The Nature of Argument

An argument may be evaluated for its basis, quality, type, and outcome. These are handy guidelines which the ethical skeptic may employ to keep a close watch on his propositions, so as to improve the overall value and clarity of his delivery.

The Nature of ArgumentThe making of an argument is a set of propositions expressed with the intent of persuading through reasoning. In an argument, a subset of propositions, called premises, constraints and predicates, provides support for some other proposition called the conclusion. Ethical skepticism demands that one watch for the characteristic traits which can improve or weaken an argument. In bold in the graphic below, are the hallmark traits inside an argument which hint to me, the brilliance in its offing.


Proposition – statement that is either true or false, but not both. For example, ‘tungsten has a larger atomic mass than does lithium’. A proposition should not be orphan, that is, it should reside on a path leading to a reduction in the entropy of knowledge and understanding. Stand alone propositions may in fact be true, but if they are used to coerce/mislead, they are rhetoric.

Premise – a proposition that provides support to an argument’s conclusion. An argument may have one or more premises. Generally a premise is critical path to the argument being made, whereas a primer may not be.

Prefatory/Primer – a review of past valid or strong arguments, prior art on the subject, a summary of associated tenets, predicates or propositions which prepare and add clarity to the outlay of a successive argument or story. Generally these can be critical path or not critical path, so long as they add value and are not ingens vanitatum distractions or an attempt at intimidation.

Constraint – a predicate based parameter or assumption which serves to improve the quality/focus of an argument or improve the value or clarity of an experiment or model.

Predicate – a datum, experiment or element of philosophy or logic which is established as true, and provides deductive support for a successive proposition. Almost exclusively predictive in its employment, a predicate may itself have been derived through falsification. A postulate or corollary relate to laws, but are sometimes used synonymous to predicate.

Salience – the nature of predicate, constraint or premise wherein it adds value, clarity or quality to an argument.

Relevance – the nature of a proposition such that it is consistent with an argument or adds to its value, clarity or quality.

Expertise – immediate, significant, research based, relevant and salient experience in the subject field inside which an argument pertains. This includes those stakeholders impacted by a decision or action.

Inexpertise – conditions of general familiarity with, political or agenda motivations toward or solely skepticism and/or experience in the making of arguments in the subject field inside which an argument pertains. Not all a negative, it is the adept recognition of personal, participant or industry lack of expertise in a particular subject or field which is the essence of skepticism.

Quality (Logical Calculus)

Order – the structure and locution of an argument formulated in such a way as to provide a parsimonious deduction or induction critical path, which allows it to be followed or replicated by another party.

Clarity – the structure and locution of an argument formulated in such a way as to provide a relational path, which allows it to be followed or understood more easily by another party.

Completeness – the structure and locution of an argument formulated in such a way as to provide a parsimonious deduction or induction critical path, which precludes alternative deduction or induction critical paths along the same line of predicates and premises.

Consilience – this is the nature or characteristic of an argument wherein its underpinning premises or predicates provide for independent but mutual reinforcement of its conclusion. This is usually regarded as important in an argument which cannot be easily tested for falsification.

Consistency – this is the nature or characteristic of an argument wherein its conclusion or structure is in parallel with well-established premises or predicates. Also the instance where all portions of compound argument leverage to support each other.

Validity – an inductive argument is valid if its conclusion logically follows from its premises, and in parallel a deductive argument is valid if its predicates support its conclusions. Otherwise, an argument is said to be invalid. The descriptors valid and invalid apply only to arguments and not to propositions; which can be false, true or undetermined.

Structure/Schema – the logical formulation and relational structure of elements employed to array premises or predicates into a contention or extrapolation which is contended to be valid or sound. A schema in addition may be an analogue or discipline which aids in rapid understanding and retention of the relational structure under consideration.

Reducibility – the ability of an argument (as as the case in mathematics) to reduce the complexity of a question and focus in on the core argument instead – eliminating all irrelevant, dependent, unresolvable, unsolvable and incoherent ideas competing for resolution.

Deducibility – the effectiveness of an argument’s completeness in such a manner as to falsify, or through effective consilience in absence of possible falsification, render at least one other hypothesis along a critical path set as false or more highly unlikely and therefore no longer relevant.

Cogency – an inductive argument is cogent if it is high in quality and its premises provide swift consilience –that is, they all possess a common concordance with well-established truths and logic. Otherwise, it is said to be uncogent. Key inside such relation of consilience or alternately, deductive argument, is how efficiently it can be conveyed and sustained.

Falsifiability – an attribute of a proposition or argument that allows it to be refuted, or disproved, through observation or experiment. For example, the proposition, All crows are black, may be refuted by pointing to a crow that is not black. Falsifiability is a sign of an argument’s strength, rather than of its weakness.

Soundness – a deductive argument is sound if it is valid and its premises and predicates are true. If either of those conditions does not hold, then the argument is unsound. Truth is determined by looking at whether the argument’s premises, predicates and conclusions are in accordance with facts and logic in the real world.

Strength – an inductive argument is strong if in the case that its premises are true, then it is highly probable that its conclusion is also true or testable. Otherwise, if it is improbable or unknown/unknowable that its conclusion is true, then it is said to be weak. Inductive arguments are not truth-preserving; it is never the case that a true conclusion necessarily must follow from true premises.

Elegance – the effectiveness of an argument’s quality such that it accomplishes an outcome or multiple outcomes in the most propitious manner, and/or via a means of delivery which serves to enhance its grasp and sustainability.


Deductive Argument – an argument which uses premises and logic to eliminate all reasonable alternative considerations, or sets of possible contribution/consideration, through comparison to the strength of its primary assertions. The conclusion is contended to follow with logical necessity from the premises and reductions. Reductions can exist as either elimination of alternatives by hypothesis falsification research, or simply by an improvement in set/logical constraints. For example the syllogism, All men are mortal. Plato is a man. Therefore, Plato is mortal.

Inductive Argument – an argument in which if the predicates are true and the relative quality or structure of logic is sound, then it is more probable that the conclusion will also be true. The conclusion therefore does not follow with logical necessity from the predicates, but rather with an increase in likelihood, hopefully converging to certainty. For example, every time we measure the speed of light in various media, it asymptotes to 3 × 108 m/s. Therefore, the speed of light in a medium-less vacuum is 3 × 108 m/s. Inductive arguments usually proceed from specific instances to the more general. In science, one usually proceeds inductively from data to laws to theories, hence induction is the foundation of much of science. Induction is typically taken to mean testing a proposition on a sample, or testing an idea on an established predicate, either because it would be impractical or impossible to do otherwise.

Logical Fallacy – an error in reasoning that results in an invalid argument. Errors are strictly to do with the reasoning used to transition from one proposition to the next, rather than with the facts. Put differently, an invalid argument for an issue does not necessarily mean that the issue is unreasonable. Logical fallacies are violations of one or more of the principles that make a good argument or deduction such as good structure, consistency, clarity, order, relevance and completeness.

Formal Fallacy – a violation of any rule of formal inference —called also paralogism. Any common flaw in the sequitur nature of premise to conclusion, logical or predicate structure which could be cited as the fatal basis of a refutation regarding a given proposition or argument. The proposition that is formally fallacious is always considered wrong. However, the question in view is not whether its conclusion is true or false, but whether the form of the proposition supporting its conclusion is valid or invalid, and if its premises provide for logical connection into the argument (i.e. sequitur context, and not the validity per se of the premises themselves, which pertains to salience and soundness). The argument may agree in its conclusion with an eventual truth only by accident. What gives unity to different fallacies inside this view is not their characteristic dialogue structure, rather the nature of integrity inside the concepts of deduction and (non-inductive) proof upon which the proposition is critically founded.

Informal Fallacy – flaws in the expression, features, intent or dialogue structure of a proposition or series of propositions. Any criticism of an argument by means of other than structure (formal) flaws; most often when the contents of an argument’s stated premises fail to adequately support its proposed conclusion (soundness), or serious errors in foundational facts are presented.

Problem of Induction – a variety of forms of argument which either suffer from Popper’s problem of induction, demarcation or in some way imply or claim scientific completion or consensus, when such a standard has either not been attained in fact, or only exhibited inductive consilience as opposed to scientific deduction.

Provisional Argument – a construct or a framework explanation not presented yet as true, rather which is contending for plurality based on salient and relevant evidence which does not yet complete a fully deductive or inductive chain of reason, or has not been fully confirmed by empirical observation. Often presented to lay claim to credit for an idea for further research before others craft similar thought, much as with a provisional patent.

Construct – a provisional argument which is not yet mature enough to be called a hypothesis; yet which has some suggestive evidence or ideas behind it.

Plausible Deniability – a provisional argument which is foisted solely for its outcome in blocking the introduction of an opposing explanation or theory. In practice this is often done with little or no suggestive evidence behind it and is validated or declared true simply based upon its plausibility rather than quality, structure or basis.

per hoc aditum – according to this approach. The ethical skepticism version of provisional or stacked arguments, which allow for the examination of a postulate, construct or theory in an unbiased pathway of consideration; often as one of a plural set of explanatory approaches. The ability to hold more than one explanatory pathway in mind and fairly consider the strengths, shortfalls and ramifications of each without a priori based beliefs or prejudices unduly influencing the ability to discern the core argument/application at hand.

Syllogism – A syllogism is a structured form of deductive reasoning, through constraint of an argument by means of two sequitur, major and minor contentions, bounding an argument towards a single conclusion – by deductive elimination of all other potentialities. In the instance where either major or minor argument are not truly deductive or have not eliminated every variant of condition, the syllogism is not a sound basis for inference.

Rhetorical Argument – an argument which begins with an answer and seeks to target a victim person or idea through a process of opportunistic persuasion and locution, tactics applied to support the answer in arrears. It is the opposite of argument. May simply be executed to express a point, in which case the rhetorical argument is only regarded as a an alternative postulate.

Antonesque Rhetoric – a form of persuasion in which the arguer appears to be supporting one position; however in the same argument through locution tactics or eventually through escalating sarcasm, reveals a logical calculus or means of persuasion which implicitly yields or encourages the opposite position. From Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, Caesar’s funeral speech by Marc Antony: “Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest– For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men– Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.” It is an ironic permissive. The art of rhetorical persuasion.

Explanatory Argument – an argument which in which its postulates attempt to explain, provide analogy or try to show why or how something is or will be. May be confused with rhetoric due to its similar structure.

Poetry – an argument expressed inside the purity of art. The opposite of rhetoric. A passion which seeks alleviation of suffering and not the targeting of an opponent.


Value – the quality and relevancy of an argument such that it provides for improvement in clarity, understanding, agreement, focuses or constrains an experiment, reduces a hypothesis set, counters misinformation, or alleviates suffering or ignorance.

Relevancy –The quality of an argument such that it contains social value.

Reduction – a method of science wherein the process of induction or deduction is employed to falsify, or through consilience, render a hypothesis as false or more highly unlikely and therefore no longer salient or relevant.

Critical Path – the sequence of most highly effective argument tests which serve to falsify, eliminate, reduce or provide best consilience inside a set of plausible arguments. The most direct path from a salient question, to a sound answer.

Clarity – the ability of an argument to lend quality and locution capability to future critical path logic, and/or which allows such to be followed, replicated or understood more easily by another party.

Qualified Argument – a level of clarity and agreement which allows for a least set of differences, when full agreement is not achieved between expertise bearing parties.

Agreement – when two expertise bearing parties subsequent to an argument, agree on its basis, quality and outcomes.

Explanitude – the condition where a theory has been pushed so hard as authority, or is developed upon the basis of pseudoscience such as class struggle theory or psychology of sex, that it begins to become the explanation for, or possesses an accommodation for every condition which is observed or that the theory domain addresses. A theory which seems to be able to explain everything, likely explains nothing.

Notice that there are two forms of invalid outcome 1. an argument which lacks value and clarity in explaining nothing, and 2. an argument which lacks value and clarity in that it can explain everything. Both of these arguments are really invalid, the former being wrong, and the latter being non-sense.

Only nonsense can explain everything.

¹  These characteristics/definitions regarding argument stem from combining the input from a variety of resources too numerous to list and too convoluted to assign credit to one single source. The definitions are modified so that they all mutually reinforce each other, provide clarity and a commonality of language inside the contended definition framework. As such, these definitions are the work of The Ethical Skeptic, however may contain phrases common to similar definitions provided by other authors or resources.  Therefore, as definitions in the public domain and in common use and understanding – they are not required to be reference sourced.

²  Please note that the outcomes of Ethical Skepticism are value and clarity (see Ethical Skepticism – Part II)

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