Breakdown of ARG Assessment
As explained in Chapter 2, it is important to develop the skill of evaluating philosophical arguments. This will not only help us to see where we might agree and disagree with others, but it will also help us make better arguments ourselves. In this appendix, we break down how to apply the ARG conditions using a worksheet for you to evaluate arguments.
Recall, to evaluate arguments, we must consider both the reasons (premises) that are given and way that they relate to our conclusion. For more information on the ARG conditions, review the discussion in section 2.2.
The basic elements of a good argument are:
A. The premises are acceptable.
- We need to ask ourselves if we have good reasons for believing that the reasons given are true or, at least, plausible or likely to be true. If, as in some cases, we don’t actually know if they are true, then is there any evidence to suggest they might be false?
- Sometimes, premises are so vague or ambiguous that we can’t really make a judgement one way or another. Or we may simply not be in a position to say because we lack the relevant information. In such cases, rather than judging a premise true or false we must consider it undetermined.
- Notice that we need to evaluate the acceptability of each premise individually.
R. The premises are relevant.
- We need to ask ourselves whether the premises are actually relevant to determining the truth of the conclusion. For instance, do they provide evidence that supports the truth of the conclusion?
- Again, each premise must be assessed for its relevance to the conclusion, though sometimes the relevance of one premise depends on the others.
G. The premises provide good grounds for accepting the conclusion.
- Ultimately, this is the issue that interests us the most. However, while the A and R conditions are essential to decideing it, other considerations may also be helpful.
In this section of the worksheet, list all of the premises (try to list them in a logical order) and then state the conclusion. Next, evaluate the acceptability and relevance of each premise. When doing this, it is often easiest to identify the conclusion first and then look for the reasons offered in support of it.
II. Hidden and Background Assumptions
Many arguments rely on hidden or background assumptions that are required in order to rationally draw the stated conclusion. Sometimes these are just widely known facts or common sense, but at other times they are highly dubious or even clearly false. For example, recall the antacid commercial in section 2.2, the advertisers assume that a rose is similar to the human stomach. However, this assumption in highly dubious and if it is to be acceptable it requires empirical justification. Thinking about what an argument tacitly assumes can help us understand what’s going wrong with a weak argument and how it might be possible to repair it.
III. Emotive Tone
We must pay attention to the emotive tone of an argument. Language is powerful and emotional appeals can distract from relevant information and persuade people of some claim even when they fail to offer good grounds for accepting it.
Moral arguments are often full of claims about emotional states and we may think that even words like “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong” have a certain emotive tone. So the point here is to notice the emotive tone and to judge whether it is appropriate to the issues under discussion or a distraction that is offered to cover up the fact that there isn’t a good argument (i.e, one that has acceptable, relevant premises that provide good grounds for the conclusion) on offer.
IV. Additional Information
What additional information might you need to assess the truth or falsity of the conclusion of the argument? You might need clarity about the meaning of a technical term or you might need some additional factual information. You might decide that in order to come to a decisive judgement about a conclusion you need information that is impossible to discover in principle, in which case, the rational thing to do is to suspend judgement.
V. Good Grounds
This section of the worksheet directs you to reflect on the work you have done so far and determine whether the premises provide good grounds for accepting the conclusion?
- Considering all the premises together, is it rational to accept the conclusion? Note that if we reject a premise because it fails the A and R conditions, then it cannot be part of a set of reasons that provide good grounds for the conclusion.
- Remember, even if the reasons given are both acceptable and relevant, they may fail to provide sufficient grounds for accepting the conclusion. After all, they might not provide the right kind of evidence or fail to provide enought of it. If this is the case, then good grounds condition is not satisfied and should judge the argument a weak one.
- We may find that there are hidden assumptions that are unacceptable or that we need more information in order to accept the conclusion. This would also show that the argument is weak.
- If the premises are acceptable and relevant and there are no objectionable background assumptions and all the information we need to assess the conclusion is provided, then we have good grounds and the argument is a strong one.
VI. Counterarguments and Counterexamples
Recall that is an important part of philosophical reasoning and argumentation. Here you are challenged to see if you can think of possible objections in the form of counterarguments or counterexamples to the argument.
- Interestingly, excellent arguments can have devastating counterarguments or counterexamples.
Lastly, we need to consider our entire ARG assessment and determine whether the argument (premises and conclusion) is convincing in light of the ARG conditions, background assumptions, emotive tone, and possible objections to the position.
When you evaluate an argument based on the ARG conditions, you have the tools to give an argument yourself for why the argument is or isn’t successful.
You may have different responses to an argument that you are evaluating:
- Do you strongly agree with the argument? If so, you must accept the conclusion and be rationally persuaded by it yourself.
- Do you agree with the argument but believe that it could be strengthened with argument repair? Which part of the argument is less persuasive, ambiguous, or unsupported? Can you improve the argument , and if so, how?
- Do you strongly disagree with the argument because it doesn’t satisfy the ARG conditions? Is there a devastating counterargument or a completely unacceptable hidden assumption? Make sure you have an argument showing why the argument isn’t successful.
- Do you disagree with the argument but believe that it could be strengthened with argument repair? Which part of the argument is unconvincing, unsupported, or difficult to rationally accept? Can you improve the ARG conditions to improve the argument, and if so, how?
- Perhaps, you find if difficult to make up your mind as to whether the argument is a good one. If you are uncertain and need more information about the argument to make a decision, what kind of information would you need? Why?
Interactive Critical Thinking Worksheet
Use this form to input your ARG Assessment. It will generate a downloadable and printable document for you at the end.
Critical Thinking Worksheet – downloadable versions
- This tool was adapted from Priscilla Agnew's "Critical Thinking Worksheet" (Conference paper presentation, 4th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform, Sonoma, CA, August 3–6, 1986) and Trudy Govier's Practical Study of Argument, Enhanced Edition (Boston: Wadsworth, 2014). For practice questions and a deeper explanation of how to use and apply the ARG conditions, see Chapter 4 "Good Arguments: An Introduction." ↵
- Govier, 109. ↵
When one puts forward one’s own view, then comes up with objections to that view, and then responds to those objections