Critical thinking and writing. just


1. Writing Basic Arguments

  An argument is a form of expression that is intended to prove something. The statement that is supposed to be proved is the conclusion, and the statements that accomplish the proving are the premises. These topics are covered in the first chapter of A Concise Introduction to Logic, and we will use many of the principles developed there in writing arguments.

 The writing exercises that follow this section give practice in writing basic arguments. They consist of a brief description of a situation involving human interaction, a conclusion that your argument must support, and a set of facts that pertain to this situation. Only certain of these facts are relevant to the designated conclusion. In working the exercises, you should follow this four-step procedure:

 1. Read the exercise and the accompanying facts.

 2. Eliminate the facts that are irrelevant to the designated conclusion.

 3. Supplement the remaining facts with additional facts drawn from your own experience and inferences that these facts imply.

 4. Using these facts as premises, write an argument that supports the designated conclusion.

 In regard to step three, the facts that you add from your own experience must not contradict the given facts, but rather they should fill them out, thus allowing the construction of a coherent argument. The inferences will serve as subordinate conclusions in support of the final, designated conclusion. Here is a sample exercise:

 Your friend Tom owns a car that causes a great deal of pollution. While running, it emits huge clouds of blue smoke. Concerned about the environment, you try to convince Tom to get the car repaired; but first, you put your argument down on paper. Some facts are as follows:

 a. Exhaust smoke causes acid rain.

 b. There is a law requiring that cars be tested for emissions.

 c. Tom’s car was tuned up only eight months ago.

 d. Exhaust smoke causes smog.

 e. You have ridden in Tom’s car many times.

 f. Tom cheated on the emissions test.

 g. Tom purchased his car through an ad in the classified section of the newspaper.

 h. Tom’s fiance recently broke off their engagement.

 i. Smog weakens the immune system of all who breathe it.

 j. Tom’s car was manufactured in Detroit.

 k. Tom recently failed his calculus course.

 We begin by eliminating the irrelevant facts. In doing so, however, we note two important points about relevance. The first point is that every fact is relevant to some conclusion or other, so before we eliminate anything we must have a clear idea of what our conclusion will be. The instructions for the exercise tell us that our argument should persuade Tom to have his car repaired. Thus, we adopt as our conclusion, “Tom should get his car repaired immediately.”

 The second point about relevance is that facts that may not appear relevant initially may become relevant when additional, interconnecting facts are added to the list. For example, the first fact on the list, that exhaust smoke causes acid rain, might not seem to be relevant if we know nothing about the harm caused by acid rain. But if we recall that acid rain kills trees, and that trees produce life-sustaining oxygen, then this fact becomes clearly relevant.

 Keeping these points in mind, we can probably eliminate c, e, g, h, j, and k. The fact that Tom’s car was tuned up only eight months ago has little to do with the fact that his car is smoking now and should therefore be repaired. Also, the fact that you have ridden in his car, the details of its purchase, the place of its manufacture, Tom’s plans for marriage, and the fact that Tom failed calculus are largely irrelevant to this conclusion. Some of these facts might be made relevant through the addition of certain inferences, but even then they would probably add little support to the conclusion. For example, the fact that Tom’s fiance recently broke off their engagement might be made relevant through the inference that because his marriage plans are over, Tom may now have the needed time to make car repairs. But even with this inference, the fact about Tom’s engagement is rather peripheral, and its inclusion may dilute the force of the other facts.

 Having eliminated facts c, e, g, h, j, k, we are left with the following:

 a. Exhaust smoke causes acid rain.

 b. There is a law requiring that cars be tested for emissions.

 d. Exhaust smoke causes smog.

 f. Tom cheated on the emissions test.

 i. Smog weakens the immune system of all who breathe it.

