Systematic Philosophy

to know what can be known

How Should We Assess Premises?

If an argument is transparently valid, then its quality is determined by the quality of its premises. This raises the question: “How should we assess the premises of an argument?”

A central question

The question “How should we assess the premises of an argument?” is a central question. In fact, it is the central question of philosophical methodology. It is possible to distinguish philosophical methods on the basis of how they say we should assess premises.

Various proposals

Philosophers have proposed various answers to the question of how we should assess premises. Some philosophers advocate the method of certainty, which says that we should assess premises on the basis of whether they are known to be true with absolute certainty. Others advocate the method of elegance, which says that the quality of a premise depends on how simple or elegant that premise is. Some advocate the method of common sense, which says that we should assess premises on the basis of how commonsensical they are. Philosophers advocate other methods as well.

A scale of plausibility

When we assess a premise, we assign it some degree of plausibility. Degrees of plausibility stretch from perfect plausibility to perfect implausibility. A perfectly plausible premise is one we know to be true with absolute certainty. A perfectly implausible premise is one we know to be false with absolute certainty. Between these extremes there are many degrees. We might assess a premise as being very plausible, mildly plausible, neutral, mildly implausible or very implausible. Other degrees between these are possible as well.

Degrees of plausibility are degrees of goodness. The more plausible a premise is, the better that premise is. Or at least, the better that premise is in terms of how it contributes to helping an argument accomplish its purpose.

If a premise is perfectly plausible, we will say that it is a “perfect” premise. Otherwise, we will call it an “imperfect” premise.

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Written by Geoff Anders

May 31, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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