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Title: Argument, assertion, and the act-object relation : a study from the standpoint of critical thinking
Author: Butterworth, J.
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2016
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The discipline of Critical Thinking is a methodology for the analysis and appraisal of natural language argument, commonly referred to as ‘real’ argument, a term intended to signify a contrast between the reasoning found in ordinary written or spoken texts, and the specialised constructions tailored by logicians to exemplify validity. There are, accordingly, two perspectives from which to view arguments: the arguer’s and the critic’s. From the critic’s perspective an argument is simply an object of appraisal. From the arguer’s perspective, however, an argument is more intimately associated with the act or practice of arguing or, as many commentators prefer to say, an argument is a product of the practice (of argumentation). There is hence an ambiguity between the act and object senses of ‘argument’, as well as a difference between object-senses themselves, depending on the perspective taken. For the traditional logician, an argument is a set of sentences or propositions, one of which is claimed, supposed, or intended, not necessarily in any active sense, to follow from the other(s). Such a conception facilitates assessment on the criterion of validity. Indeed, an argument can be defined as an object that is either valid or invalid. For the critic of ‘real’ argument, the object is what is propounded by a speaker or author, typically for persuasive purposes. Arguments from this perspective are not mere sets of arbitrarily designated propositions, but claims and inferences identified by the critic based on the interpretation and classification of actual texts. The aim of the thesis is to integrate these two conceptions of argument by identifying a point of intersection between the two perspectives: that is, to explain how the object of acts of argument can be seen to coincide with the objects of logical appraisal. I argue that the act of propounding an argument is essentially an assertive act, its object a complex proposition. It is more precise, however, to see propounding an argument as two mutually complementary acts, also assertives: 1) premising (or reason-giving) and 2) concluding (inferring). Premising is directly assertive, its objects the premises themselves. Concluding, however, is more than just the assertion of a conclusion. If it were not, the argument would merely be a conjunction. What is asserted, in an act of concluding, is equivalent to a conditional formed from the conjunction of premises, (A), as antecedent, and the conclusion, (C), as consequent. What is asserted, then, in the whole act of propounding an argument, is the conjunctive proposition: (1) A and (if A then C) An assertive utterance of (1) commits the speaker to C by modus ponens. Hence, I propose, the act of argument (i.e., the propounding of an argument) is naturally deductive, and its object a deductive argument accordingly. By the same token its object (i.e., that which is propounded) corresponds with the ordered and indexed set designated by the logician as an object of appraisal. This account, I conclude, has important implications for critical thinking. It provides a theoretical basis, a groundwork, on which to develop a deductivist methodology for appraising natural-language arguments. Whilst I do not go into detail on the practical application of natural-language deductivism (NLD), I take the thesis to be an endorsement, and justification, for its implementation, and for a greater role within critical thinking for logic.
Supervisor: Gaskin, R. ; Hill, D. J. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral