The Key Process in Reasoning

Claims are the basic material of reasoning, but they must be linked together if we are to argue and explain our points of view. We have already seen that claims that are linked to a conclusion by supporting it or explaining it are called premises. A conclusion, therefore, is a claim that is supported or explained. In this chapter we investigate this linking process in more detail. My principal goal, again, is to give you greater awareness of how you reason, in order to improve what you actually do.

There are four main areas we will cover in this chapter:

1 We will examine natural language for the traces of this linking. Traces are the signals in natural language that we only half-consciously use to develop our reasoning within a narrative-flow format (what you normally read and write).

2 We will look at the process of linking analytically, introducing the idea that all important relationships between claims can be shown in a diagram. Combining the diagram with a list of claims provides a clear, analytical structure format without the confusions of natural language.

3 To assist in understanding the analytical structure format, we will learn about casting the reasoning of others, as a useful exercise for skill development.

4 We consider in more detail what we need to know in order to be comfortable expressing our critical thoughts in such a format, including the way in which complex argument forms can be shown using a diagram.

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Links between claims Evidence of the linking process

We can directly 'see' claims in natural language, but linking, the process of reasoning, can only be inferred, indirectly.1 In any argument or explanation in natural language we can find the evidence of this linking process in the words or phrases that show or signal how one claim relates to another. We have already come across these words. Remember these examples?

• 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 words 'because' and 'since' do not form part of the claims (the premises and conclusions) but link them together, signalling which claim is the premise and which the conclusion. These signal words are the visible traces of the mental process of linking.

Because of the richness and complexity of the English language, we rarely find evidence for every act of linking. Sometimes no link words are used because the sense of the reasoning is clear just from the arrangement of the claims; sometimes punctuation does the job. At other times, when it is stylistically appropriate, phrases or even sentences signal the linking process. Link words are not necessarily written directly between the premises and the conclusion, but since their function is not determined by their position in a text, they can nevertheless still signal which claim is which. In all cases, the linkages are between two or more claims, so that any link words can signal that both a premise and a conclusion are present and can distinguish between them.

Here are some examples:

• I found out today that I had passed my exam. I was elated. [The order of the sentences signals that the first claim is linked to the second claim as premise to conclusion.]

• Because I felt ill, I went home from work. ['Because' signals that 'I felt ill' is the reason that explains the conclusion 'I went home from work'; the comma serves to show that there are two claims here and, hence, that some link can be inferred.]

• We need to learn to think: it helps us to do better at work and to do better at university. [The colon separates the claims and, at the same time, links them. The sense of the sentence signals the link between the first part (the conclusion) and the second part (the premises).]

• John has passed his final exams. This means that he is a fully qualified lawyer. [The phrase 'this means that' is the linking element here: 'this' refers to the first claim and 'means that' signals that the second sentence contains a conclusion. Because the second claim is identified as a conclusion and is linked to the first, we know that 'John has passed his final exams' is a premise.]

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• Everyone knows that Australia has great natural beauty and a marvellous climate, and that makes it clear why many tourists come here. ['Everyone knows that' signals that a premise or premises are following it, and 'that makes it clear why' links these premises to 'many tourists come here'—the conclusion that these premises explain.]

Exercise 3.1

Here are the five examples from above. Rewrite each of them so that the reasoning is the same (i.e. the same premise and same conclusion) but in a different way, thus helping you to see how natural language can vary widely and that there is an underlying logic which can be expressed in various ways.

a. I found out today that I had passed my exam. I was elated.

b. Because I felt ill, I went home from work.

c. We need to learn to think: it helps us to do better at work and to do better at university.

d. John has passed his final exams. This means that he is a fully qualified lawyer.

e. Everyone knows that Australia has great natural beauty and a marvellous climate, and that makes it clear why many tourists come here.

Exercise 3.2

Here are three claims. Using the last claim as your conclusion and the first two as premises, write three different arguments in natural language and using a variety of different linking formations. Monitor the way in which the words reflect and signal your mental processes of linking premises and conclusions.

• Wet roads increase the risk of accident.

• You should drive more carefully.

The problem of understanding linkages

There are many different words and phrases that appear in natural language to link claims together explicitly. There are also many ways of writing claims so they are clearly linked. But the linkages are not dependent on having the link words there in your writing. If you think, for example, that 'Australia should become a republic because this change will make Australia a more independent nation', then the linkage of this conclusion with this premise occurs because you think it is so (so long as you have sound reasons for that thought). Link words such as 'because' are very useful as signposts, which you can use to help others follow mainp - your reasoning, but they are the result of your thought processes. Simply putting in a word such as 'thus' or 'because' cannot make unlinked claims magically become an argument.

