Austin Community College The Ultimate Nature of Reality Discussion: Philosophy Answers 2021

Austin Community College The Ultimate Nature of Reality Discussion: Philosophy Answers 2021

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Austin Community College The Ultimate Nature of Reality Discussion

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Introduction to Philosophical Reasoning
Andrew D. Bassford, 2021
Professor of Philosophy, Austin Community College
Direct and Indirect Evidence1
The world is a certain way, regardless of how we think about it. As we go
through life, we form mental representations of it and its objects around us.
Some of those representations may adequately correspond to reality, and
some may not. Those that do are said to be true; those that do not, false. We
call these representations our beliefs. We want our beliefs to be true. True
beliefs tend to be more useful for navigating through reality than false ones.
For example, if I desire a sandwich and I believe the refrigerator contains
sandwiches, that will not only dictate my actions, but will make my actions
effective at attaining my desires. Desires without beliefs are unfulfillable
through my actions. Moreover, we also like knowledge for its own sake. We?d
all rather be connected to reality than some mere illusion, however comforting.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell the true beliefs from the false ones.
So, how can we determine whether our representations of the world accurately
correspond to it or not?
Beliefs are verified or falsified by evidence. There are two basic types of
evidence: direct evidence and indirect evidence. There are some beliefs that can
be verified or falsified simply by observation. This is a form of direct evidence.
You can tell whether or not it is raining simply by looking outside. You can tell
whether the bath water is warm by putting your hand in it. We not only form
some of our beliefs in this way, but we also directly justify them in this way too.
But not every belief can be verified or falsified via observation. Some beliefs can
only be verified or falsified indirectly. For example, how do you know what year
1
This section quotes extensively from David Kelley?s (1998) chapter, ?Basic Argument
Analysis,? from his The Art of Reasoning, Norton.
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
Page 1 of 15
you were born? Obviously, you did not witness your own birth. You were told
about it by your parents, who did experience the event, and you trust what they
told you. In the same way, you know that George Washington was the first
president of the United States because you learned it from a history teacher or
a textbook. In this case, neither the teacher nor the writer of the textbook
witnessed Washington?s presidency, any more than you did. But they learned
about it from other people, who learned it from still others, extending back in
a chain to people who were alive in 1788 and kept records at that time. We take
many beliefs to be verified or falsified in this way?by the indirect evidence of
testimony. Because we can communicate what we experience, human beings
can merge their separate representations of the world onto one giant canvas.
Testimony is one kind of indirect evidence. Still another important kind
of indirect evidence is reasoning. The basic idea of reasoning in general is that
we exploit the relationships among beliefs to extend our knowledge beyond
what we have experienced directly. Beliefs form complex truth-dependence
relationships with one another. Some beliefs are such that, if one of them is
true, so too must the other one. For example, if all men are mortal and Socrates
is a man, it must also be the case that Socrates is mortal too. Other beliefs are
such that, if one of them is true, the other must be false. For example, if Gerald
is a giraffe and no giraffe has gills, it must also be the case that Gerald does not
have gills either. And still others are such that, if one is true, the other one is
likely to be true (or false), as well. For example, if 1,000 samples of water have
boiled at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it is likely that all water will boil at 100 degrees
Fahrenheit under similar conditions. Reasoning thus allows us to verify or falsify
beliefs which may transcend the collective experience of human beings
altogether. It is through the indirect evidence of reasoning, coupled with
observation, that we have learned about the origins of our planet, the reaches
of outer space, the inner life of atoms, and so on?none of which has been
directly observed by anyone.
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
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Argument Analysis
Just as beliefs may be true or false, so too reasoning may go well or poorly.
Logic is the philosophical science of good and bad reasoning. Logicians study
and codify good (and bad) truth-dependence relationships among beliefs into
basic general kinds. They have discovered many such patterns, both good and
bad, over the last few millennia. The basic unit of analysis in logic is the
argument. An argument is a set of beliefs (or statements), at least one of which
is taken to be true on the basis of the others. Another way to put this is that an
argument is some belief plus the reasons offered in its support. The belief that
is taken to be true on the basis of the others is called the argument?s conclusion.
