CCF2 – How to argue – Part 1/2 Philosophical Reasoning



Aristotle once described humans as the only rational animal. Well, actually he said, man is the only rational animal, but we don’t have to be sexist just because he was. And if you have ever gotten into an argument with someone about religion or politics or which Hemsworth is the hottest, then you have experienced how irrational can be people about their opinions. But what Aristotle meant is that rationality is our most distinguishing characteristic – it is what set us apart from the beasts. And no matter how much you disagree with someone about God, Obama or Chris Hemsworth, you can at least grant them that, at least, they are not beasts. Because, most of the time at least, people can be persuaded. By arguments.

Your use arguments all the time – at family dinnrs, with your friends, you just do not think of them the same way that philosphers do. When you try and convince your parents to lend you the car, or when you are talking up Crash Course to your friends you are using arguments. Thanks by the way. Each time you are telling someone to do or believe something, or when you are explaining why you do or believe something then you are using arguments.

The problem is that the majority of the people are not good at arguments. We tend to confuse making a good arguments with, like having witty comebacks, or just making your point more loudly and angrily instead of building a solid foundation of logic for the case.  Which can be harder than it sounds.

But learning about arguments and strong reasoning will not only make you a better philosopher, but also it will set you up to be a more persuasive person. Someone who people listen to. So, yeah, these skills are beneficial no matter what you want to do with your life. So, you might as well learn how to argue properly.

If you want to learn how to argue, then you should probably start about 2400 years ago, when Plato was laying out how reason can, and should, function in the human mind. He believed we all have a tripartite soul – what you use to think.

First, there is the rational,or logical part of the soul, which represent cool reason. When you decide to stop eating bacon for two meals a day, as delicious as it is, it is bad for you, then you make that decision with the guidance of the rational part of your soul.

But, then, there is the spirited aspect, often described as the emotional aspect of the self. The spirited soul is not just about feeling – it is about how your feelings fuel your actions. It is the part that responds in righteous anger to injustice, the part that drives your ambitions and calls upon you to help out others. It gives you sense of honor and duty and it is swayed by sympaty. So if you have decided to stop eating bacon because you just finished reading Charlotte’s Web and now you are in love with Wilbur , then you are been guided by the spirited part of your soul.

But we share the next part of our soul with the animals, be they pigs, or mouse or aardvark. The appetitive part of your soul is what drives you to eat, have sex and protect yourself from danger. It is swayed by temptations which are carnal and visceral. So at those time when you go ahead and EAT ALL THE BACON because it just smells so good then the appetitive aspect of your soul is in control.

Now, Plato believed that the best human beings – and I should point out here that Plato most definitely believed that some people are better than others – are always ruled by the rational part of the soul, because it works by keeping the spirited part and the appetitive part in check.  People who allow themselves to be guided by the spiritied or appetitive part of the soul are base, he believed, and not properly or fully humans.

Now, most of us do not buy in the concept of the tripartite soul anymore – or the idea that some humans are less humans than others. But we do understand that we are all motivated by physical desires, emotional impulses, and rational arguments. And philosophers continue to agree with Plato that reason should be in the driver seats.

So, how do you know if you are good at it? How can you test your reasoning? Well, let’s head over to the THOUGHT BUBBLE for some flash Philosophy. Throughout this course, we are going to apply our philosophical skills by pondering puzzles, paradoxes, and thought experiments.  Because remember: philosophers love thinking about questions – especially the one that do not have ready answers. So think of these exercises as philosophical wind-sprints – quick tesrs of your mental ability.

