The focus of this book is written and spoken ways of persuading us to do things and to believe things. Every day we are bombarded with messages apparently telling us what to do or not to do, what to believe or not to believe: buy this soft drink; eat that breakfast cereal; vote for Mrs Bloggs; practise safe sex; don't drink and drive; don't use drugs; boycott goods from a particular country; abortion is murder; meat is murder; aliens have visited the earth; the economy is sound; capitalism is just; genetically modified crops are safe; etc. Some messages we just ignore, some we unreflectively obey, and some we unreflectively reject. Others we might think about and question, asking 'why should I do, or refrain from doing that?', or 'why should I believe that, or not believe it?'.

When we ask the question 'why?' we're asking for a reason for doing what we are being enjoined to do, or believe what we are being enjoined to believe: Why should I vote for Mrs Bloggs, or eat this particular breakfast cereal? Why should I believe that meat is murder, or that the economy is sound? When we ask for a reason in this way we are asking for a justification for taking the action recommended or accepting the belief - not just a reason, but a good reason that ought to motivate us to act or believe as we are recommended to do. We might be told, for example, that Wheetybites are a nutritious, sugar-free, low-fat breakfast cereal; if so, then if we want to eat a healthy breakfast, we've been given a good reason to eat Wheetybites. If, on the other hand, we are given only state-of-the-art marketing techniques - for example, images of good-looking people happily eating Wheetybites with bright red strawberries out of fashionable crockery - then, although an attempt has been made to persuade us to buy Wheetybites, it would not appear that any attempt has been made to provide good reasons for doing so.

To attempt to persuade by giving good reasons is to give an argument. We encounter many different types of attempts to persuade. Not all of these are arguments, and one of the things we will concentrate on early in this book is how to distinguish attempts to persuade in which the speaker or writer intends to put forward an argument from those in which their intention is to persuade us by some means other than argument. Critical thinkers should primarily be interested in arguments and whether they succeed in providing us with good reasons for acting or believing. But we also need to consider non-argumentative attempts to persuade, as we must be able to distinguish these from arguments. This is not always straightforward, particularly as many attempts to persuade involve a mixture of various argumentative and non-argumentative techniques to get readers and listeners to accept a point of view or take a certain course of action.

You may find it surprising to think of an 'argument' as a term for giving someone a reason to do or believe something - telling them why they should boycott certain products or disapprove of fox-hunting for instance. Perhaps in your experience the word 'argument' means a disagreement - shouting the odds, slamming doors, insults, sulking. In fact in some of those situations the participants might actually be advancing what we mean by an argument, putting forward a well argued case for washing up one's dishes for example, but in many cases, they will not be arguing in the sense we have in mind here.

The sort of argument we have in mind does occur frequently in ordinary, everyday situations. It is by no means restricted to the works of Plato, Descartes and other scholars famous for the arguments they put forward. You and your acquaintances give each other reasons for believing something or doing something all the time - why we should expect our friend to be late for dinner, why we should walk rather than wait for the bus, and so on. Open a newspaper, and you'll find arguments in the letters section, editorials and various other discussion pieces. On television and radio broadcasts (especially current affairs shows) and in internet discussions you'll find people arguing their case (though they may well also resort to other persuasive techniques as well). The same thing occurs in a more elevated form at university and college. Throughout your time as a student you will hear lecturers and other students arguing for a point of view, and in set readings you will encounter attempts to persuade you of various claims about all manner of issues.

If you develop your ability to analyse people's attempts to persuade so that you can accurately interpret what they are saying or writing and evaluate whether or not they are giving a good argument - whether, for example, they are providing you with a good reason to believe that foxhunting should be banned - then you can begin to liberate yourself from unquestioningly accepting what others try to persuade you of without knowing whether you have a good reason to be persuaded.1

But then, you may ask, why is it liberating to demand reasons before you are persuaded to adopt new beliefs? Isn't it less trouble to go through life unreflectively doing more or less as you please and not worrying too much about whether you have good reason to do or believe something beyond whether or not you want to? Well, it may often be easier in the short run, but it might lead to a life dominated by bad decisions and discontentment. Socrates, the Ancient Athenian philosopher famously argued that 'the unexamined life is not worth living'.2 While this may or may not be true, the only way to find out is to approach the issue in a critical and rational manner. Paying attention to arguments gets you (eventually) to the truth of a matter, thereby making the world and the people in it easier to comprehend and to deal with.

