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What Makes a Good Argument?

6

February 22, 2013 by mattfradd


What constitutes a sound argument?

What constitutes a sound argument?

In a previous article I explained what an argument is (and is not). Some have asked what constitues a good argument. Here are three things which constitute a good argument.

1. Clear Terms

The first thing which constitutes a good argument is clear terms. Terms can be used in equivocal senses; for example: 1. All feathers are light, 2. That which is light cannot be dark, 3. Therefore feathers cannot be dark. In this case, the first premise usage referred to weight, while the second premise used the term to refer to that which makes things visible.

 

2. True Premises

The second thing which constitutes a sound argument is true premises. You can “prove” anything from false premises: 1. All unicorns are infallible, 2. My son is a unicorn, 3. Therefore my son is infallible.

It might surprise you to know that that argument is logically valid, that is, the conclusion follows logically and necessarily from the premises; the only problem is that the premises are false!

3. Valid Logic

Thirdly, and finally, an argument needs to be logically valid. That is, the conclusion must follow from the premises according to the laws of logic. Here is an example of an argument which has true premises but invalid logic: 1. Snow is white, 2. Paris is the capital of France, 3. Therefore a Beaver is a broad-tailed, semi-aquatic rodent.

You don’t need a Ph.D. in philosophy to recognize that the conclusion, “a Beaver is a broad-tailed, semi-aquatic rodent,” does not follow from the premises.

Certitude

Finally, it needs to be noted that in order for an argument to be a good argument, it does not have to yield 100% certitude. If the terms are clear, and the argument is logically valid, then you might ask yourself, are the premises more plausibly true than not.

Perhaps, when assessing the Kalaam argument for the existence of God, you’re unsure whether the premises are true or false. In that case you should ask yourself, are the premises more plausibly true than their negation. So, is it more plausibly true than false that (Premise 1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause? And is it more plausibly true than false that (Premise 2.) The universe began to exist? If you answered yes to both questions, then you should accept that (Conclusion) the universe has a cause.

6 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Argument?

  1. carloshelms says:

    Yep.

    Wonder why so many deny this line-of-thinking.

    • Rachel says:

      That’s what gets me. I find it impossible to believe something so vast and huge and enormouse and massive and complex and detailed as the universe could have came from nothing.

      • carloshelms says:

        Only one way to deny the reality that’s right in front of a person, Rachel: brainwashing.

        The commies in the USSR and China did it over a number of years. Successive generations were inundated with “scientific fact” to the exclusion of God (the concept presented as deluded thinking or insanity) until it became their primary nature. Believers were eventually sent to the gulags. Good is now bad and right is now wrong. It’s not hard to imagine godless societies where the religion is political correctness.

  2. Rachel says:

    Hi Matt, are those two questions in the last paragraph the Kalam argument? I love that last paragraph. That would challenge so many people to change their way of thinking. I personally find it totally imposible to think that the universe and the wrold and everything in nature could have came from nothing. Something could never come from nothing. Something had to start it. I was reading the new Youth Catechism and you get all these little quotes at the sides of the pages from various saints and philosiphers and one of them said something along the lines of “to believe the universe came from nothing is simply absurd!” I definately remember he used the word absurd, and that made me laugh so much. I thought, “who ever this guy is, I love him!”
    Great blog, as ever, Matt. There are some handy tips in there.

    • christian says:

      Hi Rachel. Y had a similar problem when y was much younger. Y managed to imagine “nothing”, but could not place God on top of nothing. Take a look at Georges Lemaître’s work. He is the father of the big bang theory (BBT). He was a sivil engenieer, mathematician, scientist in physics, AND A CATHOLIC PRIEST ( bet your science teacher forgot to tell you that). Eistein was at first against his theory because it smelled to much of Creation. But ended as the biggest fan of Georges Lemaître. Accourding to the BBT it all came from (short short version): infinite amount of energi??? in an infinite small ????. The universe was not there. It came to and expanded with the BB. all the forces “physics” (like gravity, nucler forces ect) came later. Thus > no gravity > no mass = nothing. But “nothing” we know !. We know that all the energi and mass of the universe was created / released at that instant. Wath was before we will never know in this life, and it is irrelevant. We know for sure that all science knowlege falls apart when we get some seconds / milliseconds from the start of the BB ( in retrospect). After many years with physics and math y have came to understand the impossibility of the Creation. It is beatyfully complex connected on different dimentions (like real forces vs elektromagnetic forces). We can not explain irationality by rationality. Gud is not irational, but may appear so to our small human brains. Remember that matter came to after the BB, and there was no universe so nothing of this world. God is Ommi potente so He could if He wanted to: to tomorrow decide that He yesterday changed last weak. Totaly irational to a humand mind, but that is one infinite small part of wath Omnipotente is.

      Heisenberg( Nobel price winner in physics/quantum mechanics) sayd (badly translated): “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”
      ― Werner Heisenberg
      “Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.”
      ― Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers

      A small warning: Be carefull of wanting to replace “nothing” as the Bible says, with something(else). That is actually wath Stephen Hawking is trying to do with his string theory. He is a great scientist, but also an known atheist. He is argumenting for : there was something before BB,,,,, and from that aguments further that there is no creation if there was something there. He wants us to beleave that the universe continues to create itself without God , refering to a force (gravity) witch was not there accourding to the BB ( thats why he needs the string theory). The BBT is more in accourdance with the bible. Pardon my English. Y speak Norwegian , Spanish, and Italian much better.

      hilsen Christian

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