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Argument Clinic: What is an Argument? What is not an Argument?

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Everyone thinks they know what an argument is, but in reality too few genuinely understand what a logical argument is and what it is not. If you don't understand what an argument is, you won't understand when someone is making a genuine, legitimate argument or something much weaker that only looks like an argument. You also won't be able to effectively evaluate or critique arguments you encounter.

What is an Argument?

When people create and critique arguments, it's helpful to understand what an argument is and is not. Sometimes an argument is seen as a verbal fight, but that is not what is meant in these discussions. Sometimes a person thinks they are offering an argument when they are only providing assertions.

What is NOT an Argument?

Premises, propositions and conclusions — the pieces of arguments — may usually be easy to spot. But arguments themselves aren't always so easy, and very often people will offer things which they claim are arguments but definitely are not.

What are deductive and inductive arguments?

Arguments can be separated into two categories: deductive and inductive. A deductive argument is one in which it is impossible for the premises to be true but the conclusion false. Thus, the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises and inferences. In this way, it is supposed to be a definitive proof of the truth of the claim (conclusion).

What is an Explanation?

An explanation is not an argument. Whereas an argument is a series of statements designed to support or establish the truth of an idea, an explanation is a series of statements designed to shed light on some event that is already accepted as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, some purported explanations do not explain anything at all; Even worse, many explanations are treated like arguments and vice-versa.

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