The Key Elements of Reasoning

This chapter begins our in-depth exploration of how to use reasoning more effectively in order to make us smart thinkers. As suggested in chapter 1, learning to use reasoning better requires that we be more aware of what we are already doing. We need to learn some basic terms and concepts with which to talk and think about reasoning. The aim of this chapter is to improve our awareness of how we are actually doing reasoning. The focus in this chapter is on claims. In the next chapter we look at the process of linking claims together to form reasoning.

There are three main areas that we will cover in this chapter.-

1 We will look at language, since reasoning is a way of manipulating and using words and statements. Language allows us to make claims about the world. Claims are the key component of reasoning.

2 We need to understand more about the significant properties of these claims which affect how we use them in reasoning.

3 We see how claims function differently, as premises or as conclusions, depending on how we link them together. The conclusion is what you are arguing for or explaining. The premises are how you get to your conclusion.

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Understanding language A basic look at language

Every time we argue or explain something, we use language—regardless of whether we are thinking to ourselves or communicating with others. As children, we learn to use language so naturally' that we tend to take its use for granted. In fact, there are many subtleties and complexities in language. Knowing something about these can help our reasoning by giving us more conscious control over the material (language) with which we are reasoning. There are four distinct 'levels' of language-use that build together to create 'language' as we know it.

The first level is a word—for example, 'student' or 'reasoning'—which is the basic unit of language. Words have meanings, usually more than one, and often multiple meanings are 'denotative' (that is, what the word explicitly says) or 'connotative' (the more subtle, 'hidden' meanings of words). We will see, through this book, that definitions of words are important but, for the moment, we are just interested in words insofar as they can form statements.

When we put some words together, we get the second level of language: a statement, such as 'there are several hundred students who have studied smart thinking at Curtin University'. We probably think of statements as being the same things as sentences, but they are not. In the following example we can see how one sentence can be made up of more than one statement: 'We use reasoning everyday of our lives, but most of us have no formal training, and the more practice and the more training, the better we will be at it'. The first statement is 'We use reasoning everyday of our lives'; the next is 'most of us have no formal training [in reasoning]'; the third is 'the more practice and the more training, the better we will be at it [reasoning]'.

The third level of language-use is the text, which is made up of any group of statements, such as the sentence above. Now, usually, the texts we encounter are much longer than just a few statements (for example, this book is a text, as is a newspaper article). But, remembering that we are talking about something different to 'natural' things we read and hear, we define a text as a group of statements that is of any length, so long as there is more than one statement and these statements are related to one another in some way. Texts are not just lists of statements; they are groups of connected statements. In the example of a multi-statement sentence from the previous paragraph, as well as in single statements, words like 'but' or 'and', and punctuation like commas and semi-colons, are not included in the statements. They act both to distinguish one statement from another and, at the same time, to join together the various statements to make a text. Practical communication via texts depends on the way these words connect the statements.

Finally, the last level of language-use is the context, which consists of all the elements outside a particular text that make it meaningful. Contexts cannot be 'seen' in the way, say, that the text you are now reading can be. A context for this book would include (at least) the purposes and goals of its author and readers, the mainp - assumptions about the meanings of words and ideas that lie behind it, and other texts that, though absent, are implicitly connected with what is being written and read here. For example, a student who reads this book as the textbook for the Open Learning Australia unit Applied Reasoning has a very different context to someone who is just browsing through it, casually looking for quick ideas about critical thinking.

Assumptions are a primary component of context. Assumptions are those ideas or values that we 'take for granted' and do not question. To be smart thinkers we must recognise the assumptions that surround us (including our own) and that influence every argument and explanation. Reasoning involves making connections between our ideas about the world, expressing them as linked claims, and constructing a text to express that knowledge. Obviously this reasoning is a conscious process, but it also draws upon a background of implicit or assumed connections and structures. As we grow up and learn about our environment (from parents, school, and so on), all sorts of connections are made for us and become embedded in our minds, so that we do not even realise we are relying on these structures when we think. For example:

In the nineteenth century, Australian children were often warned that the 'black bogeyman' would get them if they were naughty. This apparently mild threat created an association in children's minds between 'Blacks' (indigenous Australians) and something dangerous. Is it any wonder, then, that when these children grew into adults they continued to act and think about indigenous Australians in extremely racist ways?

