In this lesson, consider examples of an argument, as the term is understood in philosophy. You’ll learn how to create appropriate premises and how this influences how likely it is for a listener to accept your conclusion.

Dogs vs. Cats

Walking through her local town, Kate notices a bumper sticker on the back of a vehicle that’s just pulling into a parking spot. The sticker reads: ‘Dogs rule! Cats drool!’ The owner of the car, clearly a dog lover, is claiming that dogs are essentially better to own as pets than cats. As the dog lover gets out of the car, Kate, a cat owner, can’t help but engage the driver in a friendly conversation about his love for dogs.

We’ll look at the driver’s claim and how an argument might be constructed to come to this conclusion. You’ll also have a chance to hear Kate’s argument to better understand and recognize how a premise is used and its impact on the conclusion that results.

An Argument

We’re used to thinking of the word ‘argument’ as meaning a fight or intense back-and-forth where emotions run high. Yet in the context of philosophical arguments, the word doesn’t necessarily mean heated conversation, though some conversations have the potential to be intense. An argument, in the philosophical sense, involves a series of assertions meant to demonstrate that a certain claim is true.

This is why you hear in academic discussions that a particular scholar argues for their case. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have anger or personal grievances. Instead, they want to communicate a claim to others in order to be convincing and to foster better understanding.

Premises

When Kate jokes with the owner of the car, pointing out the bumper sticker, at first the driver thinks she’s a dog lover, too. The driver says, ‘Dogs are so lovable and demonstrate their affection so freely. Cats are much more choosy with how they express their affection. Since dogs are so loving, they are the better pet.’

The dog lover is utilizing several premises to come to a conclusion. A premise is a method of establishing a rationale for your conclusion. Typically, this will include ideas that are expected to be generally acceptable to an audience. One possible clue that a premise is being provided is the word ‘since,’ although other words may be used. The dog lover uses ‘since’ as part of a premise when he starts to say, ‘Since dogs are so loving…’

But the dog lover didn’t realize that Kate is a cat lover. If he did, he might have chosen a different premise that would likely be convincing to a cat owner. A premise is most effective when it will generally be accepted by the listener as true.

Drawing a Conclusion

Kate doesn’t buy into the dog lover’s conclusion because she doesn’t agree with each premise. A conclusion is the result of linking together each premise in an argument to lead to a specific claim. One possible clue that a conclusion is coming is the word ‘therefore.’ A conclusion may come toward the end of a conversation or text, but also can occur at any point, or even be unspoken, depending on how the speaker chooses to describe his case.

In our example scenario, Kate decides to counter the dog lover’s sentiments with her own argument, with her own set of premises, ‘Dogs can be affectionate, and my experience is that I like how cats express affection, too.’ This is something that the dog lover may accept as a reasonable premise: that we both like how our animals express affection.

She goes on: ‘Since each person’s individual preferences affect what they appreciate in an animal, a dog might be right for you and a cat right for me. Therefore, neither animal is better than the other for everyone. Cats and dogs can both make great pets, depending on a person’s needs and desires.’ The dog lover laughs in a friendly way and says: ‘I still stand by my bumper sticker.’ Kate’s argument hasn’t won over the dog lover after all, but she’s glad she gave a solid argument a try, using reasonable premises to draw a conclusion.

Lesson Summary

In the context of philosophy, an argument involves a series of assertions meant to demonstrate that a certain claim is true. Arguments are made up of premises leading to a conclusion. A premise is a method of establishing a rationale for your conclusion. Typically, this will include ideas that are expected to be generally acceptable to an audience. One possible clue that a premise is being provided is the word ‘since,’ although other words may be used.

Through laying out each premise, you provide those listening to your argument with an understanding of how you came to a particular conclusion. A conclusion is the result of linking together each premise in an argument to lead to a specific claim. One possible clue that a conclusion is coming is the word ‘therefore.’

Learning Outcomes

Following this video lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define argument as it relates to philosophy
  • Describe the use of premises and conclusions in an argument
  • Identify key words that indicate both a premise and a conclusion