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An Introduction to Critical Thinking and Creativity: Think More, Think Better by Joe Y. F. Lau

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CHAPTER 8

IDENTIFYING ARGUMENTS

8.1 WHAT IS AN ARGUMENT?

In ordinary usage, an argument is often taken to be a somewhat heated dispute between people. But in logic and critical thinking, an argument is a list of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the others are the premises or assumptions of the argument. An example:

It is raining.

So you should bring an umbrella.

In this argument, the first statement is the premise and the second one the conclusion. The premises of an argument are offered as reasons for accepting the conclusion. It is therefore irrational to accept an argument as a good one and yet refuse to accept the conclusion. Giving reasons is a central part of critical thinking. It is not the same as simply expressing an opinion. If you say “that dress looks nice,” you are only expressing an opinion. But if you say “that dress looks nice because the design is very elegant,” then it would be an argument indeed. Dogmatic people tend to make assertions without giving arguments. When they cannot defend themselves, they often resort to responses such as “this is a matter of opinion,” “this is just what you think,” or “I have the right to believe whatever I want.”

The ability to construct, identify, and evaluate arguments is a crucial part of critical thinking. Giving good arguments helps us convince other people, and improve our presentation and debating skills. More important, using arguments to support our beliefs with reasons is likely to help us discover the ...

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