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Essential components of an argument: premises, conclusion, conclusion

An argument ( Latin argumentum 'presentation; content, evidence, reason' from Latin arguere 'clearly to be recognized, claim, prove, show' ) is typically used to justify something or to convince someone. In linguistics and philosophy , an argument is understood to be a sequence of statements that consists of a conclusion and possibly several premises , the conclusion being the statement that is supposed to be justified (also called: supported) by the premises. Colloquially, however, an argument is often only understood to mean the premises that serve to justify the conclusion.

Several related (e.g. building on each other) arguments form an argument. Anyone who makes arguments and puts them forward in writing or orally is an argument. In a discussion , arguments are examined and weighed against each other.

The argumentation theory is the science of reasoning. It is closely related to both logic , which examines the objective validity of argument forms, and rhetoric , which deals with how arguments can be convincingly put forward and formulated.

Basic properties of arguments

Arguments consist of premises and a conclusion, where the premises are typically intended to justify the conclusion. Arguments are often used to convince someone. Accordingly, there are different points of view from which one can view an argument:

  1. Status of the premises. Eg: Are the premises true? For their part, are they well founded?
  2. Status of the conclusion. Eg: Is the conclusion true? Is the conclusion even debatable? Is it a normative or a descriptive statement? Does the conclusion contradict other beliefs?
  3. Relationship between premises and conclusion. For example: Do the premises justify the conclusion at all? Assuming the premises are true, is the conclusion necessarily true, or is the conclusion then at least more likely?

These first three considerations determine the “ rational strength ” of an argument. As can be seen from the first two considerations, the rational strength of an argument can vary from context to context. This rational strength of the argument must be distinguished, for example:

  • Actual persuasiveness (“rhetorical power”). For example, is this argument actually convincing or strengthening a certain person of the conclusion? Is the argument sufficiently understandable and interesting to even be noticed?
  • Literary quality. For example: Are the statements of the argument formulated in a way and is the reasoning developed in a way that can be considered valuable from an aesthetic point of view?

Fundamental properties that an argument can have with regard to its rational strength are: deductive validity , inductive strength , relevance , soundness , circularity .

Deductive validity

In a deductively valid (also: deductively correct) argument, the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion. That means: It is impossible that all premises are true and the conclusion is wrong. The relationship between premises and conclusion cannot be stronger than with deductively valid arguments. Deductively valid arguments are also monotonic ; H. they remain valid with the addition of any further premises, and are not ampliative , i. H. the conclusion does not go beyond the content of the premises.

Deductively valid arguments can have very different contents, see examples 1–4 .

Example 1 : Formation of the Nördlinger Ries
(1) The mineral coesite was produced when the Nördlinger Ries was formed.
(2) Coesite is only formed under the extreme conditions of a meteorite impact.
So: (3) When the Nördlinger Ries was formed, there was a meteorite impact.
Example 2 : An argument for nudging
(1) Regardless of how the dishes are presented in a canteen, the first mentioned are always preferred (statistically speaking).
(2) If the first named dishes are always preferred in a canteen (from a statistical point of view), no matter how the dishes are presented, then it is morally permissible to always name the healthiest dishes first.
So: (3) It is morally permissible to always name the healthiest dishes first.
Example 3 : The action theory argument for materialism
(1) My thoughts, wishes, hopes etc. can cause physical states (namely body movements).
(2) The physical world is causally closed, i.e. H. physical states can only be caused by physical states.
So: (3) My thoughts, wishes, hopes etc. are themselves physical states.
Example 4 : An economically liberal argument against spending policy
(1) An increase in government spending can only be financed through taxes or debt.
(2) If higher government spending is financed through taxes, households reduce private consumption in line with the higher tax burden.
(3) If, however, higher government spending is financed through debt, the households anticipate the future higher tax payments.
(4) If households anticipate higher tax payments in the future, they are already reducing private consumption accordingly today.
So: (5) If government spending is increased, households reduce private consumption (today) accordingly. (From 1–4)
(6) If an increase in government spending results in a corresponding reduction in private consumption, then an increase in government spending has no economic effect.
So: (7) An increase in government spending is economically ineffective. (Out of 5.6)

Inductive strength

In so-called inductively strong or non-deductively correct arguments, there is a suitable justification relationship between premises and conclusion, but the supporting relationship is weaker than in deductively valid arguments: The truth of the premises here does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion; instead, the conclusion is made by the premises - so the standard formula - made more plausible or probable. Depending on how strongly the conclusion is supported, one speaks of inductively weaker and stronger arguments. Strong inductive arguments are not monotonic : adding a premise can turn strong inductive arguments into weak inductive arguments. In addition, inductively strong arguments are usually ampliative ; H. the conclusion asserts more than is already stated in the premises.

Examples of inductive strong arguments:

Example 5 : Peaceful Democracies (enumerative induction)
(1) So far, no democratic state has militarily attacked another democratic state.
So: (2) Democracies do not wage wars among themselves.
Example 6 : drug trial (statistical test)
(1) If the drug tested were indeed ineffective, then it would be extremely unlikely that nearly all of the patients given the drug would recover, while the condition of those who took a placebo would all deteriorate.
(2) However, it is the case that almost all patients who have been administered the drug recover, while the condition of the patients who have taken a placebo deteriorates without exception.
So: (3) The drug is not ineffective, it is effective.
Example 7 : Doctor's judgment (argument from the expertise)
(1) My doctor says I am healthy.
(2) My doctor is an expert on matters relating to my health.
So: (3) I am healthy.

