ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
Instructions for Lesson 18
1. Read this
The more you know about inductive reasoning the more you will appreciate the sources that you'll find in scholarly journals, and the more you will want to use them in your researched papers. This kind of reasoning is used in scientific method. It starts from specific observations and tries to move from those specifics to a generalization or conclusion about them. For example:
Jenn is usually late for class, late for dates, and late with assignments.
Conclusion: Jenn, therefore, is a tardy person.
Inductive reasoning comes into sharper focus if contrasted with deductive reasoning, which starts with a general presumption (or principle) and then applies it to a specific situation. Our unscientific, everyday thinking tends to be deductive. For example:
Itís always wrong to take a human life.
Conclusion: Execution of Saddam Hussein is wrong. Alternate conclusions: mercy killing is wrong, abortion is wrong, all wars are wrong, self-defense using deadly force is wrong.
By contrast, an inductive approach to capital punishment would examine the issue from the ground up; it would try to reach conclusions by studying specific examples of capital punishment and trying to figure out what (if anything) they mean.
Reasoning of any complexity is often a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning, so being able to sort out the strands of each and assess their logical strength or validity is an essential skill to have, if you are going to analyze arguments. We can sum up the basic rules very simply:
Deductive conclusions have, or don't have, validity.
How does a deductive conclusion have validity? The conclusion must exemplify the principle (Saddam's must be a "human life," and execution must "take" it) and of course the principle must be right. But since the principle is presumed and not proved to be true, only those who already believe in the principle are likely find that the conclusion is valid. Somebody who does not agree that "it's always wrong to take a human life" won't agree, on that basis, that "execution of Saddam Hussein is wrong." This is a serious limitation on the persuasive power of deductive reasoning.
How does a plausible inductive conclusion have logical strength? Rules for generalizing (for reasoning inductively) are pretty basic, and somewhat intuitive:
In other words, when you are reasoning inductively, when you are looking at data on which to base a conclusion, the rule is the more the merrier: your conclusion will gather logical strength from the number and variety of the examples on which it's based. However, the inductive conclusion is always something of a leap because it is based on samples, not complete sets of data. While careful thinkers instinctively follow the above common-sense rules for generalizing, the temptation to jump to a premature conclusion is hard to avoid.
Indeed, HASTY GENERALIZATION, generalizing from inadequate or anecdotal evidence, is probably the most common form of faulty reasoning. Here are some examples:
Look at how easy it is to commit hasty generalization on the following limited data or anecdotal evidence:
The logical strength of an inductive inquiry will always be a matter of degree. Think back to Jenn. Do we really have enough evidence to conclude that she's a tardy person? Maybe when Jenn is doing the million other things a person can do besides coming to class, being ready for dates, or handing in papers, she's right on time. In short, the logical strength of a piece of inductive reasoning depends on the quantity and variety of the data it rests on. Try to avoid 'hasty generalization' or jumping to a conclusion based on too little evidence.
Studies in scholarly journals and university presses usually are researched thoroughly, and their conclusions usually are based on adequate evidence, as evaluated by experts in the field. Struggle to understand and make use of them not only as sources but as models for your writing.
All arguments have the same two ingredients: (1) a claim, and (2) reasons supporting it. A good argument can be defined as a set of reasons that persuasively add up to a claim. If you are assigned to write an argumentative paper, or to give an argumentative speech, you are being asked to make a claim and to provide supporting reasons for the claim.
I should clarify here that these two terms--reasons and claim--are terms used in the field of rhetoric (in writing class or speech class). If we want to define "argument" from the field of logic (in philosophy class) we'd say that an argument is a set of propositions (statements), some of which--the premises--are presented in support of another--the conclusion.
This definition from the field of logic is important. Your claim (the debatable statement you make in an argument) is really a conclusion that comes last in the process of inductive reasoning. It is based on previous statements and evidence. It comes last when you reason, but you put it first in a written essay or report. That is, you place it early in the writing--normally in the first one or two paragraphs. This claim or conclusion will be your thesis statement, and you'll use the rest of the essay or written report to defend it , by citing the reasons which support it, or the premises on which it is based. Just remember that this thesis statement (this claim) must be based on a process of looking at premises (in logic) or reasons (in rhetoric). If you start with a claim and then try to muster reasons to support it, chances are that you will argue something that is obvious or you will over-generalize by straining to make the facts fit your preconceived conclusion.
Notice a few things here:
If any of this is confusing to you, consider the following sample argument summaries.
Any of these examples could be an appropriate claim for you to argue--and appropriate arguments for you to make, but you still would need to prove that the arguments are true. You would need to produce hard, persuasive evidence about the gas milage of compacts, the storage capacity of SUV's and whatever facts you rely on in your arguments.
What kinds of claims can you make? Here's a quotation from a college writing textbook that may help you understand how to form your own claims--and how to understand when somebody else is making a claim.
The position or stand you take is the main idea, or thesis of your argument. This idea is called the claim or the proposition. Your claim states what you want your audience to accept or do. Make your claim clear to your audience.