And here is a doozy, from the 20th century thinker Bertand Russel, one of the pioneers of what’s is known as analytic philosophy. Say there is a town in which by law all men are required to be clean-shaven. This town has only one barber, a man, who must follow strict rules called BARBER SHOP RULES:

1.      Barber must shave all men who do not shave themselves

2.      Barber shall not shave any man who does shave himself

It is the nightmare of ever libertarian and every mustachio’d hipster. But there is a question. Because think of it. The barber only shave men who do not shave themselves. So if he does shave himself, he must not, because the barber only shave men who do not shave themselves. But, if he does not shave himself, then he must be shaved by the barber, because that is the law. Russell came out with this puzzle to illlustrate that a group must be a memebr of itself. That means, in this case, that “all men who shave themselves” has to include every ….every guy who shaves himself, inluding the barber. Otherwise, the logic that dictates the group’s existence just does not hold up. And if the barber I a logical impossibility then he cannot exist, which means the reasoning behind his existence is inherently flawed. And philosophy does not tolerate flawed reasoning.

So how do wemake sure we are ruled by good, sound and, not flawed reasoning? By perfecting the art of argument. An argument, in philosophy, is not about a shouting match. Instead, philosophers maintains that your beliefs should always be backed up by reasons, which we call premises. Premises form the structure of your argument. They offer evidence for your belief, and you can have as amny premises you like, as long as they support your conclusions, which is the thing you actually believe.

So, let’s dissect the anatomy of an argument. There are several different species of arguments.

1.      Deductive

2.      Inductive

3.      Absolute

4.      Argument by Analogy


Probably, the most familiar and the easiest to carry out, is the deductive argument. The main rule of a deductive argument is: if your premises are always true, then you conclusion must be true.


And knowing that something is actually true is rare, and awesome. So, here is a boiled down argument of good deductive argument:




This kind of reasoning, where one fact leads to another is called entailment. Why? Once we know that all humans are mortals and Socrates is a human, those fact entails that Socrates is mortal. Deduction begin with the general – in this case, we know about human mortality – and reason down to the specific – Socrates in particular. What is great about deductive arguments is that the truth of the premises must lead to the truth of the conclusion. When this happens we must say that the argument is valid – there is just no way for the conclusion to be false if the premises are true.

Now check out this argument:




That argument is not valid because nothing about human mortality can prove that Socrates was the teacher of Plato. As you might have noticed, there are plenty of mortal humans who have never been teachers of Plato. What is interesting, though, is that this argument seems to have a true conclusion which leads to another issue. And that is: VALIDITY IS NOT THE SAME AS TRUTH.

IF THE PREMISES ARE TRUE THEN YOUR CONCLUSIONS CANNOT BE FALSE. All “VALID” means that if the premises are true, then you conclusions cannot be false. Like, in the case of whether Socrates was Plato’s teacher, the premises are true, and the conclusion is true, but the argument is still not valid – because the premises do not in any way prove the conclusion. It did just happen to be true. So, if your premises do not guarantee the truth of your conclusion, then you can really end up with crappy arguments.




As much as part of me would like to be a cat, this is invalid because the conclusion does not entail from the premises at all. I mean all cats are mammals but not all mammals are cats. Which means there are such things as non-cats mammals, which a man is just and example of it. And it probably goes without saying that you can have a perfect valid argument and still have a false conclusion if any of your premises are false. For example:




Because the premises entails the conclusion then the reasoning totally stands up. Since I am reasonably certain that my brother does not hava a tail this argument is not deductively sound.


And a deductively sound argument is an argument that is free from formal flaws or defects. It is an argument whose premises are all true, and that is valid, which means its conclusion is guaranteed to be true.

The reason that deduction is prized by philosophers – and lots of other important kinds of thinkers is that it is the only kind of argument that can give you a real certainty. But it is limited because it only works if you are starting with known and true premises which are ahrd to come by.

And for what is worth, deductive truths are usually pretty obvious. They do not tend to lead us to startingly new information, like the fact that I am not a cat, or that my brother does not have a tail. So instead of starting with premises that are already certain, like deduction does, you are gonna have to know how to determine the truth of, and your confidence in, your premises. Which means you are going to have to acquaint yourself with the other species of arguments. But today we talked about the value of reason, the structure of arguments, and we took a close look at one type of argument: deductive reasoning








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