What makes assumptions dangerous is not their content (unlike the previous example, the content of assumptions may actually be correct) but, rather, that they are not consciously considered and tested to see if they are correct. What matters first is to be conscious of the assumption so we can ask 'is this true?'.

Smart thinkers must be capable of understanding how each of these four levels of language use relates to one another, and of how to write good statements, link them together to make a text, and consider the contextual factors that bear upon their text.

Statements that are claims

Our central focus for the moment is on a particular type of statement: the claim. Here are two examples of claims:

• Prior to the war on Iraq in 2003, more Australians opposed the war than supported it.

• John Howard, Australian Prime Minister in 2003, determined that Australian military forces should be deployed to participate in the war on Iraq.

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Although these statements differ in what they say, each is a claim. More precisely, they claim to represent truly something 'real' about the world. We could test each claim to see if it is true or not (or at least get a clearer idea of whether or not we can accept it as true). For example, if someone claimed that John Howard had supported the war, we could check appropriate newspaper reporting of the time. Opinion polls conducted at the time can test the first claim, to see if there was such a majority. All statements that are claims assert the truth of some information or knowledge about the world.

Claims are not, as you might think, the opposite of facts. Nor does a claim 'become' a fact once we know it is true. A claim is always a claim, but the truth of some claims is established. And a claim does not necessarily involve some personal advantage or bias. Although in everyday speech we often use the word 'claim' to try to distinguish between statements whose truth is suspect or that are biased and those statements (called 'facts') whose truth is established and that are unbiased, these distinctions are dangerously misleading. All the statements that we think of as 'facts' are, actually, claims; they are so widely and clearly accepted as true that they seem different from claims that are not accepted. Put simply, claims are those statements that express beliefs or views about the way the world is or the way the world should be. Whether they are true or not is, of course, important, but it does not determine whether or not they are claims. The reasonableness of claims (what we think of as 'truth') does not change their status as claim or non-claim; but it does help us to decide what to do with claims in our reasoning (as we will see).

To emphasise this point, here are three statements that are not claims-.

• Do you think Australia should continue to support all American foreign policy decisions concerning Iraq?

• Tell me immediately what you think about Australia's war on Iraq!

None of these statements expresses a view about the way the world is or should be, and hence they are not claims. The first asks for information (a question);! the second demands that a person do something (an order)-, and the third is an exclamation. Note how we do not say 'g'day' to claim that 'this day is a good day'. We say 'g'day' as a greeting, as a ritual use of language to begin a conversation. Similarly, orders and questions are ways of initiating or concluding communication. A few statements may fall somewhere between the two groups (claims and non-claims)—because they might be interpreted differently in different contexts— but generally speaking, all statements can be seen as one or the other.

We cannot tell just from the written or spoken expression of a statement whether or not it is a claim. Rather, we must look at the defining property of a claim: that it asserts something to be true.2 To distinguish a claim from other sorts of statements, we simply need to consider whether it is possible to ask 'Is this statement true or false?'. A claim need not actually be true; it need not be false. It just has to be possible to ask if the claim could be true or false. Consider the following three statements. Which of them do you think are claims?

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The first statement is not a claim—we cannot ask 'Is it true or false to say "Is the world round or flat"?'. But it is possible to ask 'Is it true or false to say "The world is round"?'. Similarly we can ask 'Is it true or false to say "The world is flat"?'. Hence the second and third statements are both claims, even though one is true and one is false. Claims are about the possibility of truth or falsehood, not about whether a claim really is true or not.

Exercise 2.1

Decide which of these statements are claims and which are not. Then write three examples of your own of statements that are claims and three examples of statements that are not.

b. There is a yellow marble on the table.

d. Somewhere over the rainbow ...

e. We should always pay our taxes on time.

f. Cheese is made from milk.

