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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 threepart argument is called a syllogism.

Hereʹs a wellknown 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 20thc. Harvard President Abbott Lawrence

Lowell):

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.

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