In other words, we must think through the analytical structure of our ideas before we express them in words. If we do this, and have some proficiency in writing, then the proper signals and traces of our analysis will emerge through our texts. If we simply learn to 'write' (rather than 'think'), then it is unlikely that our analysis will improve. No matter how hard we try to 'write better', we will often fail.2

The complex ways in which we signal the links in language are well suited to the requirements of naturally expressing our arguments and explanations. But they impede us in trying to understand and control our reasoning processes. First of all, links between claims precede and exist independently of their written expression. Because of the ways in which we use language, it is often hard to see the 'logic' in what someone is saying or writing, and probably harder still to write and speak ourselves in ways that make clear to our audience just what the reasoning is behind our views. The solution is to find a format or way of writing that breaks reasoning down into two components: first, the claims and, second, the way in which they are linked together.

The analytical structure of reasoning Representing the analytical structure

There two ways of understanding what we read and write. First, there is what I am calling the narrative flow, that is, words arranged into sentences, and then divided into paragraphs. Second, there is the analytical structure, which is expressed in a list of claims and a diagram or picture showing how they are related to one another. Imagine that we have been asked to give our views on the environment by stating one action that people should take to help improve the world's environment. The following is an argument on this topic in the narrative flow format:

All motor cars should be fitted with devices that reduce the pollution caused by their exhausts. My reasoning for this view is as follows. Car exhaust emissions are one of the most significant causes of air pollution, and if we are going to tackle the problem of improving the environment, we should concentrate on the major causes of pollution. Also, it is relatively simple to fit the appropriate anti-pollution device and will not cause dramatic social and economic upheavals in the way people live.

But there is another way to express the argument, picking out the key claims and the links between them:

1. All motor cars should be fitted with devices that reduce the pollution caused by their exhausts.

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2. Car exhaust emissions are one of the most significant causes of air pollution.

3. If we are going to tackle the problem of improving the environment, we should concentrate on the major causes of pollution.

4. It is relatively simple to fit the appropriate anti-pollution device.

5. Fitting appropriate anti-pollution devices will not cause dramatic social and economic upheavals in the way people live.

Can you see how the two forms (narrative flow and analytic structure) say roughly the same thing? In the narrative flow, the linking phrase 'My reasoning for this view is as follows' signals that the following claims are premises for the conclusion before them. In the diagram, this connection is indicated by the arrow symbol [-1] connecting claims 2-5 with claim 1. In such a diagram we always put the conclusion-claim at the bottom (no matter what number we give it). We do this because, logically, the premises lead to the conclusion, and positioning the conclusion at the bottom reminds us of this crucial process. So, obviously, the premises go above the conclusion.

Certain words in the narrative flow, such as 'and' and 'also', are not included in the numbered list of claims. Why? Well, because the work that those words do (tying the premises together) is shown in the analytical structure diagram by the plus symbol (+). Furthermore, to indicate that all four premises work together to support the conclusion, the diagram uses a horizontal line to 'group' these premises

(_). Finally, note that claims explicitly state the missing subject which was not included in the narrative flow.

What the analytical structure format offers

The analytical structure format, then, is a much clearer way of showing the exact claims being made and the ways in which they relate to one another. This format, by representing the connections between claims through the standardised form of the diagram, avoids all of the vagaries of the English language that we have already seen, with its myriad ways of signalling what is the conclusion and what are the premises. By listing the claims as distinct entities, it also overcomes complex sentence formations, with multiple claims within sentences, mainp - claims within claims, half-expressed claims, and so on. All the potentially confusing 'short-hand' use of pronouns, such as 'this' and 'it', and implicit cross-referencing is removed in favour of precisely written claims. Finally, the diagram, with grouped premises, clarifies all of the clever ways of writing that make English interesting to read but that mean it is hard to recognise just exactly which premise leads to which conclusion, and in combination with which other premises.

Here is a more complex example of how one argument can be expressed in two different formats—as narrative flow and as analytical structure. While there is much about this argument that you may not yet understand (and we explore the details in later chapters), for the moment, just use it as a point of comparison between the two formats. First, here is the underlying structure, expressed as a list of claims and a diagram to show how they relate to one another.

1. The Internet has no single regulatory body to impose censorship.

2. The Internet is hard to censor consistently and reliably.

3. The Internet is a new communications medium that is available for anyone to use.

4. Vast amounts of violent and pornographic material are available on the Internet.

5. Children often have access to the Internet.

6. Children will, sooner or later, view violent and pornographic material on the Internet.

And here is how we might write this argument in natural language.

