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Argument Structure

 

Disciplines Argument > Argument Structure

Premise | Conclusion | Inference | See also

 

Arguments are the basis of persuasive communication. They are combinations of statements made that are intended to change the minds of other people.

All arguments have structure, which can be either deliberately designed or may be discovered through analysis. At its simplest, an argument has premises and a conclusion.

Premise

A premise (or premiss) of an argument is something that is put forward as a truth, but which is not proven. Although it is not proven, it is assumed to be true (although how universally accepted this truth is may be another matter).

It is hot in here.

This is a beautiful car.

The people of this town are angry.

If you want to attack another person's argument, you can challenge the truth of their premises. If you are making an argument, you should be ready to defend any of your own premises. The more complex the premise, the more opportunity there is to challenge it, so if you expect challenge, keep your premises both short and non-controversial.

As premises are the building blocks of the argument, there may well be two or more premises in any argument.

Conclusion

The conclusion (or claim) is the statement with which you want the other person to agree. It is drawn from the premises of the argument, of which there may be many.

We need to get out.

You should buy this car.

The new housing should be sited elsewhere.

A useful way of spotting a conclusion is that it may well be a statement of necessity, saying what must or should happen. It may well be framed to persuade the other person to do something or make some decision.

Inference

Between the conclusion and the premises are further statements which translate the premises into the conclusion. This is the reasoning process, and in a formal argument uses careful logic (in informal arguments, emotional reasoning and assumptive leaps may well be used).

A particular aspect of logical argument is that inferential statements have true-false qualities -- that is, they are either true or false and nothing in between. Thus a sentence can contain many statements.

If we stay here, we will not only get uncomfortable, we will also start to smell.

There are other people interested in this car who will be here later.

If we don't do something, the peasants will revolt.

Inferential arguments seek to prove. Thus commands, explanations and other statements may not directly add to the inference, although they may be a useful component of persuasion.

Look at this. (command)

The people are angry because we did not listen to them. (explanation)

I hate it when cars don't start. (emotion)

See also

Beliefs, Types of reasoning

 

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