STEP FIVE: Evaluating Reasoning
A. Finding the Argument
Most documents try to make a point or reach a conclusion by offering reasons. They make an argument, a series of points that advocate something. Hereʹs a famous example used in philosophy classes for 2000 years:
Premise 1: Premise 2: Conclusion
ʺAll men are mortalʺ ʺSocrates is a manʺ ʺTherefore, Socrates is mortalʺ
This three‐part argument is called a syllogism.
Hereʹs a well‐known graduation joke: ʺOf course thereʹs a lot of knowledge in universities: the freshmen bring a little in; the seniors donʹt take much away, so knowledge sort of accumulates.ʺ (early 20th‐c. Harvard President Abbott Lawrence
Premise 1: Premise 2: Premise 3: Conclusion
Freshmen bring a little (knowledge) in Seniors take none away Knowledge accumulates Thereʹs a lot of knowledge in universities
Look back over the lists of central points and assumptions you identified earlier. Youʹll probably see some conclusions supported by some premises. The premises try to provide justification, evidence, or support for the conclusion; they may be among the underlying assumptions you discovered.
Answer these questions:
1. What is the authorʹs most important point, central proposition, or main conclusion ‐ ‐ the big one that prompted him or her to create the text?
2. What premises does it rest on? What reasons does the author give to persuade you that you should agree with it?
3. Try restating the premises and conclusions as in the examples above.