mayank Dutia, Dr. Celine Caquineau we are able to study our methods of thinking and decision making that we take it for granted in everyday situations. Thus far we have learnt…
An argument is a series of logical statements, which persuade you to follow in a reasoned way to a fair conclusion. The conclusion should be supported by the reasons given in the argument, and it should be a logical deduction or inference that follows from the argument.
A valid argument is based on one or more premises or starting points, which may be relevant facts, observations, or assumptions. The argument then consists of logical statements based upon these premises, which together lead us to the conclusion.
Here’s an example of a simple argument: we know that antibiotics are effective in killing bacteria, but they are not effective against viruses – that is our first premise. We also know that the common cold is caused by a viral infection, not a bacterial infection – that is our second premise. From these starting points, we can conclude therefore that antibiotics will not be effective in curing the common cold. Because we can be confident that both the premises are correct, and the logic that links them to the conclusion is correct, then the argument is a valid one.
In general terms, the validity of an argument depends both upon its premises, and the logical reasoning that builds upon these starting points. If any of the premises can be shown to be incorrect, or if the logical reasoning is faulty, then the argument is not valid and should be rejected.
The strength of an argument depends on the evidence that supports it. Evidence is the proof (facts, observations, or experimental results) that supports the premises and the logical reasoning that make up the argument. A convincing argument will often be supported by several different lines of evidence – for example, observations of natural phenomena and results of experiments. On the other hand, an argument that is supported by little or no evidence, is not convincing.
In critical thinking, it is a valuable and essential skill to be able to put forward your own arguments in a persuasive and logical way, and to hear and take on board the arguments of others.