Even if a desire to discover the truth does not seem a sufficiently strong reason for being concerned about having good reasons to justify your actions and beliefs, there are various life situations in which the ability to interpret and evaluate someone's case properly may be crucial to someone's well-being, or even to their remaining alive. For example in a court trial the jury is instructed to convict an alleged murderer if the prosecution has proved their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The jury is being asked to consider the prosecution's case (which is ideally an argumentative attempt to persuade them of the guilt of the accused), and the evidence they offer at each step of making that case. It has to consider whether there is good reason to accept the argument or whether some holes in it mean that there must be some doubt about its truth. The skills of evaluation and interpretation involved in argument analysis are what we use (or ought to use) in determining the strength of the prosecution's case in such situations. In fact in any situation in which we have to make decisions, be they about our lives or the lives of others, there is no substitute for the ability to think logically and to detect errors in the thinking of others.

1 Although this book emphasises the value of reason and the benefits of using techniques of persuasion that are rational, we should also bear in mind that what is claimed to be rational is not always rational, and certainly does not always have positive consequences. Historically, for example, those who wield power have often granted themselves authority over what counts as 'rational', condemning as 'irrational1 what threatens the status quo. The correct response to that sort of rhetorical manoeuvre, however, is not to say 'so much the worse for rationality, then!'; the correct response is to question whether the charge of irrationality is justified, or whether the term is merely being abused or manipulated. Rationality in itself is a neutral force, independent of anyone's particular interests or beliefs.

2 Plato, Apology, 38a, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969, p. 72.

Plato, the student of Socrates, provides us with many good examples of the power and value of thinking critically. Plato's dialogues are dramatisations of imaginary philosophical exchanges between the character Socrates and various other men of Athens and other Greek city-states. The character Socrates as he appears in Plato's dialogues was based on the actual man Socrates, who was something of a civic institution in Athens. He was not a professional teacher and wrote very little. Rather he preferred to express his ideas in discussion. He was a familiar figure in the public areas of the city - in the agora (the public meeting place), at the gymnasium, or simply walking the streets immersed in discussion with friends and followers. These discussions did not typically involve Socrates lecturing others about his own beliefs; rather he challenged the beliefs of others, leading them to re-examine their beliefs, assumptions and prejudices - getting them to consider whether they had good reasons for holding those beliefs. For Socrates, the first step towards developing knowledge and wisdom is coming to see how much less we know than we think we do.

However, the esteem in which Socrates was held by the young Plato was not universally felt. In challenging widely-held beliefs and received opinions, and daring to ask questions like, 'what makes life worth living?', Socrates was considered a threat by the Athenian political establishment. He was seen as undermining the state's authority through his questioning of accepted beliefs about such subjects as courage, justice and the good life. This is why he was eventually tried on trumped-up charges of 'corrupting the young', found guilty, and put to death. Thankfully these days, in the United Kingdom at least, society is sufficiently tolerant that critical thinking will not usually get you into trouble. But it is a good reflection of the importance of the skills you are developing that those who hold power sometimes fear the effects of those who can think critically about moral, social, economic and political issues.

Beginning to think critically: recognising arguments

We do many things with language - state a fact, ask a question, tell someone to do something, insult someone, praise someone, promise to do something, swear an oath, make a threat, tell a story, recite a poem, sing a song, say a character's lines in a play, cheer on a football team. Throughout this book we write about 'attempts to persuade' - by argument and by other means. As we've mentioned, not all attempts to persuade using language are attempts to persuade by argument. Others are attempts to persuade by means of rhetorical devices. In Chapter 4 we discuss the most common of these devices in detail. For the time being we'll just make some remarks about rhetoric in general. For our purposes rhetoric is defined as follows:

Rhetoric: Any verbal or written attempt to persuade someone to believe, desire or do something that does not attempt to give good reasons for the belief, desire or action, but attempts to motivate that belief, desire or action solely through the power of the words used.