We need to be keenly aware that children will, sooner or later, view violent and pornographic material on the Internet. It is a new communications medium that is available for anyone to use. The 'Net', since it has no single regulatory body to impose censorship, cannot be consistently and reliably censored, meaning that vast amounts of violent and pornographic material are available on it, and as we know, children often have access to the Internet.

Exercise 3.3

Using the above example about the Internet, briefly list the differences and similarities between the two formats. Check the answers carefully.

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For simple examples, such as the first one I gave, it may seem foolish to use another format when the narrative flow (with which we are all more familiar) seems to work well enough. Equally it may seem that, in longer examples, such as the second one, the analytical structure only complicates the business. These observations miss the point: we need to be able to see the content and structure of reasoning (claims and a diagram) clearly before we can learn about, and thus smarten up, our thinking.

Learning more about the analytical structure The analytical structure behind narrative flow

The primary purpose of the analytical structure format is to assist you in planning your own writing. However it is very useful to look at other people's reasoning as a way of learning about it. We can recover this analytical structure by, first, finding the claims being made and, second, grasping the connections between them (some signals of which can be found in the traces of reasoning represented by any linking words or phrases). Before moving on to look at how we can use the analytical structure in our own writing, let us use it as a tool to understanding other people's reasoning.


The process by which we recover an analytical structure from a written argument is called 'casting'.3 1 will work through an example, step by step, and then provide some practice examples. We will use the following natural argument—a very simple one that I have constructed to help demonstrate this process.

Let's consider the facts. Chemical factories are very dangerous to live nearby and one has been built near your house. You'd be crazy to put yourself in danger, no? That's why you should move and live somewhere else.

Before beginning, make sure you understand what you are reading and remember that you are not doing the reasoning here and must try to stay true to what is written, even if you disagree with it.

So, what is the first step? Earlier in this chapter, we looked at how natural language contains 'traces' of reasoning—words that are not part of the claims, but which represent the way the author is linking those claims together. I will underline the words that signal reasoning:

Let's consider the facts. Chemical factories are very dangerous to live nearby and one has been built near your house. You'd be crazy to put yourself in danger, no? That's why you should move and live somewhere else.

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The second step is the crucial one: identify and mark the claims that are being made. We have already looked at the properties of claims in chapter 2 and here you see why that discussion is so important. The easiest way to mark these claims is by putting them in parentheses. I have also numbered the claims because we need to diagram their interrelationship later.

Let's consider the facts. (Chemical factories are very dangerous to live nearby) 1 and (one has been built near your house) 2. (You'd be crazy to put yourself in danger) 3, no? That's why (you should move and live somewhere else) 4.

Finally, we need to draw a diagram that shows how these claims link together. The conclusion always comes last and the premises go above it.

How did I work out what the conclusion was? Look at the linking phrase 'That's why' in the last line. 'That' refers to all the things previously said and 'why' here means 'these are the reasons that explain or justify why something else is reasonable'. So, on that basis, I have determined that the author intended the last claim as the conclusion, with the other claims being the premises that form one reason why that conclusion is justified.

Also, note that I have had to deal with a contracted claim: one has been built near your house'. If we were writing this claim out formally, it would be A chemical factory has been built near the house where you live' but, in natural language, the narrative flow means the author instead has written 'one', referring back to 'a chemical factory' in the first claim and 'your house', implying a connection to 'live' in the first claim. A key part of good casting (and indeed good reading) is to be able to see the contractions necessary for good narrative flow and yet recognise the substance of the analytical claims being made.

Exercise 3.4

Now you practise it. Here are four short arguments or explanations, each with a different structure, and each with a little 'trick' to watch out for. Try underlining the signals of linking, delineating the claims, and, using a diagram, show how they relate to one another. Check the answers carefully for more advice on casting.

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Remember, what matters most here is correctly identifying the claims—and claims may not be written out as 'neatly' as you would like.

a. I should not buy a car at the moment. I have just lost my driver's licence, and besides, I can't afford it.

b. Nicole Kidman is an international movie star, and I know that, as a general rule, international movie stars get paid a lot of money. Therefore, it is obvious that Nicole Kidman is well paid.

c. I have not got a university education, whereas several of my colleagues do. All of them have recently received promotions, but I did not receive one. Given that we are all roughly equal in our job performance, I would have to conclude that a university education really helps one to get ahead in a career.

d. What was the explanation for Sydney beating Beijing for the 2000 Olympics? There were two main reasons. The Sydney organisers did a better job of lobbying the International Olympic Committee delegates and, because of political crises in China at the time and perceived doubts about Beijing's quality of services and venues, Sydney offered a much safer venue for a successful Olympic games.