 Turning now to step three, we will supplement these facts with additional facts and inferences drawn from our own experience. In doing this, we fulfill a dual objective. First, we supply the intermediate facts and inferences that make the given facts relevant to the conclusion, and second, we add any facts we may be aware of that reinforce the given facts. In connection with the fact that exhaust smoke causes acid rain, we have already noted that acid rain kills trees, and trees produce life-sustaining oxygen. In connection with the fact that exhaust smoke causes smog, we might add the fact that smog may pose a life-threatening condition to people with emphysema and certain other diseases. Because of this fact, Tom might be jeopardizing the lives of hundreds of people

 Putting facts b and f together, we can draw the inference that Tom has broken the law, and if the police discover what he has done, they may impose a hefty fine or even arrest him. In connection with the fact that smog weakens the immune system of people who breathe it, we might draw the inference that smog therefore makes people vulnerable to disease and allergies. Finally, we might be aware of the fact that blue smoke means that a car is burning oil, and from this we might draw the inference that if Tom would get his car repaired, he would avoid the expense of having to buy extra motor oil.

 Adding these facts and inferences to the given facts, we can now write the following argument:

Tom should get his car repaired immediately, and he should do so for the following reasons. Tom’s car emits a lot of smoke, and this smoke contributes to acid rain and smog. Acid rain kills trees, which produce life-sustaining oxygen, and smog weakens the immune system of everyone who breathes it, making them more vulnerable to disease and allergies. Furthermore, smog can create a life threatening condition for people with emphysema and certain other diseases. Without realizing it, Tom may be jeopardizing the lives of hundreds of people. In addition, because the smoke coming from Tom’s car is blue, we know that the car is burning oil, and oil costs money. Tom could avoid this expense if he would have his car repaired. Lastly, the smoke coming from Tom’s car is surely a red flag for the police, and if they should pull him over and discover that he cheated on the legally mandated emissions test, they will impose a hefty fine, or possibly even arrest him. Surely Tom wants to avoid that.

 This argument is 173 words in length, and it was produced fairly effortlessly by following the method described. As you read it, note that it consists of a number of small arguments all of whose conclusions support the main conclusion, which is stated first.

 In constructing arguments of this kind, there is one final point to keep in mind. This is the requirement that premises and conclusions be phrased as statements. The main conclusion, “Tom should get his car repaired immediately” is a statement, and so it conforms to this requirement. If it were phrased, “Tom, why don’t you get your car repaired?” it would be phrased as a question, and questions are not statements. Analogously, if the conclusion were phrased, “Tom, I suggest that you get your car repaired immediately,” it would be phrased as a proposal, and proposals are not statements. Similar remarks apply to the premises and conclusions of the component arguments


EXERCISE W-1              

Use the four-step method described in this section to construct an argument between 175-325 words in length for each of the following situations. choose 5 of the following

1. You go to the beach with your friend, and after applying a generous dose of sun block, you offer some to her. She declines. In response, you formulate an argument proving that people on the beach should normally use sun block. Some facts are as follows:

a. The sun’s rays are generated deep inside the sun by thermonuclear reactions.

b. Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is often incurable.

c. Sand and water reflect the sun’s rays.

d. The ozone layer is becoming depleted.

e. The sun’s rays age skin, causing premature wrinkles.

f. Water often washes off sun block and sun screen.

g. Some rays bounce around inside the sun for as long as 3000 years before reaching the surface.

h. Ozone blocks ultraviolet rays.

i The sun rotates once every 24 days.

j. There is no such thing as a healthy suntan.

k. The sun’s rays cause skin cancer.

l. The sun sustains all life on this planet.

