Friday, May 11, 2018

Assessing Arguments

A recent post at The Faculty Lounge about citations in law review articles not being a “good proxy for article quality” (the conclusion being that the ‘only way to judge the quality of an article is to actually read it!’), together with the observation that President Trump’s speeches, insofar as they involve claims, arguments, or simply conclusions (with the premises assumed or implied) of one kind or another, abundantly exemplify formal and informal fallacies in reasoning and thus amount to awful arguments,* prompted me—by way of free association—to think about works I often rely on to refresh my memory regarding the relevant methods and criteria one should keep in mind when assessing and judging the qualities or simply merits of an argument.

In addition to knowing some basic rules of formal logic, the nature of practical reasoning, and being acquainted with the many informal fallacies (which are not, strictly speaking, always ‘fallacious,’ hence their ‘informal’ characterization), I have found a handful of books particularly helpful for evaluating the merits of arguments in both everyday conversational contexts and more formal fields of knowledge, inquiry, and praxis (e.g., history, law, medicine, science, the arts, social sciences…). I’ve also included several philosophy-related texts: a dictionary, a compendium, and a work in epistemology, all of which I think are useful for those of us outside philosophy proper but perhaps in possession of (or at least desiring) a philosopher’s temperament or an ardent amateur’s taste for philosophy.

  • Angeles, Peter A. The HarperCollins Dictionary of Philosophy (HarperCollins, 2nd ed., 1992).
  • Baggini, Julian and Peter S. Fosl. The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods (Blackwell, 2003).
  • Fisher, Alec. The Logic of Real Arguments (Cambridge University Press, 1988).
  • Haack, Susan. Evidence Matters: Science, Proof, and Truth in the Law (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
  • Rescher, Nicholas. Cognitive Pragmatism: The Theory of Knowledge in Pragmatic Perspective (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001).
  • Toulmin, Stephen. The Uses of Argument (Cambridge University Press, updated ed., 2003).
  • Toulmin, Stephen, Richard Rieke, and Allan Janik. An Introduction to Reasoning (Macmillan Publishing, 2nd ed., 1984).
  • Walton, Douglas N. Informal Logic: A Handbook for Critical Argumentation (Cambridge University Press, 1989).
  • Walton, Douglas N. Plausible Argument in Everyday Conversation (State University of New York Press, 1992).
  • Warburton, Nigel. Thinking from A to Z (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2000).
* Incidentally, it seems Trump has an inordinate fondness and proclivity for both “abusive” and “circumstantial” ad hominem arguments, which makes sense, given his narcissistic megalomania (his mission to dismantle ‘Obama’s legacy’ has relevance here as well, but that speaks to motives, beliefs, and racism which we can set aside in most instances when looking at his ‘arguments’).  

See too this bibliography, which is more or less about arguments in the social sciences.


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