Claims vary in extent; they can be absolute or moderate, large or limited. They also vary in kind. Rhetoricians traditionally recognize three kinds of claim.
(a) Substantiation claims assert that something exists. Without making a value judgment, a substantiation claim makes an assertion that can be supported by evidence. For instance:
(b) Evaluation claims assert that something has a specific quality. According to an evaluation claim, something is good or bad, effective or ineffective, attractive or unattractive, successful or unsuccessful.
(c) Policy claims call for a specific action. When making policy claims, writers call for something to be done.
Policy claims typically draw on substantiation and evaluation claims; you cannot persuade an audience to do something without first demonstrating that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. In some college essays, you may need to make only a substantiation or evaluation claim. When writing about literature, for example, you might need only to evaluate a character. (Harbrace College Handbook 406)
Logical fallacies are classic ways that people argue without sound reasoning. Plato's student Aristotle was the first to point them out. We've already looked at one kind of fallacy in inductive arguments--hasty generalization or generalizing based on inadequate evidence. Hasty generalization can be an innocent mistake, but other fallacies are simply deceptive ploys used to "win" an argument by unfair means. Some of them have been around for a long time--they have ancient Roman names--and they are very common not only in popular writing but in everyday speech as well. Think of political rhetoric, comedians' jokes, or student conversations that you have heard that fit these descriptions:
1. ad hominem, "a personal attack on an opponent," the usual form of illogic in politics. Here's an example: ''Of course Reginald's ideas about the missile defense system are stupid because, let's face it, the guy's a real blip-head.'' This statement pretends to be an argument about Reginald's ideas, but its conclusion is based only on Reginald's personality or blip-headedness. Even if the speaker can prove that Reginald is a blip-head, this proof will not be valid evidence that Reginald's ideas about missile defense systems are wrong. Negative political campaign ads usually fall into this category. They often signify desperation of the attacker.
2. tu quoque (literally, "youíre another," meaning "look who's talking"). This counterfeit argument is a special case of ad hominem. It tries to refute an argument simply by saying that the person making the argument is a hypocrite. Here are a few examples:
3. poisoning the well: another special case of ad hominem, this fallacy tries to refute an argument by saying that the person making the argument has a vested interest in it. For instance:
4. false alternatives (saying "sink or swim" when there's a boat available). This one sets up only two alternatives when in fact there are other possibilities to choose from.
5. the red herring argument is a diversionary tactic; it ignores the real issue by raising some other, superficially-related issue. A common variation on this strategy is called the straw man argument. A straw man argument first pretends to paraphrase the opposing position by giving a distorted and grotesque version of it, and then it argues against that distorted version (a version which will be as easy to knock down as a man made of straw). Here's an example of straw man, again from Rush Limbaugh:
Here, Rush represents feminist thinking in such a way that it's a real cinch to knock it down. He also sports some good ad hominem: 'freak feminists' and 'dimwits.' (But in all fairness I have to say that Rush isn't only a real fountainhead of logical fallacies, he's also astute at spotting them in his opponents.)
Here's another example of a straw man argument. Notice how grotesquely Parent B distorts the position of Parent A:
6. An appeal to ignorance argues that a proposition is valid because there is no evidence on the other side
7. A false cause or post hoc argument claims that if one thing precedes another, then the first thing has caused the second. Obviously, the timing of any two events may be coincidental; that one causes the other requires proof of actual causation. (The Latin phrase is post hoc, ergo propter hoc, meaning ''After this, therefore because of this.'') History books are riddled with fallacies of this sort:
8. An appeal to majority, sometimes known as "the bandwagon," is a fallacy that's easy to commit because everybody does it! It's frequently used in democratic societies where the majority is supposed to be right. Actually, a quick reflection on history can be a pretty good demonstration that the majority can be wrong. For instance, think about the vast numbers of people who throughout history have thought that slavery was perfectly legitimate. Many folks still believe that the sun comes up in the morning and goes down at night. Be suspicious of any appeal to the majority that you yourself are tempted to make or that someone else is asking you to believe. ("The many" are not experts, as Socrates' observed.)
9. An appeal to tradition is similar to an appeal to majority. This fallacy says: "Because we've always done X, we should keep doing X." There can be a some degree of truth in this kind of argument, or in any of the other logical fallacies, but weak arguments like these can indicate claims that lack valid reasoning or clear evidence. Consider the logic and likely outcome of this conversation:
The frequent use of logical fallacies in everyday speech must mean that these unfair arguments work at least some of the time. This does not mean that they should work or that they are appropriate for academic writing.
[P.S. from Dr. G: consider your research report in light of Dr. E's lecture. What "claim" will you make in your report, and what "arguments" will back up that claim? Is there any danger that your claim will be a "hasty generalization"? Will you successfully avoid the "logical fallacies"?]
We come now to the end of Module 3, the Search for Truth. It's time to ask why we have not found it. Have we been, like Socrates, relentless in our questioning? skeptical toward even the experts? passionate about finding wisdom?