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Ludwig von Mises, Chris Witton, http://interesting.comPhilosophy 103: Introduction to Logic
Explanations and Nonarguments

Abstract: Several kinds of nonargumentative discourse are characterized, illustrated, and distinguished from argumentative discourse.

I. We said last period that every argument in logic has a structure--every argument in logic can be described in terms of this structure.
A. Premisses: statements which give evidence for, or reasons for, accepting the conclusion.
B. Conclusion: statement which is purported to be established or affirmed on the basis of other statements (the premisses).
II. Recognizing Arguments: Given these characterizations, then, how do we sort out arguments from the rest of the kinds of linguistic behavior?
In effect, what we are doing is separating the territory of logic from the rest of the world.
In order to know to what we can apply our powerful methods of analysis, we need to learn how to separate argumentative discourse from non-argumentative discourse.
A. Typical argumentative "look-a-likes" fall into four main categories.
1. Fiction, poetry, emotional discourse: the purpose is not factual truth.
2. Commands: they are not statements because they have no truth value. (However, they can be subjected to a "logic of commands" as noted later.)
3. Conditional statements (by themselves) are not arguments.: "If ... then ..." statements, sometimes called "hypotheticals," although many logicians distinguish different various forms of conditionals.
4. Explanations: their purpose is not to prove, but to explain. In general explanations are not arguments. (Some good explanations have a deductive character, as discussed below.)
B. Fiction, poetry, emotional discourse are to be distinguished as well..
1. Even though good fiction has a good internal logic, there is usually no proof involved.
a. The truth in a story is like the "ah-ha" experience of an explanation.
b. Our learning is indirect--i.e., we perceive or understand the truth.
c. The investigation of the status of fictional statements is an area in present inquiry.
d. The work of fiction, as a whole, can be thought of as a very large conditional statement:
If {we assume characters, plot, etc.) then {such and such statements logically follow}.
e. This proceeding is the sort of thing that is done in thought-experiments. E.g., consider the main point of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage:  The Persian rug with its intricate design has no purpose other than itself and is the metaphor of life itself.
2. Poetry's purpose is not to prove or demonstrate, but to appeal to our emotions or insight.
a. Often these insights are alogical--hyperbole, contrast, contradiction, analogy, etc., give us insight.
b. E.g., consider Stephen Vincent Benét's "The Ballad of William Sycamore":
"So I saddled a red unbroken colt
And I rode him into the day there,
And he threw me down like a thunderbolt
And rolled on me as I lay there.
The hunter's whistle hummed in my ear
As the city men tried to move me,
But I died in my boots like a pioneer
With the whole wide sky above me."
To raise the question of how a dead man can write a poem is to miss the point.
3. Emotional Discourse:  in common parlance, these "heated arguments" are alogical--the standards of logic are not meant to apply.
a. E.g., "one man was shot, one man was injured after a heated argument in a bar."
b. From a logical point of view, the heated exchange is views is often settled by the doctrine that "might makes right."
C. Commands, especially those put as imperative statements are not arguments.
1. Again, we could evaluate a series of commands for logical consistency (as when we are told to do different things by the same authority), but commands, strictly speaking, are neither true nor false, so they are not normally part of arguments.
2. As we will see later, imperatives can function as directive (e.g., "Study hard"), expressive (e.g., "Have a nice day), or informative (e.g., "Study pages 25-140 for the test").
3. Sometimes you should look at the context—although imperatives are used, the passage might be meant to be an argument.
4. Consider the following quotation from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: "Be careful who you pretend to be, for that you will surely become." Is he explaining how pretense can be harmful, is he trying to prove it, or is he warning us not to pretend? One could only tell by looking at the context in which this sentence was used.
D. Conditionals look very much like arguments and intuitively "feel" very much like arguments, but their antecedents are not asserted to be true. They are no more than complex statements. (Often, we will analyze an argument with conditional statements--e.g., as in the statement, "If the premisses are true, then the conclusions will follow.")
1. The parts of a conditional:

