Material from: Critical Thinking Web – What is an argument?

What is critical thinking?

A crucial part of critical thinking is to identify, construct, and evaluate arguments.

In everyday life, people often use “argument” to mean a quarrel between people. But in logic and critical thinking, an argument is a list of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the others are the premises or assumptions of the argument.

To give an argument is to provide a set of premises as reasons for accepting the conclusion. To give an argument is not necessarily to attack or criticize someone. Arguments can also be used to support other people’s viewpoints.

Here is an example of an argument:

If you want to find a good job, you should work hard. You do want to find a good job. So you should work hard.

The first two sentences here are the premises of the argument, and the last sentence is the conclusion. To give this argument is to offer the premises as reasons for accepting the conclusion.

A few points to note:

  • Dogmatic people tend to make assertions without giving reasons. When they are criticized they often fail to give arguments to defend their own opinions.
  • To improve our critical thinking skills, we should develop the habit of giving good arguments to support our opinions.
  • To defend an opinion, think about whether you can give more than one argument to support it. Also, think about potential objections to your opinion, e.g. arguments against your opinion. A good thinker will consider the arguments on both sides of an issue.

Exercise #1

See if you can give arguments to support some of your beliefs.

  1. For example, do you think the economy is going to improve or worsen in the next six months? Why or why not? What arguments can you give to support your position?
  2. Or think about something different, do you think computers can have emotions? Again, what arguments can you give to support your viewpoint? Make sure that your arguments are composed of statements.