The beliefs offered in support of the conclusion are called the argument?s
premises. The mental movement we make from the premises to the conclusion
is called the argument?s inference. In an argument, one infers the conclusion
from the premises. Although one often reasons from their own beliefs, one can
apply reasoning to any set of beliefs or statements. In this class, we will often
simply suppose that certain premises are true to see what follows from them.
Recognizing Arguments
Inference is the hallmark of every argument. Arguments are often expressed in
a series of written statements. If a passage of text contains an inference, its
function is to express an argument; otherwise, it has some different function.
For example, consider this passage:
Cable television can provide the viewer with more channels
than broadcast television, and it usually delivers a higher
quality picture. For these reasons, the number of cable
subscribers will probably continue to grow rapidly.
This passage expresses an argument. The premises of the argument are (1)
Cable television can provide the viewer with more channels than broadcast
television, and (2) Cable television usually delivers a higher quality picture than
broadcast television. On the basis of these claims, the author then make an
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
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inference to the conclusion that (3) The number of cable subscribers will
probably continue to grow rapidly. In other words, (1) and (2) are the reasons
why the author of the passage believes that (3) is true.
Passages of text can perform many functions; expressing an argument
is only one of them. For example, consider this passage, which does not express
an argument:
The first cable companies served remote rural communities.
These communities were too far from any broadcast station
to receive a clear signal over the air. Tall towers, usually
located on hills, picked up the signals and distributed them to
individual homes.
There are no premises or conclusions in this passage, because there is no
inference present. The author of this passage seems just to be recounting a
history of cable television. No belief here is taken to be true on the basis of any
of the others. Besides expressing arguments, passages of text can: recount a
history, advertise some product, plea for help, threaten, express a poem, tell a
story, praise a heroic act, and so on.
Passages of text that express arguments often use certain words that
signal to the reader that an argument is present, as well as how to identify its
major parts. Logicians call these indicator words. There are premise indicator
words and conclusion indicator words. Here are some common premise
indicator words: since, because, for, given that, assuming that, the reason is
that, in view of the fact that?etc. For example:
Since cable companies are now serving the suburbs and cities,
they pose a competitive challenge to broadcast television.
We can tell that there is an argument present here, because there is a premise
indicator word in front of the first part of the passage (?since?), signaling that
the author is taking some claim to be true on the basis of it. Now here are some
common conclusion indicator words: therefore, thus, so, consequently, as a
result, it follows that, hence, which implies that? etc. For example:
To be a lawyer, you need to be good at keeping track of
details, and Lonny is terrible at that, so he shouldn?t go into
law.
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
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We can tell that this passage expresses an argument too, because the final part
of it contains a conclusion indicator word (?so?), signally that it should be read
as the conclusion of a process of reasoning. These words and phrases are often
used in nonargumentative contexts too, such as when I say ?I have been
studying philosophy since I was in high school,? or when I say ?I have given you
this handout so that you can understand the basics of argumentation.? So, our
indicator words are not perfect. They are, nonetheless, reliable, and good
writers often use them to signal these purposes. You are encouraged to use
them in your own writing too.
Philosophy is a dialectical discipline, meaning philosophers conduct their
investigations through arguments. With practice, it will become easier to
identify when a passage contains an argument. There are, unfortunately, no
hard and fast rules for doing this.
Standard Form
In this course, we will encounter many arguments. The goal, in each case, is to
analyze and evaluate them, to determine whether their conclusion is worth
believing or not. To facilitate this process, we will frequently use what logicians
call standard form to represent our arguments. Standard form is a way of very
clearly presenting arguments. We begin by breaking up a complex passage into
its logically independent statements. (Usually, these will correspond to
individual statements, or statements within a compound sentence. But, as we
have seen, sometimes an argument can unfold over the course of a single
sentence.) We give each of those statements a number. We then list all of the
statements as a numbered list, putting the premises first and the conclusion
last. Next to every line containing a premise, we write in brackets ?[Premise].?
