Arguments, reasoning, logic, and language
We all have an interest in working out what to believe. Often, we’re faced with someone trying to make a case for believing something, for accepting some particular conclusion. They’ll provide an argument for that conclusion, laying out some claims which are meant to give us a reason to believe the conclusion. And sometimes you’ll want to do this too: make a case for a particular conclusion. But argument isn’t just important in conversations: we don’t just consider (and sometimes accept) the arguments other people make or use arguments to try to convince others, we also reason individually: we consider things we already believe and try to figure out what else it’s reasonable to believe, or what we should believe, as a result.
In all of these cases, it’s important to be able to say whether the starting claims—the premises of the argument—really do provide good reasons to believe the conclusion. That’s what we’re going to be looking at in this course: questions about what follows from what. Along the way, we’re going to be sharpening the ideas we’ve sketched here, and we’ll be focusing on one particular kind of relationship between premises and conclusion—but you’ll see how that goes as we go forward.
We’re also going to be looking at how language works and how we can investigate exactly what the words and sentences that we use to express claims and arguments mean. We’ll encounter some interesting and challenging ideas about the relationships between the meaning of the words we use and the messages we get across when we speak or write. This is important …
Along the way we’ll see that to clarify arguments we need to get very clear about what we’re saying and what our words mean. Spelling out explicitly what’s going on in an argument helps us to understand it better, and puts us in a better position to evaluate it. And we’ll also see that getting clear about what we’re saying and what our words mean is harder than you might think.
(Note: Key terms appear in bold at their first appearance. You’ll find explanations of these terms in the Glossary which you will find in Week 4. You can access the Glossary at any time.)
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