Think Again

By | 13/09/2017

Notes from Think Again MOOC.

Definition of argument

Interrupting, shouting, abusing doesn’t help to win the argument.

Contradict (deny what the other say) is not an argument.

An argument is

  • a series of sentences, statements or propositions
  • where some are premises (by order of reasoning)
  • and one is the conclusion
  • where the premises are intended to give a reason for the conclusion

words usually used on arguments: so, because

Ar argument is used for:

  • Persuading is making people believe or do something they would not otherwise believe or do. Tries to change your belief or actions and bad reasons can do that.
  • Justifying is showing someone a reason to believe a conclusion. Tries to give good reasons. The audience might not believe what you are justifying.
  • Explanation is giving a reason why something happened (or why it’s true). The audience believe what you are explaining. The goal is to increase understanding.

Is the person trying to change someone’s mind?  If yes, it’s persuasion.

Is the person trying to give some kind of reason to believe something? If yes, it’s a justification


Kinds of explanations:

  • Casual – explains using what the cause is
  • Teleological – explains using what the goal or purpose is
  • Formal – explains based on the shapes
  • Material – explains based on the materials

An explanation in the form of argument: General principles, laws or initial conditions + phenomenon to be explained -> result

Explanation is an attempt to fit a particular phenomenon into a general pattern in order to increase understanding and remove bewilderment or surprise.
Explanation is not persuasion, justification, generalization or prediction.
Explanation can exist without prediction and without justification.


Arguments are made of Language

Language is

  • important
  • conventional – based on conventions that can be different in other places
  • representational – language represents something and we can’tn change it arbitrarily
  • social – makes a role in the society

Meaning – meaning is not the same than what makes it reference. Meaning is use.

Levels of Language

  • Linguistic
  • Speech – such advising
  • Conversational – persuading level

Speech act – Utterance that has performative function in language and communication. There is the act of saying something, what one does in saying it, such as requesting or promising, and how one is trying to affect one’s audience.

Conversational act – Use language to “change the world”. They are related with Speech acts.

  • informing – change the knowledge of the other person
  • requesting – get something from another person

Speech – Question –> Conversational – Answer

Speech – Apology -> Conversational – Forgiveness

Conversational act occur when the effect occur

Paul Grace’s Conversational maxims:

  • Quantity – don’t say too much or too little
  • Quality – don’t say what you don’t believe to be true or what you have no reason to believe
  • Relevance – Be relevant
  • Manner – Be brief, be orderly, avoid obscurity, avoid ambiguity

Conversational implication is not logical implication.

Markers – Assuring – Guarding – Discounting – Evaluating

Arguments markers: they indicate the presence of an argument.

  • Conclusion markers – indicate the sentence after they are a conclusion: so, therefore, thus, hence, accordingly
  • Reason markers – indicate there is a reason or premise: because, for, as, for the reason that, and the reason why, due the fact that, since

Some of them aren’t always argument markers, such as “so” or “since”.


Making the premise with authority – I assure, cliearly, make reference to reports. If the reason is not actually given, then the reason can not be questioned.

Type of assuring:

  1. Authoritative – use authoritative references, best practices
  2. Reflexive – speaks about yourself: I believe that, I know that, I feel sure that, I’ve through about this for long time and…
  3. Abusive – abuse you to agree with them by making a conditional abuse that applies to you only if you disagree with them – non sense, everybody knows it, appeal to common sense.

Assuring is good to save time and avoid the skeptical regress, but they could generate distractions and be misleading.

Use authority when:

  1. Someone might question the assuance
  2. The audience accept the authority
  3. It would be too much trouble to cite all of the evidence

Not appropriate when:

  1. No one would question the premise
  2. The authority is not trustworthy
  3. When you are able to give the full explanation


Involves making your premises weaker so that it is hard to object to them and people agree to share the assumption. It can’t be weakened too much to avoid that conclusion don’t follow.

Almost everyone is more difficult to refute than everyone

  1. Extent – reduce the “quantity” –  all -> most -> many -> some -> few
  2. Probability – absolutely certain -> it’s probably -> likely -> there is a change -> he might have
  3. Metal – know -> believe -> tend to believe -> inclined to believe -> think


Assert and contrast two claims in order to emphasize one of them to reject the other.

On the premises, put a negative claim about the argument, but adding another claim to compensate it. This way, you admit there is a problem but you contrast it with another point and emphasizes the importance of the second point.

“The ring is expensive, but it’s beautiful”

Discounting terms: but, although, even if, even though, whereas, nevertheless, still, however.

It’s likely the opponent raise an objection if it has been also considered on the argument.


Making evaluations is another way to avoid the skeptical regress.

Good -> Meets the standards (“this is good for us”)
Bad -> Violates the standards (“this is bad for us”)

Using this makes the claim more defensible since the standards cannot be questioned if they are not presented.

If standards are not specified, it could happen that the evaluation is the same for the other party, but according to totally different standards.

Expressing preferences is different than making an evaluation.

Levels of evaluation:

  • General: good, bad, ought, not ought, should, should not, right or wrong
  • Specific: beautiful, ugly, cruel, kind, brave, cowardly, comfortable, uncomfortable – applies a limited range of things.

Evaluative language is only when it’s open and literally evaluative, not only when it’s contextually evaluative (so liberal)


  • Good, pretty good, pretty darn good
  • Spicy (good or neutral) – too spicy (bad)

Slanting – Using evaluation terms without having a reason for the evaluation

Close Analysis

Reason = R or P (Premise)
Conclusion = C
Assuring term = A
Guarding term = G
Discounting term = D
Positive Evaluating Term = E+
Negative Evaluation Term = E-
Nothing = N

Look at metaphors, irony, rhetorical questions.

Rhetorical question – Get the audience think what you are not directly saying.

Skeptical Regress

Standard form:

(1) premise
(2) premise
: (3) conclusion (From 1 and 2)

The problem of skeptical regress: premises are used to justify a conclusion, but premises are conclusions by itself, coming justified with other premises, and same for the new premises.

When arguing, there are three possible situations:

  1. Start with a premise that is unjustified – no need to believe
  2. Argument with a circle structure – easy to contradict denying only one of the conclusions, all the other conclusions are affected (most vulnerable)
  3. Infinite chain of arguments – never end s and probably conclusions are weaker and weaker

Tricks for dealing with Skeptical regress:

  • Start with assumptions that everybody agree – find shared assumptions
  • Make assumptions with authority so the audience can believe them or making references to authority
  • Fort he objections – discount them or guard your claims
    • Assuring – assure the audience
    • Discounting – discount objections
    • Guarding – guard your claim