Are you argumentative? No? I bet you are. Whenever we try to convince someone of the rightness of our point of view we are conducting an argument. Every advert is an argument! Each editorial is an argument.

In business we have to decide whether conclusion and recommendations put to us are correct, or whether they are built on bad arguments. So the ability to differentiate between good and bad arguments is an important business skill. It requires clear thinking.

Clear, or logical thinking is not specifically taught in educational institutions, Edward De Bono brought thinking back into the mainstream with his ‘Six Thinking Hats’, but generally working out whether an argument has merit has been left to experience. So what is an ‘argument’ The author Huseman in ‘Business communications’ has defined it thus “An argument is a piece of speech or writing which not only makes statements we are expected to believe, but uses these statements as the reasons for other statements (Which we are also expected to believe). It’s a bit clumsy, but it gets the picture across.

Arguments generally require three basics :

1. At least one statement which is the conclusions of the argument,
2. At least one statement which is meant to support this conclusion, and
3. At least one indicator statement, which points to the conclusion.

For instance : “All employers must clock in”.
“I am an employer”
“Therefore, I must clock in”

We are expected to believe statement three on the basis of statement one and two. The word ‘therefore’ is the indicator.

The philosophical aspects of clear thinking, logic and sound reason are very complex, and are major parts of courses in philosophy; but I believe everyone needs to know the simple differences between the types of arguments which we can be faced with. It’s nothing new and began in ancient Greece well over two thousand years ago.

The first is Inductive Reasoning, which is a surprisingly simple process. It is often called the science method, as it is the way in which medical and scientific conclusions are reached. Inductive reasoning predicts what is happening or what may happen, based on experimentation and fact gathering.

Because it is impossible to examine every single fact available or poll every person in the country, inductive reasoning is based on ‘sampling’ and argue that the characteristics of the sample are the characteristics of the whole. Obviously the size of the sample investigated, and the cultural spread are just a few of the factors for us to consider before we accept the truth of the argument.

Opinion polls and market research are common examples of the process at work.

The second is Deductive Reasoning, which reaches conclusions from generalisations; which is almost the opposite of inductive Reasoning. From certain classification statements we are expected to come to a conclusion. It is a simple logical progression, which moves from the general to the specific. And again occurs in three simple steps

1. All dogs like meat. – A general or universal statement
2. My pet is a dog. – A specific or individual classification
3. My pet likes meat. – The Conclusion.

The conclusion is deduced from the previous two statements.

Of course the specific conclusions depend on the accuracy of the generals statements made. And some gruesome mistakes can be made; as in

1. People with red hair are bad tempered.
2. My husband has red hair
3. My husband is bad tempered.

Conclusion three may or may not be true, depending of the accuracies of statement one. Can we say that it is universally true that red haired people are all bad tempered? Of course not, but this is the one class of argument which is often used to try to persuade us to accept illogical conclusions. Of course it is never as obvious as this – but it is wise when faced with an apparently persuasive deductive argument to ask yourself, is this logical? What generalisations are made? Can I trust the first premise?

So the next time you see the statement that “unions are ruining the economy” or ‘Immigrants are necessary for the growth of the country” or “public servants are overpaid” realise that these are deductive arguments based on classification generalisation. Whether you believe them depends on whether you can put the word “all” in front of the classification and still suppose it true. For instance, are ‘all’ unions ruining the economy? If it simply cannot be true, or we cannot verify it, the conclusion cannot be substantiated.

So; are you argumentative?


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