Claims as elements of reasoning

Effective thinking skills can be elusive. Reasoning has a structure and content that can be hard to control (as an author) and hard to discern (as a reader) when it is expressed in normal English (so-called 'natural language'). We tend to assume that claims are indistinguishable from their particular forms of expression, and it may be hard to grasp just what claims do within reasoning unless we shake them loose from their normal modes of expression. Claims may be expressed in natural language. However claims are better understood as elements of reasoning, the basic units of analysis in our arguments and explanations.

Written and spoken English does make claims, but draws them together and expresses them in ways that are stylish, but which also make it harder to identify and understand individual claims. In particular, sentences, which assist in making English easy to write and read, can obscure the more analytical function of the statements that these sentences express. Look, for example, at the following:

Many Australians favour making the nation a republic. However, it is unclear just how many Australians there are in favour of this, and until we know and are sure that a very large majority of Australians want a republic, we should not move too quickly to implement this change.

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How do we identify the claims? In the first sentence, there is just one claim. In the second sentence, though, there are two claims. The first is 'it is unclear just how many Australians there are in favour of this' (note the use of 'this' to mean 'making the nation a republic'); the second is 'until we know and are sure that a very large majority of Australians want a republic, we should not move too quickly to implement this change'. Note how tricky the process of identifying claims can be. In the second sentence, the first 'and' indicates a break between two claims, but the word 'and' is later used differently to combine 'know and are sure'. Similarly, the comma after 'however' in the second sentence indicates that a claim is starting, but later on, a comma proves to be part of a claim. Note, too, the use of pronouns such as 'this' and 'it', which are used as substitutes for the actual nouns that claims contain.

As another example of this distinction between 'language for expression' and 'language for analysis', claims are sometimes expressed as questions. They appear as that special form of expression known as rhetorical questions, in which the answer to the question is presumed. For example, 'Isn't it obvious that Australia should be a republic?' is clearly different from 'Do you think that Australia should be a republic?'. The first question—a rhetorical question—is simply a clever way of saying 'Australia should be a republic', whereas the second question genuinely seeks an answer. Hence, to understand fully how claims are used in reasoning, we need to be aware of the difference between making claims as part of writing or talking, and making claims as part of the process of reasoning. Often, the claims we make in each context will be similar—but we cannot rely on it. Natural language, when properly put together in a narrative sequence, is an excellent tool for expressing our arguments and explanations. A danger, however, is that the requirement for proper, readable expression can confuse and mislead the unwary about the analytical units (claims) and structures (connections between claims) which, actually, constitute the reasoning.

Exercise 2.2

Identify the claims in the following sentences. Then write three sentences of your own, each of which expresses a number of claims in various different ways.

a. All that glitters is gold, and this nugget glitters.

b. Isn't it obvious that this song is called 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend'?

c. Silver jewellery is very common because silver is a cheap metal and it is easily worked.

More about claims Connections within claims

A claim provides an internal connection between at least two ideas. For example, the claim that 'Australia should become a republic' provides an internal connection between, roughly speaking, 'Australia and 'republic'. Similarly, 'Australia should mainp - not become a republic' also makes this connection, although the meaning of that claim is completely different. The technical, grammatical names for the two components within a claim are the 'subject' and the 'predicate' of the statement. Roughly speaking, the subject is the main focus of the claim, and the predicate is some property or consequence of, or notable point about, that subject and the way the claim is made is to identify through the verb the link between the subject and the predicate. Hence 'Reasoning is a skill' uses the verb 'is' to assert that reasoning is a member of the larger set of things we know about called 'skills'. As another example, 'Reading this book on critical thinking is no use if you are not practising critical thinking exercises' is also a claim with a more complicated link between the subject 'Reading this book on critical thinking', and a predicate 'not practising critical thinking'.

Exercise 2.3

Identify the subject and the predicate in the following statements:

a. Drinking milk makes some people feel sick.

c. Milk drinking is not recommended for people who are lactose-intolerant.

This property of a claim—an internal connection between two or more ideas— is fundamental. The internal connection underpins the external links between claims that are necessary in reasoning. While reasoning does not consist simply of one claim, it does occur when you take a number of claims and, by varying the pattern of interconnections, produce a 'link' from the first interconnection to the next. Here is a simple example (we will be doing much more on this concept in later chapters).

Reasoning is a skill. Skills can be improved by practice. The book Smart Thinking gives you a chance to practise reasoning. Reading Smart Thinking and doing the exercises will improve your reasoning.

See how the same ideas get used, but in a different order? These claims, because they share the same ideas even though in some the idea is the subject and in others it is the predicate, are well on the way to being used for reasoning. So, to reason, we always need more than one claim, all linked together in some way. It is this internal connection within a single claim that allows these external links to be made.

Claims that include claims

One example of the importance of grasping this process of internal connection is provided by a special kind of claim in which an entire claim serves as one element of another claim. We find two main uses of this kind of claim-formation. First, there are claims such as 'George W. Bush said that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator'. In this claim, what is being asserted is that George W. Bush has said those mainp - words, and not that Hussein was such a person. The claim 'Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator' here serves as the predicate to the subject 'George W. Bush', connected with the word 'said'. Thus, if we were to assess the truth of the claim, it would do no good to see whether or not Hussein was a dictator or evil (even though we probably could find much evidence to support that point), because the claim is about what Bush said. These claims, which are essentially concerned with what others have already claimed, are vital: we often wish to reason about another's point of view and thus must understand how to make claims about that person and their words.

A second and even more important use for claims within claims can be found in claims that use propositional logic, that is, claims taking the 'if..., then...' form so common in contemporary philosophy and computer programming. Such a claim is, for example, 'If I am unwell, then I should go to the doctor'. Now it might look as though there are two claims here: and, indeed, there are. However, by placing two claims in an if/then relationship, each claim becomes a subsidiary part of a single, much more powerful claim. What is actually being asserted in the if/then claim is not the substance of one or the other claim but, rather, the relationship between them. Hence 'If I am unwell, then I should go to the doctor' asserts that it is reasonable to do something (go to the doctor) when a particular state of affairs (feeling unwell) occurs. We will see the importance of these special 'if/then' claims in chapter 3.

Exercise 2.4

Identify the claims within a claim here, remembering that an entire claim can serve as either predicate or subject.

a. I have been told by my doctor that drinking milk makes some people feel sick.

b. If I dririk milk, then I feel sick.

c. If a person comes to a doctor and says 'If I drink milk, then I feel sick', then the doctor will diagnose that person as lactose-intolerant.

Scope and certainty

A statement that makes a claim about the world allows us to judge the truth or falsity of that statement. In making this judgment, we need to consider the scope of the claim. For example, each of these claims has a different scope:

• All Australians think global terrorism threatens this country.

• Some Australians think global terrorism threatens this country.

• A few Australians think global terrorism threatens this country.

The claims are very similar, except in their reporting of the number of Australians who believe global terrorism threatens their country. The scope, in each mainp - case, is determined by the different value of all', 'some', and 'few'. Scope is not just about numbers. It can also be seen in claims about, for example, a geographic area ('Most of Western Australia is uninhabited') or time ('For much of its history, Australia was not populated by white people').

Certainty is another characteristic of all claims. Whether explicitly stated or not, claims include a judgment about the likelihood or probability that what they are claiming is true, or will become true:

• There is a high probability that Australia will suffer a major terrorist attack in the next decade.

• There is some chance that Australia will suffer a major terrorist attack in the next decade.

• There is virtually no chance that Australia will suffer a major terrorist attack in the next decade.

In each case, the claims are saying something about Australia and terrorism; they differ only in their explicit statement of the probability that the substance of the claim will come true. Understanding how to include proper indications of scope and certainty in the claims you write, or to recognise them in other people's work, is crucial to being an effective reasoner. Remember, scope and certainty are tied in with the idea that claims are asserting the truth of something. If you limit or qualify your claims by appropriately indicating scope and certainty, then you are thinking more clearly and therefore can write better claims.

Exercise 2.5

Identify the two components that are internally linked within each of the following claims. Then rank claims a-c in order of scope (from widest to narrowest) and claims d-f in order of certainty (from most certain to least certain). In each case identify the word or words that lead you to your judgment. Then write a list of some of the other words that can be used to indicate the scope and certainty of a claim.

a. Sometimes, when I drink milk, I feel sick.

b. Whenever I eat cheese before sleeping, I have dreams.

c. Occasionally, after eating rich food, I get indigestion.

d. It is probable that humans will live in space.

e. There is no way that humans can live in outer space.

f. I'd say the odds are 50:50 that humans will live in space.

Descriptive and value claims

Some claims assert that things are, or have been, a certain way; and some claims make judgments about the way things should or should not be. These are respectively called descriptive claims and value claims. For example, 'This book is printed on white paper' describes the type of paper, whereas 'We should use less mainp - paper to save trees' expresses a value judgment ('it is good to save trees'). But, to complicate matters many, and perhaps even all, claims have some implicit value judgment. Often we find an implicit value judgment in the words that make up the claim. For example, 'This book is comprehensive' implies some positive value judgment, whereas 'This book provides only an outline of reasoning techniques' implies a more negative value judgment. So, really, there are two main sorts of value claims: those that explicitly declare a value judgment, and those whose value judgment is hidden in the choice of words.

There are also some claims that can legitimately be called descriptive claims. Yet, even then, claims are almost always found in combination with other claims. So, if there is one value claim among a series of claims, then all of them tend to create an implied value judgment. Here we can see that the context in which we find a claim—the purposes and processes by which a text, containing many linked claims, is produced and received—plays a very significant role. Claims that appear to their author as descriptive may, in the context provided by their readers, suddenly acquire value judgments. Hence, judgments of value can rarely be made solely on the basis of one claim; they depend on the other claims with which the claim is linked (the text) and the circumstances in which that text is presented (the context). Being alert to the value judgments that you read and make is a skilled smart thinking attribute.

Exercise 2.6

Decide which of these four claims are explicit value claims and which are implicit value claims that appear to be descriptive claims. You may also decide that some of the claims are purely descriptive and contain no value judgments. Then write three claims of your own, one of which is explicitly a value claim, one of which has a clear implied value judgment, and one of which is, in your opinion, clearly descriptive.

a. Fatty foods are bad for you.

b. Regular cows' milk contains fat.

c. You should drink milk each day.

d. Regular cows' milk is a white liquid.

Claims and reasoning

Using claims as conclusions and premises

We know that reasoning is, put simply, giving reasons for one's views. We reason, therefore, by linking claims together to form a text in which most of the linked claims provide a reason or reasons for accepting another claim, or the linked claims explain why another claim can be made. For example, if I said 'Australia should become a republic', it would only be natural for you to ask 'why?', which would prompt me to give you a reason: that 'Australia's economic relationship with Asia mainp - would be strengthened if Australia declared its final independence from its European origins by becoming a republic'.

The claims that act as reasons are 'premises' and the claim that is being supported or explained is the 'conclusion'. When reasoning, we will always be dealing with at least two claims: the claim we want people to accept and the claim we are using to support the first claim. Almost always there are a number of premises supporting one conclusion, but the minimum requirement is one premise and one conclusion. A fundamental skill in reasoning is to be able to identify, in our own and in others' work, those claims that are serving as premises to support the claim that is acting as a conclusion. Thus we need to understand how claims can be used as conclusions and premises.

To do so, we must remember that, before we use them in reasoning, all premises and conclusions are the same thing: they are claims. There is nothing about a claim on its own that makes it a conclusion or a premise. Until we decide, in our reasoning, that claim Z will be the conclusion and claims X and Y will be the premises, X, Y, and Z are all just claims. They only become premises and conclusion through the act of linking them together, as in 'Because of X and Y, my conclusion is Z'. The difference between premises and conclusions is not dependent on any essential qualities of the claims; it is, instead, a functional difference. Whether a claim is a conclusion or a premise depends on the function that the claim performs in any particular argument or explanation. What determines that function is the relationship between one claim and another.

Let us use the following claims to demonstrate this point:

• You drove the car through some mud.

And here are two very simple examples of the way we can use these claims in reasoning, with the claims marked as [c] (conclusion) or [p] (premise) to show how they perform different functions:

• Your car is dirty [c] because you drove through some mud [p].

• You should wash your car [c] since your car is dirty [p].

The same claim—'Your car is dirty'—is used in two different ways: first, as a conclusion being explained and, second, as a premise. The general rule, thus demonstrated, is that any claim can be either a conclusion or a premise depending on how it is linked with other claims and the context in which it is used.

Conclusions and premises are very similar because both are claims. However, within reasoning, some claims serve a different purpose to other claims. The nature of premises and conclusions is not already laid down, magically, in the words we use to express them, but is something that we can actively control and alter. For example, we may read someone else's conclusion and then use it as a premise in our own reasoning. Or, we see that the premises of someone's argument need further explanation and, by using them as conclusions, proceed to give that explanation with our own premises.3

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Exercise 2.7

Make up four short examples of reasoning using the following claims. Make sure that you practise using the same claim as the conclusion in one example and as a premise in another.

• You need to drive more carefully.

• You should pay attention to what you are doing.

• Verity has just come home soaking wet.

• There was a rainstorm a few minutes ago.

More on conclusions

So, when we reason, we first of all have to decide which is the claim we are trying to argue for or explain. This claim is the conclusion. It is not a summary, but a new statement altogether, which may be linked to the premises but goes beyond them to give some further information, the 'truth' of which becomes clearer because of the premises given. The conclusion is a claim in its own right, and not merely a restatement of the claims already made as premises.

The selection of a conclusion is dependent on the purpose of our overall argument or explanation. First, we can use claims about the future as conclusions. These sorts of conclusions are required when we are making a prediction, as in 'In the future, the world will be much warmer [c] because of the effects of industrial pollution [p]'. Predictions are always doubtful since the events they predict have not yet happened, and thus their truth can never be established except as a prediction. Hence they require supporting argument to make them acceptable. We can also use claims about the past or the present to establish what is the case. Often there are doubts about what has happened or is happening (for example, in a criminal investigation), and argument can be used to support our conclusions on these matters.

Second, we can use as a conclusion any claim that makes an appeal for people (whether an individual or group) to act in a certain manner, as in the argument that 'We should reduce the production of carbon monoxide [c] because this action will reduce the rate of global warming [p]'. Such arguments, the conclusions of which are appeals to action, are designed to convince people to do something. Sometimes the action required is for us to think differently, as in an argument that demands that 'You should not think highly of governments that are reluctant to stop global warming [c] since these governments are risking the future prosperity of all humanity [p] '.4

Conclusions such as those just discussed require arguments to convince audiences to accept them. In both cases, it is the conclusion that is in doubt (remember that claims are statements that may or may not be true). But other conclusions, often about events happening in the past, are not in doubt, but still involve reasoning that explains why the conclusion can be made. In the sentence 'We now have a problem wainp - softvAA.cow with global warming [c] because previous governments were blind to the consequences of industrial growth and technology [p]\ the conclusion reports that there is now a problem with global warming so that the premise can explain why this has happened. Some explanations can be characterised as justifications, as in 'I decided to vote for the Greens at the last federal election [c] because I am very keen to see Australia's environment protected [p]'. In this example, the conclusion reports something that happened so that the writer can justify why they did it.

Exercise 2.8

Try to work out what sort of conclusion is used in each of the following. Remember to think about the purpose that the conclusion is designed to fulfil. In each example the conclusion is the second claim in the sentence.

a. Since the bushfire threat is high in the next three months, we should improve our fire-fighting service.

b. Since there has been no rain recently, I forecast that there will be a high bushfire threat this coming summer.

c. Because the government failed to improve the fire services, the bushfires that occurred in 2001 were much harder to control than in previous years.

d. The government has not done much to improve the fire-fighting service— don't you think that it is inefficient?

e. Because the budget deficit has required the government to make many cut-backs in spending, we have done little to increase available fire-fighting resources [assume that a government representative is speaking].

More on premises

While a basic outline of the different types of conclusions is relatively straightforward, there is no similar, straightforward approach for different types of premises. Virtually any claim you can think of can serve as a premise. Even claims that we might normally think of as conclusions can be premises. All that premises have to do is to be able to provide support for the conclusion (either in explaining it or arguing for it). Thus, premises tend in most cases to be initially more acceptable than the conclusion (though not always—see 'Strength of support' in chapter 6). Furthermore, it is misleading to think about individual premise 'types'; instead, we should look at the way in which premises connect with one another. In short, premises function in three ways: they make a substantive point (i.e. report something, or provide some kind of evidence), they can define some term in the argument, or they can frame the other premises, demonstrating more clearly the relationship of all the other premises to the conclusion (see chapter 4 for more details on how premises function).

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Words combine to form statements, which in turn combine to form texts. No text can be understood outside its context of use and interpretation. The most important statements for us to consider are claims. When properly linked together, they form a text, which is either an argument or an explanation. Claims state, in language, the events, ideas, and things that make up our world, asserting that what they represent is true. Claims are the key elements from which we build our arguments and explanations. The analytical function of claims is, however, often obscured by their mode of expression.

By understanding what claims are and what their properties are, we can better understand how to use claims as premises and conclusions in our reasoning. Claims have three significant properties. First, a claim always contains an internal connection between two or more components. One or both of these components can be a claim in its own right, but functioning differently—as an element within a claim. Second, claims always include some indication of scope and certainty, though often they are implied. Third, claims are either descriptive (what is) or are value judgments (what ought to be). Many claims appear to be descriptive but either contain implicit value judgments or become value-laden when read in combination with other claims.

Claims are used as either premises or conclusions; the difference between them is determined by how we use them in any particular act of reasoning. Any claim can serve as a premise or conclusion. That said, we can see how conclusion-claims must relate to the particular purposes of the reasoning: predicting, establishing, or appealing for action, and explaining or justifying. In the last case, the reasoning involves an explanation, whereas the other purposes require an argument.


The following terms and concepts are introduced in this chapter. Before checking in the Glossary, write a short definition of each term:

argument assumption audience certainty claim conclusion connotation mainp - context descriptive claim exclamation explanation internal connection order premise purposes of reasoning question scope statement subject text value claim word

Review exercise 2

Answer briefly the following questions, giving, where possible, an example in your answer that is different from those used in this book.

a. Is a statement the same as a sentence? Why should we distinguish between the two?

b. What distinguishes claims from statements that are not claims?

c. Why are some claims thought of as 'facts'?

d. What are the three crucial properties of claims?

e. What is special about if/then claims?

f. What is the difference between a premise and a conclusion?

g. Are all conclusions the same? If not, why not?

h. What determines the 'type' of a particular premise?

i. What happens to claims when we express them in natural language?


1 As we will see in chapter 8, questions can also be thought of as 'potential' claims or 'claims in question'. Here, for example, the claim 'Australia should continue to support all American foreign policy decisions concerning Iraq' has been put under scrutiny by turning it into a question.

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2 There is considerable philosophical argument concerning the notion of truth. Some philosophers might wish to substitute words such as 'valid' or 'sound' in this test of a claim, but for the practical purposes of this book, 'truth' will suffice. In particular, however, we should recognise that value claims (described a little later in this chapter) cannot really be true or false, but they can be judged in terms of whether or not they are reasonable.

3 We cannot simply interchange conclusions and premises as we like and still be confident of being correct. It would, for example, be incorrect to say that 'because you should wash your car, your car is dirty'. We need to think much more carefully about the relationships we are asserting to be true when we decide just what exactly our premises and conclusions are. For example, the following would be good reasoning: 'I know that if you are told to wash your car, then it is more than likely that the car is dirty; I have just heard someone tell you to wash your car; therefore I can infer that your car is dirty (otherwise that person would not have told you to wash it)'. We should note here, too, that giving premises to explain a known conclusion is contextually different from giving premises to establish by argument the soundness of an unknown or doubtful conclusion. The term 'conclusion' here merely indicates the logical function of the claim we are explaining, and not its importance or significance. In an explanation, and from the point of view of our audience, our premises and how they explain the conclusion are more important than the conclusion itself.

4 Because group and individual decisions carry with them the requirement that we be able to justify and explain our decisions to others, decision making also involves reasoning.

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