Core 105: The Monsters We Make

Fall 2004



I.  Introduction

In this section, you will find concise definitions of the technical terms used at this worksite.  For more information about these terms, please consult the UI Critical Thinking Handbook


II.  Glossary

  • Abductive Argument: (Also inference to the best explanation.)  The reasons in these arguments present clues, often widely disparate, and the conclusion is the "best explanation" available for these clues. 

  • Analogy, Argument by: In these arguments, the conclusion about one issue is supported by reasons the point out how a different but structurally similar issue generates a similar conclusion.

  • Argument: (a) A set of sentences, one of which is the conclusion and the others the reasons that are given in support of the conclusion.  (b) the activity of pressing a claim, often supported by arguments understood in sense (a).

  • Argument Content: What an argument is about. 

  • Argument Context: The setting in which an argument is produced.  Coherence with context is one measure of the quality of an argument.

  • Argument Flow: This is the content and structure based connectivity among argument steps.  It is measured by how smoothly one is conveyed step to step from the first reason through to the conclusion.  

  • Argument Form:  See argument structure

  • Argument Step: Either a reason or a conclusion.

  • Argument Structure: The relationships that exist among the elements of an argument that make it the case that the truth of the reasons supports the truth of the conclusion.  These elements can be the sentences themselves, or parts of the sentences, such as names, predicates, etc. 

  • Certainty Producing Arguments (CPA): (Also deductive arguments.) These arguments are intended to produce their conclusions with certainty.  If the reasons of a CPA are true, then the conclusion must be true, if the CPA is a good one.  The standard used to distinguish good CPAs from bad is validity.

  • Charity, Attitude of:  This is the attitude you should adopt when reconstructing an argument.  It amounts to giving the arguer the benefit of the doubt, up to the point where you have identified and reconstructed their argument.

  • Claim: A truth-evaluable content expressed by a sentence.  That is, what the sentence says.

  • Conclusion:  The main claim pressed by an argument.  This will be supported by reasons.  

  • Conclusion Marker:  This is a term whose primary purpose is to mark conclusions in arguments.  Examples of conclusion markers include: 'therefore', 'thus', 'hence', 'as a result', 'in that case', 'then', 'so', 'accordingly', 'the bottom line', 'as a consequence', and 'for this reason'.

  • Confirmation Argument: In these arguments, you derive a hypothesis from your theory and then test it; if the observations you make support your hypothesis, then it counts as a confirmed conclusion.

  • Construction:  When you present an argument, you construct it either before or while you give it.  This amounts to putting the pieces together into a whole argument that does the job of rendering the conclusion compelling.  

  • Content: See argument content.

  • Context: See argument context.

  • Counterexample:  An example given to establish the invalidity of a CPA.  It involves specifying a situation in which the reasons are true but the conclusion is false.  This demonstrates that it is not the case that the conclusion must be true if the reasons are.

  • Critical Thinking: Thinking that involves the principled application of standards and criteria in the evaluation of practical and theoretical options for the purpose of reaching conclusions about those options.

  • Deductive Arguments: See certainty producing arguments.

  • Discourse Context: The conversation or other linguistic event surrounding the production of an argument and to which the argument is typically intended as a relevant and significant contribution.

  • Evaluation: The third stage of critical thinking that involves assessing the quality of an argument.

  • Explicit Step: An argument step that is explicitly expressed by the arguer in the medium in which the argument is delivered (e.g., video, audio, written text, etc.).

  • Fallacy: A form of reasoning that is generally bad, although it is often used and often passes as compelling. 

  • Flow: See argument flow.

  • Following: In a CPA, a conclusion follows the reasons just in case it must be true if the reasons are true.  (See also valid.)

  • Form:  Argument form.  See argument structure.

  • Formal Logic:  See logic.

  • Identification:  The first stage in critical thinking where one recognizes the presence of an argument and then locates the explicit steps, including the conclusion and the reasons.

  • Implicit Step: An essential step of an argument that is left unstated.  One must get to it by "reading between the lines" or by identifying unstated assumptions.

  • Inductive Argument: An argument the conclusion of which is a generalization from similar observations or other similar data points, which serve as reasons. 

  • Inference: See argument.  

  • Inference to the Best Explanation:  See abductive argument.

  • Intentional Context: The plan execution of which results in the production of an argument by an arguer.  The argument is typically intended to further the plan, making achievement of its goal more likely.

  • Invalid:  Not valid.

  • Irrelevant Claims: Claims that are not relevant.

  • Logic: The study of argument structure, or more specifically, patterns of inference and the standards that distinguish good patterns from bad (i.e., truth conducting patterns from those that do not conduct truth).

  • Logical Constants: Terms such as 'and', 'or', 'not', and 'if ... then' that connect or operate on sentences 

  • Non-Deductive Arguments:  See probability producing arguments.

  • Practical Context: The actions or activities that surround the production of an argument and to which the argument is intended as a contribution.

  • Premise: See reason.

  • Probability Producing Arguments (PPA): (Also non-deductive arguments.)  In these arguments, the reasons are intended to increase the probability that their conclusions are true.  That is, if the reasons are true in a PPA, then there will be a high probability that the conclusion is true if the argument is a good one.  These are evaluated in terms of strength

  • Reason: (Also premise.)  A claim given in support of a conclusion.

  • Reason Marker: This is a term whose primary function is to indicate the presence of a reason.  Reason markers include: 'because', 'since', 'for', 'in light of', 'reason', 'assume', 'according to', 'considering', 'by', 'if', and 'in fact'.

  • Reconstruction: The process of identifying the explicit and implicit steps in an argument given by another and then putting them together in a form that indicates how the reasons fit together and how they are intended to support their conclusion.  Also, the second stage of critical thinking in which this is done.

  • Relevant Claims: A claim is relevant just in case it is about the topic of the argument and its truth bears on the overall quality of the argument.

  • Soundness: A CPA will be sound just in case it is valid and all of its reasons are true.

  • Standard Form:  A form used in argument reconstruction.  All of the steps (explicit and implicit) are numbered.  The reasons are ordered so that they flow from the first to the last, and they are separated by a horizontal line from the conclusion.

  • Step: See argument step.

  • Strawman Fallacy: This is committed during reconstruction if you render an opponent's argument in a form that is weaker than what they actually presented, whether you do this intentionally or not.  

  • Strength:  The standard used to evaluate PPAs. A PPA will be strong just in case its conclusion is highly probable given the truth of its reasons.  What will count as strong will vary from context to context.

  • Structure: See argument structure.

  • Thematic Coherence:  Sentences or claims will be thematically coherent just in case they are about the same topic or theme, broadly speaking.  The looseness of the relations among the sentences will vary from context to context.

  • Validity: An evaluative standard applied to CPAs.  A CPA is valid just in case its conclusion must be true given that its reasons are.


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