2. You visit a restaurant and ask to be seated in the nonsmoking section. While there, you are bothered by smoke that has drifted over from the smoking section. You decide to write a letter to the restaurant manager arguing that the no smoking section should be more free of smoke. Some facts are as follows:

a. The Surgeon General has issued a warning about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

b. The restaurant’s owner was born in France.

c. The restaurant is located in the northwest section of town.

d. Children are especially vulnerable to second-hand smoke.

e. The restaurant seats 150 patrons, two-thirds of whom are in the nonsmoking section

f. The restaurant specializes in fresh fish.

g. The restaurant plays light classical music over its sound system.

h. The restaurant was constructed in 1978.

i. A scientific study has indicated that 3000 people in this country die each year from second-hand smoke.

j. The restaurant’s patrons are mainly middle class families.

k. Fish contains oils that are vital for human health.

l. Los Angeles has outlawed smoking in all restaurants.

3. You buy a pair of fashion jeans on sale at the local Pants-R-Us store. After returning home, you find that the zipper in the front is broken, and you cannot wear the jeans (without undue exposure). You take them back to the store and tell the clerk that he should allow you to switch them for a different pair. You support this claim with an argument. Some facts are as follows:

a. You have returned sale items on other occasions.

b. All of the jeans you purchased there in the past had good zippers.

c. All your friends wear Pants-R-Us jeans.

d. There is a sign at the checkout stand that reads “No Returns on Sale Items.”

e. The jeans you purchased were manufactured in the U.S.A.

f. The zipper on the jeans you bought is made of brass.

g. The store was mobbed with people during the sale.

h. The jeans you bought have a design stitched on the back pockets.

i. The clerk who rang up your purchase spoke with an Austrian accent.

j. Unhappy customers rarely return to make new purchases.

k. The Pants-R-Us store is located in a large shopping center.

l. The Pants-R-Us store carries several different brands of jeans.

4. You notice that your neighbor across the street, Mr. Harkins, loads up his garbage cans with newspapers, even though the city has implemented a recycling program for newspaper. You decide to write him an anonymous letter arguing that he should recycle his old newspapers. Some facts are as follows:

a. Newspaper is made from wood pulp.

b. The city also has a program for recycling glass and plastic.

c. Landfills for garbage are filling up.

d. Mr. Harkins especially loves the business section of the paper.

e. The city imposes fines for dumping recyclable material into garbage cans.

f. People who develop a recycle mentality are more environmentally sensitive overall.

g. The local paper has a conservative editorial policy.

h. Mr. Harkins subscribes to three daily papers.

i. Trees convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

j. Two of the papers Mr. Harkins subscribes to use biodegradable ink.

k. Mr. Harkins is married and has two kids.

l. Our national forests are currently being overcut.

5. You live in a dorm while attending college, and you have a meal contract with the campus food service. The food service cooks many of its main courses in lard. After a few weeks of eating this food, you find that you have gained 5 pounds, and you do not like it one bit. You decide to write a letter to the food service arguing that it change its policy. Some facts are as follows:

a. The contract between you and the food service states that healthy foods will be served.

b. The cafeteria service area is quite large.

c. The headquarters of the food service are in Chicago.

d. The cafeteria is closed during school vacations.

e. The contract between the food service and the college is up for renewal at the end of the current year.

f. The food service employs 16 people as cooks, servers, and clean-up helpers.

g. The Surgeon General has issued a report stating that fatty foods are unhealthy.

h. The cream pies are always tempting.

i. Lard is high in cholesterol and saturated fat.

j. The cafeteria serves three meals per day Monday through Friday, but only two meals per day on weekends.

k. Butter is higher in cholesterol and saturated fat than lard.

l. The manager of the food service is a graduate of Cornell.

6. While walking in the park, you notice a man strolling toward you with a Saint Bernard. Suddenly the dog breaks its leash, runs through the mud, and jumps up on you, getting mud all over your new shirt or dress. The dog’s owner says “Sorry,” and begins to walk off. Immediately you give him an argument that he ought to pay to have your shirt or dress cleaned. Some facts are as follows:

a. The dog is five years old.

b. The dog is a purebred.

c. There are signs in the park stating that dogs must be kept on a leash.

d. The owner brought the dog with him when he moved there from Albuquerque.

e. The dog weighs 175 pounds.

f. The owner admits that his dog broke an identical leash two weeks earlier.

g. You have walked in that park before, and nothing like that ever happened.

h. You like cats better than dogs.

i. The incident happened about two o’clock in the afternoon.

j. A city ordinance states that dogs must be kept on a leash while in city parks.

k. The dog likes children.

l. You tried to avoid the dog when you saw it coming toward you.