If {antecedent} then {consequent}

2. If I say, "If someone fails this class, then I will eat the textbook," I haven't proved anything.
3. A conditional can be thought of as conditionally being an argument if the antecedent is true, but this is not at all what is being asserted. However, in an argument the premisses are asserted as true.
4. Since conditionals are statements, then, of course, they can be part of arguments:
Consider, the hypothetical syllogism
If I drop this book, then it will fall to the floor.
If it falls to the floor, then it is heavier than air.
Therefore, if I drop this book, then it is heavier than air.
Or an argument form called modus ponens
If you study hard, then you make an A in logic.
You study hard.
Therefore, you make an A.
D. How to distinguish arguments from explanations.
1. By carefully reading the text, you can discern several important differences between an argument and an explanation.
a. Do a group of statements give evidence, grounds, or reasons for some other statement?
b. Is the purported conclusion better known than the purported premisses?
c. Is a causal connection asserted or implied?
d. What is the author's purpose in offering the passage?
e. What is the context of the passage?
2. In general, these questions point to the difference between arguments and explanations. (Nevertheless, as shown below, arguments and explanations do, on occasion, overlap.)



(1) expresses an inference does not usually express an inference
(2) offers evidence, grounds or reasons offers an account why
(3) goes from well known statements to statements less well known gives less well known statements why a better known statement is true
(4) draws a logical connection between statements describes a causal connection
(5) has the purpose to establish the truth of a statement has the purpose to give an account of something
3. Consider the following passage given in an edition of Copi's Introduction to Logic:
(1) The Roman Empire collapsed because (2) it lacked the spirit of liberalism and free enterprise.
a. Which statement is better known (1) or (2)? Since the first statement is better known, we would normally conclude that this is an explanation which shows a causal connection rather than an argument with a logical implication. However, Copi has taken this passage out of context as we will see below.
b. If the author were advancing the general thesis "All countries that lack these attributes crumble to dust," therefore the Roman Empire did, then a Deductive Nomological Explanation is being given. In point of fact, this is precisely the argument which von Mises gives in the original passage from which this passage was excerpted:

"The Roman Empire crumbled to dust because it lacked the spirit of liberalism and free enterprise. The policy of interventionism and its political corollary, the Fuhrer principle, decomposed the mighty empire as they will by necessity always disintegrate and destroy any social entity."  
(Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Auburn: Mises, 1949), 763.)

[All countries that lack the spirit of liberalism and free enterprise crumble to dust.] I.e., contraposition of the last sentence of the passage above.
The Roman Empire lacked the spirit of liberalism and free enterprise.
Therefore, the Roman Empire crumbled to dust.
c. The complete passage then is an example of the Deductive Nomological Method of Explanation, a  method of ordering science as a deductive system of information..
The model for this method is as follows:
Explanans L1, L2, ... , Lk General Laws
Logical Deduction C1, C2, ... , Ck Statements of Antecedent Conditions
Explanandum Description of the empirical phenomenon to be explained.
4. Some passages are a mixture of argument and explanation.  Consider this example:

"There was therefore a sound reason why, despite theological differences, the political theories of Calvinists in France or Scotland should have had certain similarities with those of the Jesuits. Both were in a situation where it was necessary to urge that political obligation is not absolute and that a right of rebellion exits against an heretical ruler.  Both depended upon a common heritage of medieval thought and argued that the community itself creates is own officials and can regulate them for its own purposes.  Both held, therefore, that political power inheres in the people, is derived from him by contract, and may be revoked if the king becomes a tyrant." 
(George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, 3rd. ed. (London: Haarp, 1963), 388.)

The second and third statements are reasons for the conclusion expressed in the third statement.  The third statement is the explanans (that which is the explanation) for the first statement which is the explanandum (that which is to be explained)..
D. Explanations often are given for well known states of affairs.  In science, the explanation is almost always less well known than that which is to be explained. 

For example, the answer as to why rainbows form on gasoline-station driveways is expressed in terms of layers of different densities of fluids with different optical properties. The index of refraction, reflection, wavelengths of light, and the electromagnetic spectrum are all  mentioned in the explanans. 

Hence, unlike arguments, the statements in an explanation generally "move" from well known to less well  known statements.

Recommended Reading:

Deductive-nomological: a short summary of Carl Hempel and Paul Oppenheim's formalized view of scientific explanation.

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