Systematic Philosophy

to know what can be known

The Purpose Of An Argument

Arguments can be used to entertain. They can be used to baffle. They can be used to provoke outrage or dismay. If arguments are spatial objects like most people believe, they can be used to fill books or prop up leaning tables. But while arguments can be used for many purposes, there is one purpose that is especially important for people who wish to gain knowledge of many truths. We will call this purpose the “primary” purpose of an argument.

The primary purpose

The primary purpose of an argument is to give people knowledge of that argument’s final conclusion.

An example

For example, consider the following argument, which is presented in numbered format:

  1. Socrates is a person.
  2. All people are mortal.
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. [1,2]
  4. All mortal things have parts.
  5. Therefore, Socrates has parts. [3,4]
  6. All things that have parts are made of particles.
  7. Therefore, Socrates is made of particles. [5,6]

Here, the final conclusion is <Socrates is made of particles>. This means that the primary purpose of this argument is to give people knowledge of the fact that Socrates is made of particles.

Other purposes

We said that the primary purpose of an argument is to give people knowledge of that argument’s final conclusion. Not everyone will agree. Some people maintain that the primary purpose of an argument is to give people the justified belief that the argument’s final conclusion is true or to coerce people into believing the argument’s final conclusion. This is fine. We are not saying that arguments have objective purposes and that the objectively most important purpose of every argument is to give people knowledge of that argument’s final conclusion. We are simply saying that this is the purpose we will focus on most.

Purpose and quality

Understanding the purpose of arguments is useful for understanding how we assess arguments. After all, when we assess arguments, we assess them in terms of how close they come to fulfilling their primary purpose.

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Written by Geoff Anders

May 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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