The crucial thing to understand here is that an attempt to persuade by argument is an attempt to provide you with reasons for believing a claim, desiring something or doing something. Arguments appeal to your critical faculties, your reason. Rhetoric, on the other hand, tends to rely on the persuasive power of certain words and verbal techniques to influence your beliefs, desires and actions by appeal to your desires, fears and other feelings.

Threats and bribes are special cases that may appear to count as rhetoric according to our definition. In fact they are closer to argument; for they work by announcing to the recipient that they have a good reason to act as suggested. For example, if Smith attempts to persuade Jones to lend him her car by threatening to inform the police that she uses a fake driver's licence, then he is implicitly giving her a reason to lend him her car - if she doesn't do so, the police will find out about the driver's licence; since she doesn't want that to happen, she has a reason to lend him the car. Although threats and bribes may be immoral, and may motivate partly by appeal to our fears and greed (among other feelings), they do motivate through force of reason and for that reason do not count as rhetoric.

Rhetorical techniques can be manipulative and coercive and their use should generally be avoided by those who aspire to think critically and persuade by reason. That is not to say that rhetoric is always undesirable. Often it is used to great effect for good causes. Consider this excerpt from Sir Winston Churchill's famous speech to Parliament during the Second World War in which he attempts to rein in a sense of celebration at the success of the evacuations of British troops from Dunkirk, and to remind parliamentarians and the public generally that there was still a long way to go in defeating the Nazis and their allies. Churchill uses some remarkably effective rhetoric in a good cause and might well be admired as a talented rhetorician. But his speech does not amount to an attempt to persuade by argument.

The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

On the other hand, those who try to persuade you of not such good causes might also be effective, persuasive rhetoricians. European fascists of the 1930s - Hitler, Mussolini, Franco - provide good examples of this.

Of attempts to persuade that are arguments, not all are good arguments. So when analysing attempts to persuade we have to perform three tasks:

♦ The crucial first stage involves distinguishing whether an argument is being presented. We need to identify the issue being discussed, and determine whether or not the writer or speaker is attempting to persuade by means of argument.

♦ Once we have established that the writer/speaker is presenting an argument, we can move to the task of reconstructing the argument so as to express it clearly, and so as to demonstrate clearly the steps and form of the argument's reasoning.

♦ A clear reconstruction makes our third and final stage - evaluating the argument, asking what's good about it and what's bad about it -much easier to perform and to justify.

In subsequent chapters we explain in detail what we mean by reconstruction, and explain what makes an argument a good one. Our aim is not to help you acquire the basic comprehension skills that you need to work out what a passage or speech is about. We assume that you already have that skill, though working through this book might help you to hone it more finely. So we will begin with the first step, by considering how to distinguish arguments from other ways of putting forward opinions and persuading people to act.

When we put forward an argument we are either advancing an opinion (a claim which we think is true) or recommending an action. In either case we give a number of claims intended to support the claim or the recommendation. However, these two types of arguments can be collapsed into one. For we can think of an argument that recommends an action as advancing a claim to the effect that the hearer or reader should, or ought to, do such and such. For example an argument whose aim is to get you to buy Wheetybites can be understood as advancing the claim: You ought to buy Wheetybites.

Thus all arguments can be understood as attempting to provide reasons for thinking that some claim is true. The nature of truth is a deep and controversial philosophical issue that we do not need to contemplate here. We are working with an ordinary, non-theoretical concept of truth such that to say that someone's claim is true is to say that what it says is how things really are. For example, if someone makes the true claim 'Moscow is larger than Paris', then according to our intuitive conception of truth, it is true just because Moscow is larger than Paris. Our working definition of truth then, is as follows:

To say that a claim is true is to say that what is claimed is how things actually are.

A claim, however, does not constitute an argument. An argument needs more than one claim: it needs the claim of which the arguer hopes to convince his or her audience, plus at least one claim offered in support of that claim. To illustrate the difference between arguments and claims, consider these unsupported claims:

► The Labour Party is making a better job of running the country than the Conservative Party did.

► Philosophers are odd, unworldly people.

► The world is facing environmental catastrophe.

