What Can Arguments Do?

Why do people give arguments? When should people give arguments? What are the limits of arguments? These are important questions, and there seems to be a lot of confusion among scholars and laypersons about logical arguments. 

Arguments are mainly for convincing other people of some claim. One idea of giving arguments is that one should focus on giving an argument that utilizes premises that the other person is (at least) implicitly committed to, or one can try and bring out a contradiction between views that a person has. I don’t mean to suggest that one should try and convince another by any means necessary, because that would be bullshit and sophistry (not philosophy).

And what if the other person isn’t already committed to the truth of the premises? Well, unless the premises in an argument are self-evident, they will need rational justification (assuming there is such a thing as self-evident). Nowadays, the gold standard is empirical/scientific evidence; there are obvious epistemic and pragmatic reasons why.

Arguments are more like proposals. Just because you have an argument, doesn’t automatically mean the premises are supported by evidence. An argument is the structure or skeleton and the potential evidence is the Thanksgiving stuffing, meat, or stamp of legitimacy. Hence, if premises in an argument aren’t well-supported, then the argument isn’t worth taking seriously. If you put garbage in an argument, then you are going to get garbage out.

All in all, it’s not an issue of finding some evidence in support of a claim/premise; rather, what we want to know is whether there is VERY STRONG evidence. Good arguments contain good evidence. That doesn’t mean good arguments are identical to good evidence. Instead, like I just said, a good argument should (and would) possess good evidence in support of the premises of that argument; therefore, it’s not a matter of identity, it’s a matter of possession.

So when people say, “Arguments aren’t evidence!!!!!!” all I hear is something like, “Bellybuttons aren’t people.” It misses the point entirely.

Finally, the fact that arguments might not convince everyone couldn’t be more irrelevant; millions of people still believe that the earth is flat, but we’re not going to say that undermines or discredits natural science. Some people are irrational. 



One thought on “What Can Arguments Do?

  1. Well said. Another motivation for the “arguments aren’t evidence” protest might be that too many people now identify argument with hysterical screaming and emotional outbursts.

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