If you have checked the answers to these four problems, you will realise that there is a lot more to learn about exactly how reasoning works in linking claims together. It is not simply a matter of working out which claims are the premises and which are the conclusions. You should also realise that casting is not an exact science—it is a tool to help you unpick the reasoning of others and, for our purposes, is mainly designed to help you get better at your own use of analytical structures.

Using the analytical structure for planning

Communication involves much more than just reasoning, and that is why we do not usually communicate via diagrams and lists of claims. But, that said, when we want to express our arguments and explanations clearly and effectively, we need to think carefully about the analytical structure that lies behind the narrative expression of reasoning. It is hard to recover this structure precisely from what you read because authors themselves are often not in control of their reasoning. It is also tricky simultaneously to write a narrative flow and reason analytically. So, before we write, we should plan our work on the basis of the reasoning that we wish to embed' within our written expression. A very effective way to do this planning is to use the analytical structure format. And, by properly planning our work, we will dramatically improve the quality and readability of our written and oral communication.

How do we develop an analytical structure format? First of all, start thinking about structure and the logical connections between your ideas, rather than how you will actually write them.

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1 Decide what your conclusion will be. Write this claim out carefully, expressing exactly what you mean. Number it '1'.

2 Then think about the reasons that you are giving for this conclusion. These reasons must be written as proper claims, this time serving as premises that either explain how that conclusion comes about or show why it should be accepted. Try to keep related premises together, but as the diagram will show these relationships clearly, it is not essential to group them perfectly. Write them out, making sure that you do not use pronouns but express each claim so that it makes sense in and of itself. Number them from '2' onwards. Focus on giving the main reasons for the conclusion at this stage.

3 Begin to draw the diagram to show the relationships between the claims. At this stage the key point is to realise that the symbols you draw in the diagram do not make the reasoning. They are, instead, a representation of the implied links that come from the way you have constructed your claims. Use the line underneath a group of related premises; use the arrow to show a premise-to-conclusion relationship.

4 Stop and think: are you missing any claims? do you need more premises? have you got the relationships the way you want them to be?

5 Make changes if required, adding claims and redrawing the diagram if need be. If necessary, repeat step 4.

Here are five important points to remember when doing this process:

i Each claim must stand on its own. Do not include pronouns that refer to nouns elsewhere in the argument. Thus, 'Illegal immigrants are treated badly in Australia' is a well-written claim, whereas 'They are treated badly in Australia is not—who are the 'they' referred to here?

ii Do not include signals of reasoning in claims: 'Therefore illegal immigrants are treated badly in Australia' is not a proper claim—the word 'therefore' does not belong since the diagram will show that this claim is the conclusion.

iii Each claim must imply links to other claims which, when added together, show the reasoning. 'Refugees are treated badly in Australia and 'Australia violates international human rights treaties' don't connect with one another unless there are other claims. The word Australia appears in both, but other claims involving internal connections between, say, refugees and international human rights must also be included.

iv You cannot use the symbols (the line and arrow) for just any purpose. Simply drawing extra arrows or lines does not work: the relationships signalled by these symbols must be there already in the claims.

v Do not be afraid to revise and rewrite. Changing the wording of the claims, moving them around so they fit together logically is the reason you do this process. It is called 'iteration'—you do one version, review it, see if it makes sense, and, if not, you change it and review again.

In later chapters we will explore the subtleties of this process; for now, practise the method as you understand it at the moment.

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Exercise 3.5

Choose an issue or topic about which you have some knowledge. If possible, choose a topic that relates to something you are studying; alternatively, use as the basis for your argument some topic that is important to you at the moment. Follow the method outlined above, concentrating on writing clear, single claims and using the diagram to show their interrelation. Then check the answers for a discussion of common mistakes that people make. After you have checked for mistakes, try again.

Complex analytical structures

A simple argument or explanation is one in which one 'layer' of claims (the premises) links to another claim (the conclusion). In a simple argument the premises are on one level and the conclusion on a second. There may be more than one arrow in the diagram for a simple argument, but each arrow marks out a separate reason that is directly connected to the conclusion. A complex argument or explanation (such as that in exercise 3.3), on the other hand, has an analytical structure with more than two levels of connection. The purpose of each layer of claims is to show or explain the claim to which they lead via the arrow. As we will see in chapter 5, such structures make our reasoning more effective.