Next to the conclusion, we write ?[From?],? noting the lines from which the
conclusion has been inferred. An example will help elucidate this process.
Consider this passage, which contains an argument:
Welfare is a form of expropriation: it takes money out of one
person?s pocket and puts it into someone else?s. Since the
function of government is to protect individual rights,
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
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including property rights, it should not be running welfare
programs.
In this passage, there are three logically independent statements present: (1)
Welfare is a form of expropriation, (2) The function of government is to protect
individual rights, and (3) The government should not be running welfare
programs. Statements (1) and (2) are the premises, and statement (3) is the
conclusion. We can convert this passage into standard form like this:
1. Welfare is a form of expropriation. [Premise]
2. The function of government is to protect individual rights. [Premise]
3. The government should not be running welfare programs. [From (1) &
(2)]
Put this way, it is easier to understand how the argument is working. It is also
easier to evaluate the argument. We will return to that point in a moment.
Evaluating Arguments
Not all arguments are created equal. Some are very good, and some are very
bad. Every argument can be evaluated according to two criteria: the truth of
their premises, and the validity of their inferential force.
In a good argument, all of the premises are true, and the premises do in
fact support the conclusion. In this way, good arguments give us good reason
to believe their conclusion. Bad arguments, on the other hand, lack one of these
features. There are three ways an argument might fail to give us good reason
to believe its conclusion. First, the argument may contain a false premise. For
example:
1. All fish are mortal. [Premise]
2. Socrates is a fish. [Premise]
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. [From (1) & (2)]
Premise (2) of this argument is false. Socrates is not a fish, but a human being.
And so, here we have a bad argument. A second way an argument may fail to
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
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give us good reason is by containing premises which do not actually support
the conclusion. For example:
1. All fish are mortal. [Premise]
2. Socrates is mortal. [Premise]
3. Therefore, Socrates is a fish. [From (1) & (2)]
Both of the premises in this argument are true. However, the conclusion is
clearly false. This shows us that the premises of this argument do not actually
support the conclusion: Just because Socrates is mortal does not mean that
he?s a fish! Arguments with good inferential force are said to be valid;
arguments with bad inferential force, invalid.
And finally, some arguments are doubly bad?not only do they contain
false premises, but the premises do not even support the conclusion. For
example:
1. Only women can get pregnant. [Premise]
2. Socrates is a woman. [Premise]
3. Therefore, Socrates is pregnant. [From (1) & (2)]
This is clearly a terrible argument. Socrates is not a woman, but rather a man.
That?s the first problem. And the second problem with the argument is that,
even if both of the premises were true, it still would not follow that Socrates is
pregnant. The first premise says that only women can get pregnant; it does not
say that all women are pregnant, which is what it would need to state for the
argument to provide good reason for thinking that Socrates is pregnant. This
argument is therefore invalid, as well.
Good arguments are sometimes called sound. A sound argument is an
argument in which all of the premises are true, and in which the inferential force
of the argument is valid (i.e., the premises actually support the conclusion). Bad
arguments are unsound. An unsound argument is an argument in which either
one of the premises is false, or else the inferential force of the argument is
invalid (i.e., the premises do not actually support the conclusion). In reasoning,
we aim to produce only sound arguments.
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
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Simple and Complex Arguments
Some arguments are simple, and some are complex. In this course, we will
focus on simple arguments, but it is still good to discuss complex arguments,
since complex arguments are more familiar to us in daily life, and many of the
writings we will read in this class contain both simple and complex arguments.
A simple argument is an argument which contains only one inference.
That is, some reasons are presented in favor of some conclusion, and that is the
only act of reasoning contained within the passage: The premises of the
argument are assumed as true, and no argument is offered in support of them.
