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Ludwig von Mises, Chris Witton, http://interesting.comIntroduction to Logic:

Distinguishing Arguments
from Nonarguments and Explanations

Abstract: Arguments are distinguished from nonarguments and explanations: 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 usually not to prove, but to provide understanding. 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 insightful 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 active 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 consistently 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 as represented by the Persian rug. With its intricate design, the rug has no purpose other than itself and so becomes a metaphor of life itself.
2. Poetry's purpose is not to prove or demonstrate logically, but to appeal to our emotions or insight.
a. Often these insights are alogical — hyperbole, contrast, contradiction, analogy, etc., flash insight, evoke sentiment, and blaze awareness.
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, everyday “heated arguments” are alogical — the standards of formal logic are not meant to apply.
a. E.g., as in a newspaper description of heated discourse: “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 of views is often resolved by the doctrine that “might makes right” rather than by logical reasoning.
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 we need to understand the context use of imperatives in order to understand their function —although imperatives are used, the passage might be intended to be argumentative.
4. Consider the following quotation:
“Be careful who you pretend to be, for that you will surely become.”
Is the author explaining how pretense can be harmful? Is the author trying to prove it?, or is the author 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 conclusion 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?



(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

2. In general, these questions point to some of the difference between arguments and explanations.

However, reasoning does sometimes have an explanatory function which is neither intended to be persuasive or probative in character but is intended to facilitate understanding. Consequently, sometimes arguments are used for explanatory purposes. In other words, the distinction between arguments and explanation cannot always be maintained and can often be determined by the context in which the relevant passage occurs.

3. Consider the following passage drawn from Ludwig von Mises (q.v., image above) in an edition of I.M. Copi's Introduction to Logic [(New York: Macmillan, 1978), 24-25.]:
“(1) The Roman Empire crumbled to dust because (2) it lacked the spirit of liberalism and free enterprise.”
Which statement is better known (1) or (2)? Since the first statement is better known, we would say that this is an explanation which shows a causal connection rather than an argument with a logical implication.
a. 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.

With some thought, we can see that the last sentence in the quoted passage above is in the context of the passage the tacit missing premise: “All countries that lack the spirit of liberalism and free enterprise crumble to dust.” (I.e., it's a translation of the contraposition of the last sentence in the quotation above). So we have the following argument:
[All countries that lack the spirit of liberalism and free enterprise crumble to dust.]
The Roman Empire lacked the spirit of liberalism and free enterprise.
Therefore, the Roman Empire crumbled to dust.
b. Very often, the Deductive Nomological Method of Explanation is given as a method of ordering science into a deductive system.

Explanans: L1, L2, ... , Lk General Laws
[Logical Deduction] C1, C2, ... , Ck Statements of Antecedent Conditions
Explanandum: Description of the empirical phenomenon to be explained.

E. The statements in an explanation “move” from well known to less well known statements. For example, the answer to why rainbows form on gasoline-station driveways is expressed in terms of layers of different density fluids with different optical properties. The index of refraction, reflection, wavelengths of light, and the electromagnetic spectrum are all mentioned.
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