A complex structure is easy to understand once we realise that it is 'built up' from a group of simple arguments. Here are two simple arguments; the important thing to note is that they share a common claim:

1. Australia is a multicultural society.

2. There are people from many different ethnic communities living in Australia.

3. Different ethnic and racial communities contribute different cultures to a society.

4. Government policies and widespread community attitudes encourage these different cultures to mix together and flourish.

5. Australia is a tolerant and interesting nation.

6. Multicultural societies show more tolerance towards different groups.

7. Multicultural societies are more interesting than those in which one culture dominates at the expense of other possible cultures.

1. Australia is a multicultural society.

Claim 1 appears twice. In the first example it is being used as the conclusion (and thus will come below claims 2—4 in the diagram). In the second example, claim 1 is functioning as a premise and, thus, goes with the other premises above claim 5. Because of the common claim, we can combine the two simple examples to produce a more complex structure, whose relationship would be easily mainp - diagrammed. Because the first layer of the diagram does not lead directly to the conclusion, but instead to claim 1, we can call the argument supporting claim 1 a sub-argument. It is subsidiary (though still important) to the main argument for claim 5. We just add one diagram to the other, overlapping the common claim:

Theoretically, there is no limit to the ways that simple arguments can combine in this manner, but for practical purposes, we may want to limit ourselves to no more than three or four levels of claims, so that the process does not become unwieldy. But it is crucial that we understand the basic idea behind complex structures. Any conclusion is, at base, a claim for which premises are being given. There is nothing to stop that claim from simultaneously serving as a premise itself, which leads to another conclusion.

Exercise 3.6

Let us return to casting to assist our examination of complex structures. To help you understand them, work through the following exercise and then refer to the answers. There is more guidance there about how to cast but, until you have tried it yourself, you will not be able to understand that assistance. You must cast this argument, realising that it has a complex argument structure.

The current Australian government is, in many ways, challenging the role of the United Nations as a body that promotes action by member nations to maintain and extend human rights within those nations' own jurisdiction. This challenge has a distinct and dangerous consequence for Australia (quite apart from arguments about its dubious morality) because the challenge puts Australia in conflict with most other nations of the world over human rights and Australian trade and foreign relations are likely to suffer in the long run. By definition, this long-term result is dangerous. I believe that the government's role should be to work to avoid danger and, therefore, mainp -

I believe the government's current approach to the UN over human rights is incorrect.


In this chapter we have looked at the key process of reasoning: linking. When developing arguments and explanations, we link information expressed as claims. In naturally expressed reasoning, the evidence for this process can be found in certain words and phrases, or even in the arrangement of the claims. But, to understand and control reasoning better, this natural expression is inadequate. It is better to work with a format that shows the analytical structure of reasoning more accurately and consistently. This format may not be suitable for communicating, but it is a tremendous tool for understanding and controlling reasoning in our minds.

The analytical structure of reasoning can be shown by separating an argument or explanation into a list of claims, the interrelationships of which are represented in a diagram using standardised symbols. We can combine a number of simple structures into complex, overlapping, and more effective reasoning. All the intricacies of reasoning can be reduced to a much simpler format. Our initial puzzlement results, not from the complexity of the structured format, but from our unfamiliarity with it. The analytical structure of other people's arguments and explanations can, if we wish, be recovered by 'casting' them into the structured format. However, the analytical structure format is more useful as a tool for planning and thinking about our own reasoning than as a means of direct communication.


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

analytical structure casting complex structure link words list of claims narrative flow simple structure mainp - structure diagram sub-argument

Review exercise 3

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

a. What happens to claims when they are linked together so that one gives a reason for the other?

b. What traces of this linking process can we find in natural language?

c. What are the symbols in a structure diagram used for?

d. Are claims, when written in the analytical structure format, expressed differently from those in natural language?

e. What are the similarities and differences between narrative flow and analytical structure?

f. How do simple and complex reasoning structures differ?

g. Can a claim, in one example of reasoning, serve (in relation to a number of claims) as both a conclusion and a premise at the same time?

h. What advantages and disadvantages are there in learning to use the analytical structure format?


1 There is disagreement among philosophers about whether reasoning takes place directly in language, or indirectly in the concepts that are expressed through language. For the purposes of this book, I will take the second position. Of course, if an argument is well written, then the indirect structure should be very clear. However, such clarity is rare in most commonplace language.

2 While I focus on analysis in this book, I do not wish to understate the importance of clear written expression. For more information, consult any of the many good books on written communication that are available.

3 The casting method is commonly used in reasoning textbooks. It was developed principally by Michael Scriven. For an excellent, in-depth look at casting, see J. Rudinow and V. Barry, Invitation to Critical Thinking, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 2003.

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