The following examples, by contrast, attempt to give some support for these claims. Whether they provide adequate support is something we will look at later. The important point is to see the difference between this set and the first set:

► It's going to rain later, I know because I heard the weather forecast on the radio and it's usually reliable.

► The Labour Party is making a better job of running the country than the Conservatives did. Unemployment is down, prosperity is up and the pound remains strong. These are the crucial signs that the country is doing well.

► I've met a few philosophers in my time and they've always been strange people, heads in the clouds, not really in touch with the real world. Philosophers are odd, unworldly people.

► Climate scientists predict that the world is facing environmental catastrophe, and they are the experts on these issues.

There are special terms for the two parts of arguments: the primary claim, the one we are trying to get others to accept, is the conclusion. The supporting claims, the ones that are intended to give us reasons for accepting the conclusion are the premises. As with the word 'argument', we are using the word 'premise' here in a restricted way that does not correspond to all the ways the word is ordinarily used. People sometimes respond to someone's expression of opinion by saying, 'that's just your premise, but no one knows that for sure'; they do so to cast doubt on the truth of the claim being made. That is not the sense of the word 'premise' used in the discussion and analysis of arguments: for this purpose, a premise is simply any claim put forward as support for the conclusion of an argument, however certain or uncertain that claim may be. We can now give a working definition of argument:

An argument: A set of propositions of which one is a conclusion and the remainder are premises, intended as support for the conclusion.

And what's a proposition?

A proposition: the factual content expressed by a declarative sentence on a particular occasion. The same proposition may be expressed by different sentences. For example, on a given occasion, 'The Government has decided to hold a public enquiry into the affair' would express the same proposition as 'It was decided that the

Government would hold a public enquiry into the affair.'

One upshot of this is that different sets of sentences could express the same argument. Another is that when a sentence is used rhetorically, its rhetorical aspect, which we will call its rhetorical force, is not part of the propositional content that it expresses; rather, it is the emotive or otherwise suggestive window-dressing which surrounds the proposition and is used to persuade us to believe or do something. The point is best grasped when we consider sentences that express the same proposition but have different rhetorical force. The sentence 'She is bringing up her children on her own' expresses the same proposition as the rhetorically charged 'She's a single mum'. But while the former merely expresses a fact about someone's family arrangements, the second, by its use of the emotive and politically significant term 'single mum' might function not only to inform us of a fact, but also to manipulate our sympathies concerning the person in question (depending upon our beliefs and feelings about parenthood).

An argument may be about any subject and have any number of premises, but it will always have only one final conclusion. This argument has just one premise:

Bart has two sisters.

Therefore, Bart is not an only child.

This has two:

Helping someone to commit suicide is the same as murder.

Murder is wrong.

Therefore, helping someone to commit suicide is wrong.

And this one three:

Car use is seriously damaging the environment.

Reducing car journeys would reduce damage to the environment.

We should do what we can to protect the environment.

Therefore, we should use cars less.

As you can see, arguments for analysis are set out in a particular style with the premises listed in the order that they occur in the reasoning process and the conclusion appearing at the bottom. We can refine this style and further clarify the argument by numbering the premises PI, P2, and so on, and drawing a line between the last premise and the conclusion, which we mark with a 'C'. The line between premises and conclusion is called an inference bar, and its purpose is to distinguish steps in reasoning. The bar should be read as standing for 'therefore'. This style of setting out arguments is called standard form. The purpose of setting out arguments in this manner is to maximise clarity. Using this method helps us to see the stages of reasoning clearly and to make comparisons between arguments of similar form. When dealing with arguments as they are ordinarily presented, distinguishing the exact conclusion from the premises, the premises from each other, and the premises and conclusion from other, irrelevant material can be difficult. Writing the argument in standard form provides us with the most comprehensive and clearest possible view of it, ensuring that while discussing the argument and attempting to evaluate it, we do not lose track of exactly what the argument is.

A number of the exercises included in this book require you to set out arguments in standard form. To do this is to reconstruct the argument, and the end product - the argument set out in standard form - is called a reconstruction of the argument, or an argument-reconstruction. In reconstructing arguments you should follow the example below by taking these steps:

► Identify the conclusion.