7. You sign a one-year lease for an apartment and move in. On the first rainy day you discover that the roof leaks. To make matters worse, you had placed your new stereo under one of the leaks, and it costs you $245 to have it repaired. You write a letter to the owner of the apartment arguing that she fix the leaks and refund your $245. Some facts are as follows:

a. The owner had the roof repaired five years ago.

b. The stereo cost $2500.

c. The last apartment you rented had no leaks in the roof, although it did have a leaky faucet.

d. A local ordinance requires landlords to keep properties in good repair.

e. The owner owns four other apartment buildings.

f. It rains a lot in this city.

g. The owner was called before the housing commission last year to answer complaints from other tenants.

h. Sometimes the hot water runs out in the middle of your shower.

i. The apartment building is located close to a branch post office.

j. There are ten units in the apartment building.

k. You have an extensive collection of jazz CDs.

l. The prior tenant notified the owner that this unit had a leaky roof.

8. You are cited for driving 70 miles per hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone. You request to make an appearance in traffic court, and you construct an argument to present to the judge. Some facts are as follows:

a. You drive a 1989 Volkswagen.

b. The speed limit decreases from 65 to 55 shortly before the spot where you were stopped.

c. Your deceased aunt was a highly respected judge in the community.

d. The officer who stopped you was nasty.

e. The officer’s car had a broken headlight.

f. Others around you were going even faster than you were.

g. You have received two other speeding tickets in the past twelve months.

h. The highway patrol officers in your state are paid more than the officers in the neighboring state.

i. The 55 mile-per-hour-sign is partly hidden by bushes.

j. You have traveled that stretch of highway hundreds of times.

k. The officer’s speedometer had not been calibrated in the past twelve months.

l. After citing you for speeding, the officer said under his breath that people who drive German cars are unpatriotic.

9. You have volunteered to work on a committee to elect Kristen Summers student body president. You agree to present a very short speech to a student group arguing that Summers is the best person for the job. Some facts are as follows:

a. Summers served on the student senate during the two prior years.

b. There have been reports of widespread cheating in the School of Business.

c. Summers is very articulate.

d. Summers is a blonde, but she was formerly a brunette.

e. Summers dates the captain of the football team.

f. You have known Summers for three years.

g. Summers opposes the death penalty.

h. Summers supports the adoption of a campus-wide honor code.

i. Summers comes from a wealthy family in upstate New York.

j. Summers directed a Thanksgiving food drive for destitute families.

k. Summers supports a reform proposal that would make the student senate more responsive to the student body.

l. The students in general tend to be apathetic in regard to student government.

10. You happen to hear that your missing football trophy is sitting on a shelf in the home of a certain Mr. Hinkle. You call on Hinkle to retrieve it, but finding him away, you force the screen on the front door and let yourself in. You retrieve the trophy, but on the way out you are spotted by police who accuse you of burglary. In your own defense, you present an argument to one of the police officers. Some facts are as follows:

a. Hinkle’s house was very neat and clean.

b. The trophy has your name on it.

c. On the same shelf, you noticed several different football trophies.

d. Hinkle earns $75,000 per year as a clothing sales rep.

e. The back door to the house was unlocked.

f. You have heard that Hinkle is congenitally weak and sickly.

g. Hinkle lives in a brick-faced bungalow.

h. You are currently on probation for low grades.

i. Your second cousin is a lieutenant on the police force.

j. Hinkle owns many pieces of expensive crystal and silver that are visible through the glass doors of the buffet.

k. Your uncle recently died in a car crash.


l. The police officer is taller and heavier than you are.

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