All of the examples we have looked at so far have been simple arguments, such
as this one:
To be a lawyer, you need to be good at keeping track of
details, and Lonny is terrible at that, so he shouldn?t go into
law.
Put into standard form, this argument looks like this:
1. To be a lawyer, you need to be good at keeping track of details.
[Premise]
2. Lonny is terrible at keeping track of details. [Premise]
3. Therefore, Lonny should not go into law. [From (1) & (2)]
This argument contains only one inference, and so is a simple argument. We
can tell that this is so because there is only one conclusion in the argument (line
3), signaled by only the one instance of ?[From?]? in its standard form. The
premises here are simply taken to be true, and the author reasons on the basis
of them.
Other arguments are complex. A complex argument is an argument
which contains more than one inference. That is, some reasons are presented
in support of some conclusion, but the author does not simply assume that they
are true: They also offer an argument in support of one or more of the premises.
For this reason, complex arguments may be said to contain sub-arguments,
arguments embedded within the passage?s main argument. Here is an example
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
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of a complex argument, which is produced from modifying our previous
example:
To be a lawyer, you need to be good at keeping track of
details, but Lonny is terrible at that. Just yesterday, I asked
him to go to the grocery store to buy coconut milk, but he
bought regular milk instead. For these reasons, Lonny should
not go into law.
Put into standard form, this argument looks like this:
1. To be a lawyer, you need to be good at keeping track of details.
[Premise]
2. Just yesterday, I asked Lonny to go to the grocery store to buy coconut
milk, but he bought regular milk instead. [Premise]
3. Therefore, Lonny is terrible at keeping track of details. [From (2)]
4. Therefore, Lonny should not go into law. [From (1) & (3)]
As we can see, this argument contains two inferences, and so is a complex
argument. We can tell that this is so because there are two conclusions here
(lines 3 and 4), signaled by two instances of ?[From?]? in its standard form.
Here, premise (1) is assumed without argument, but premise (3) is not: Line (3)
serves as both the conclusion of one argument and the premise of another. As
a result, this argument takes the form of a complex chain, where one link both
supports and is supported by another.
Authors often offer complex arguments whenever one of the premises
of their main argument is controversial. Almost every premise in philosophy
(especially moral philosophy) is controversial, and so complex arguments are
common. Whenever an argument is simple, it usually contains two premises
and only one conclusion. Logicians call simple arguments that take this form
syllogisms. Whenever an argument is complex, it may contain any number of
premises and conclusions. Complex arguments, however, can always be
represented as two or more simple arguments. For example, the previous
complex argument might also be represented like this:
1. Just yesterday, I asked Lonny to go to the grocery store to buy coconut
milk, but he bought regular milk instead. [Premise]
2. Therefore, Lonny is terrible at keeping track of details. [From (1)]
Bassford 2021u: Intro to Philosophical Reasoning
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3. To be a lawyer, you need to be good at keeping track of details.
[Premise]
4. Lonny is terrible at keeping track of details. [Premise]
5. Therefore, Lonny should not go into law. [From (3) & (4)]
Debates
Usually whenever people in ordinary life talk about ?arguments,? they really
have in mind what logicians would call debates. An argument is a static, solitary
piece of reasoning. Debates, on the other hand, are dynamic and happen
between two reasoners (or between a reasoner and herself). Participants in a
debate are called interlocuters. We will enter into a debate with an author every
time we meet. Sometimes we will examine debates that already exist; other
times, we will examine debates that I have created for us; and still other times,
you will be asked to create a debate yourself. All of your writing assignments in
this class will ask you to construct a debate.
A debate occurs whenever an argument is presented and is then
critically challenged. As we know, there are two ways to challenge an
argument: One can either reject one of its premises, or one can reject the
inferential force of the argument. Both strategies would seek to show that the
initial argument is unsound. A challenge to an argument is called an objection.
The argument that one offers to show that either one of the ?

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