In real life, you probably think you want to avoid arguments, unless you’re female and get that disturbingly triumphant charge when you think you’ve caught me doing something you consider Totally Inappropriate based on little else but your current mood and want to go on the offensive to rack up relationship capital for the next time you’re being utterly callous. You’re being illogical either way, but we’ll get to the second example far down the road.
For now, let’s pretend we all love arguments. And we do, once we properly characterize them. Your logical life is built on arguments, as arguments are the basic building blocks of logic. Every vocalized thought that dribbles from your lips, every choice you ponder, every rational decision you make – well, more accurately, every post hoc rationalization you make to try to anesthetize your knee-jerk emotional decisionmaking from reptilian hindbrain action to palatable social scuttlebutt – is based on argument.
And arguments have three main components.
First and foremost are conclusions. Conclusions are the main point of your argument. They’re what you’ve decided, or believe, or determined to be right, or are desperately attempting to get others to swallow. Go ahead, make the juvenile joke you’ve already concluded is funny. It does tend to conclude matters, doesn’t it? QED, but you’re wasting your capital. Next time aim lower.
The English language has a number of indicator words that, unsurprisingly, indicate that a conclusion is on the immediate horizon. You know these already from reading: words like thus, hence, therefore, or, of course, in conclusion. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, and you’ll often see other indicator words that you just have to figure out by context.
Next on the agenda are premises. Premises are your support, your evidence for your conclusion – in a nutshell, the reasons behind the argument. Ideally, they’re why you conclude what you did.
Once again, we have several linguistic indicia for premises: since, because, due to, as. In proper-ass English, since is really only supposed to refer to temporal affairs and not logical premisehood, kind of like how gender is actually a grammatical term and the use of it to describe humans (who, quite frankly, have enough to be confused about in that arena as it is) lexicographically suggests absent agency in context to those of us of either, or neither, sex. In the real world – which, before I disappear up my own ass like the ouroboros and forget, is what this blog is all about – since is a premise, people have genders, and the language goes on, ba dum bum ba duh dada dada.
Premises need to be stronger than the conclusions they support. Think of this as the Bangladeshi refugee principle. Monsoon floods destroy your village, so you make the long trek over the border to Calcutta for a new life. Or maybe north to Assam. Shit, I don’t care. If I ever find myself in your neck of the woods it will be to eat bizarre foods and buy cheap black market gold, not to pretend I had some goddamn Spiritual Experience like all the other directionless college-educated white skanks who want to conspicuously display their affected bond with the brown savages they’re fetishizing. Anyway, you find yourself in a slum – a kinder, gentler slum – with some concrete and sheet plastic. Your conclusion, of course, is that you need a roof over your head for shelter. How do you build it? Well, if you’re not functionally retarded, you make the concrete the walls and the sheet plastic the roof, as the strength of the concrete is enough to support the weaker plastic, but not the other way around.
Enough of this metaphor. Strong premises support weak conclusions. The reverse is untrue. And strength, like you were always taught, comes in numbers. Or at least in quantification and probability. Events that always happen are logically strong. All is strong. Must is strong. Even no and never are strong, because they give you certainty, which in logical terms is like John Inzer snorting brown-brown and angel dust while riding a roided out bionic elephant. Certainty is unequivocal. Maybe, meanwhile, except where it means no in the female lexicon, is very uncertain in real logical terms. So are could and may. Make sense? Absolutes are strongest. Probable outcomes are next: the mosts of this world. Finally, the possibilities are next to worthless.
Finally, we have assumptions. Assumptions are essentially unstated premises; support for the conclusion that’s actually missing from the argument itself. You can think of assumptions as a gap, a break we hit logically in going from Ps to Cs.
Take, for example, rap music. Specifically, the seminal 2002 hit “Hot In Herre” by Nelly, retarded little undereye Band-Aid and all.
Nelly tells you, in no uncertain terms, to take off all your clothes. Why? Because, girl, it’s hot in herre. Well, shit. We’re lacking indicator words, but that seems to me to be an argument. Let’s try what we’ve learned so far:
Conclusion of Nelly’s argument: Take off all your clothes. Premise of Nelly’s argument: It is hot in herre.
The assumption Nelly is making is what would logically complete his argument to make his conclusion valid, a concept I’ll discuss in the next post. For now, let’s diagram it like this:
P: It is hot in herre.
A: [Missing Assumption]
C: Take off all your clothes.
The assumption Nelly makes is “when it’s hot, get buck naked.” Now look at the chain.
P: It is hot in herre.
A: [If hot, get naked.]
C: Take off all your clothes.
Note that his conclusion is supported, once the assumption is present, by the underlying assumption and premise. If those are both true, the conclusion will also be true.
Extra credit: Try to determine the assumptions – yes, there are a few – underlying this argument:
P: Bo knows this.
P: Bo knows that.
P: Bo can’t rap.
A: [ ]
C: Bo don’t know jack.
Logic is dead. Long live logic.
Next posts: the sheer basics. In English.