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Unformatted text preview: INTRODUCTION The Elements of Argument We reason every day of our lives. All of us argue for own points of view, whether the topic be politics, the value or burden of religion, the best route to drive between Boston and New York, or any of a myriad of other subjects. We are constantly barraged by the arguments of others, seeking to convince us that they know how to build a better computer or how to prevent a serious illness or whatever. When first approaching the subject of reasoning, a student is apt to feel like Moliére’s M. Jourdain, who suddenly realized that he had been speaking in prose for forty years. Just as prose can be elegant or ungram- matical, however, there are grades of reasoning, from the clear and compelling to the fallacious and sloppy. All scholars must engage in reasoning, but it is the mainstay of work in philosophy. A brief, but quite accurate, description of philosophical method is that we do not observe or experiment, we construct chains of reasoning. Because of its central role in their discipline, philosophers have tried to make their reasoning explicit and to discover the principles under- lying good reasoning. This introductory section of Reason at Work presents some basic principles of good reasoning. We hope to provide readers with some of the skills required for constructing good arguments of their own and for analyzing the reasoning of others. These two tasks—the constructive and the critical—are related. A good critic can reconstruct the best version of the argument under appraisal. Equally, a good reasoner is constantly playing critic, subjecting the developing argument to scrutiny. Besides the intrinsic value of improving the skill of reasoning, we hope that this section will also enable students to achieve a better understanding of the argumentation in the readings that follow. ...
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