► Identify the premises.

► Number the premises and write them out in order.

► Draw in the inference bar.

► Write out the conclusion, placing 'C' in front of it.

Thus the previous example looks thus in standard form:

P1) Car use is seriously damaging the environment.

P2) Reducing car journeys would reduce damage to the environment.

P3) We should do what we can to protect the environment.

C) We should use cars less.

Identifying conclusions and premises

The question of whether a passage or speech contains an argument is the question of whether the speaker or writer is attempting, by means of that passage or speech, to persuade his or her audience of some conclusion by offering premises in support of it. This is a question about the intentions of the writer or speaker - 'What does this person intend to do with these words here?' - that cannot always be answered unless we know something of the context - the circumstances in which the passage or speech appeared or took place. But even when we've determined that an argument is being advanced, its premises and conclusion are often buried deep amongst the other elements of a speech or text, and there are no hard and fast rules for distinguishing the propositions that form an argument from those that perform some other function in a text or speech. Identifying arguments is largely a matter of determining what the author or speaker intends by interpreting her words (spoken or written), and this comes with practice. Often writers and speakers leave some of their premises unstated because they think that readers or listeners will know what they have in mind. So in interpreting arguments we may have to add premises to make their structure and content complete. Further, people do not always express their arguments in very clear language, so we have to clarify each proposition before we can command a clear view of the argument as a whole (we look at difficulties with linguistic meaning later in this chapter).

Identifying conclusions

Once you have determined that a text or speech contains an attempt to persuade by argument, it is easiest to proceed first by identifying its conclusion. Determining whether a passage contains an attempt to persuade by argument and identifying the conclusion of that argument do not always occur independently however. Sometimes you will identify the conclusion in the process of working out that a passage does indeed contain an argument. On other occasions you may have already worked out that a passage contains an argument by paying careful attention to the writing style and the context without yet having identified the conclusion. We will, in any case, treat these processes as independent steps in argument analysis.

The conclusions of the following examples are probably clear from the first reading:

Since Jo Bloggs is a politician and politicians are always corrupt, I guess Jo Bloggs is corrupt.

I'm anti-hunting because I believe that hunting foxes is wrong. After all, it's wrong to kill simply for pleasure and fox-hunting involves the killing of innocent animals for pleasure.

Before moving on, make sure that you can identify the conclusions in each of these examples.

Several points make the identification of conclusions an easier task

1 Once you have decided that a passage or speech contains an attempt to persuade by argument, try to see what the main point of the passage or speech is. Ask what point the speaker or author is trying to establish; that point will be the conclusion. Once you come to reconstruct an argument for analysis, paraphrasing the main point as one simple proposition will make the argument easier to handle. Bear in mind that a writer or speaker may make the same point in a number of different ways, so you may have to settle upon one particular way of expressing it.

2 Any proposition on any topic can be a conclusion. It is possible to attempt to argue for any claim, from the highly theoretical to the most mundane. So the type of subject matter of a proposition - religion, morality, science, the weather, politics, sport - is not in itself a guide to identifying whether or not that proposition is intended as the conclusion of a passage's argument. The premises and conclusions of arguments should ideally be expressed in declarative sentences, but in real-life arguments they may be expressed otherwise. When reconstructing arguments, we may need to rewrite premises and conclusions as declarative sentences in order to clarify the propositions expressed. For example, the apparent question, 'Aren't all socialists idealists?' might be used to express a premise that all socialists are idealists. The types of linguistic phenomena that need to be rewritten for clarity's sake are discussed in detail later in this chapter.

3 A single text or speech may contain several arguments for several different but connected conclusions. Sometimes we argue for one point, then a second, and then use those conclusions as premises in an argument for a third and final conclusion. These chains of arguments are known as extended arguments and we look at them in more detail later.

4 A helpful guide to recognising arguments are words which usually indicate that a writer or speaker is putting forward an argument. For

Why should we become critical thinkers?

example if someone says, 'Given the facts that A, B, and C, it follows that D', you can be sure that D is the conclusion of the intended argument (and that A, B and C are the premises). Other common conclusion indicators are:

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