If one adds to the argument in example 7 as a further premise that my doctor is drugged and that his deputy has put me on sick leave, this becomes an inductively weak argument. This illustrates the non-monotony of inductively strong arguments.


Many arguments contain premises that are irrelevant because they can be removed without the argument becoming deductively invalid or losing inductive strength.

Example 8 : Ban on killer games
(1) Killer games are addicting.
(2) Killer games glorify violence.
(3) What is addicting should be banned.
So: (4) Killer games should be banned.

The argument in Example 8 is deductively valid; However, the premise (2) is not relevant in this argument, because conclusion (4) already follows from (1) and (3).


The properties of deductive validity and inductive strength only characterize the relationship between premises and conclusion. They say nothing about whether the premises are true or false. An inductively strong or deductively valid argument, which also has the property that all its premises are true, is called sound.

After everything we know today about the Nördlinger Ries, the argument in Example 1 is not only deductively valid, but also sound.

The following argument ( example 9 ), however, has false premises:

Example 9 : Paris
(1) Paris is the capital of the United Kingdom.
(2) The Eiffel Tower is in the capital of the United Kingdom.
So: (3) The Eiffel Tower is in Paris.

It is deductively valid, but not conclusive. The fact that a deductively valid argument has wrong premises does not necessarily mean that its conclusion is wrong (as the example shows).

Form of arguments

Arguments can be characterized and classified according to their form. To do this, consider the arguments in Examples 10 and 11 :

Example 10 : Dostoyevsky's dictum
(1) If God does not exist, then everything is allowed.
(2) It is not the case that everything is allowed.
So: (3) God exists.
Example 11 : Gun inspectors
(1) If the state has no weapons of mass destruction, then it allows inspectors into the country.
(2) The state does not allow inspectors into the country.
So: (3) The state has weapons of mass destruction.

For example, the arguments in Examples 10 and 11 have the same form insofar as they are both based on one and the same scheme (see Example 12 ).

Example 12 : variant mode tollens
(1) If not p, then q.
(2) Not q.
So: (3) p.
By substituting statements (that is, whole sentences that can be true or false) for the placeholders “p” and “q”, both the argument in example 10 and the argument in example 11 can be obtained from the scheme in example 12 .

The same argument can be based on different schemes.

The logical form of arguments is described by schemes in which, in addition to placeholders, only so-called logical formal words - expressions such as “and”, “not”, “all”, “exactly if” etc. a. - occur (as in the scheme in example 12 ). Other important schemata are modus ponens , disjunctive syllogism , and chain closure . The logical form of arguments is particularly informative for argument analysis, as it can be used to prove that an argument is actually deductively valid. Typical types of fallacies can also be distinguished on the basis of the logical form of arguments .

In order to systematize and classify arguments, a distinction is made between the logical closing forms and further argumentation models in which content-related expressions are used (see, for example, the schemes in Examples 13 and 14 ).

Example 13 : Conclusion on the best explanation
(1) The assumption that p is the best explanation for fact q.
(2) Fact q is a fact that needs to be explained.
So: (3) p.
Example 14 : Argument from the testimony of others
(1) Person a is a reliable expert on matters of type X.
(2) Fact p is a fact of type X.
(3) Person a truthfully claims that facts p.
So: (4) p.

Arguments following the patterns in Examples 13 and 14 - such as Examples 15 and 16 - are usually not deductively valid.

Example 15 : The extinction of the dinosaurs
(1) A meteorite impact in the Cretaceous Period is the best explanation for the dinosaur extinction.
(2) The extinction of dinosaurs is a fact that needs to be explained.
So: (3) There was a meteorite impact in the Cretaceous Period.
Example 16 : Medical diagnosis
(1) My doctor is a reliable expert on medical matters.
(2) That I am healthy is a medical fact.
(3) My doctor truly claims that I am healthy.
So: (4) I am healthy.

Discourse contexts are in part characterized by special argumentation patterns: abductive arguments are characteristic of scientific argumentation, transcendental arguments are characteristic of philosophical argumentation, or dam-break arguments are characteristic of political discourse.

Analyze arguments

When we argue with one another or with ourselves, we almost never carry out arguments in full: premises are often only hinted at, and often also implicitly assumed; the conclusion often emerges only from the context.

Premises of an argument that are not explicitly stated are called implicit premises . Arguments with implicit premises are called enthymemes .

The argument analysis aims to identify all the implicit, i.e. H. To make non-mentioned components of an argument transparent and thus accessible to a critical assessment. The analysis of arguments is essentially a hermeneutic method : it is used to systematically interpret a text or a speech from the point of view of justification. There is room for interpretation in the analysis and reconstruction of arguments.

A central guiding principle of argument analysis is the principle of benevolent interpretation . It calls for the existing scope for interpretation to be used in such a way that a justification is reconstructed as the strongest and most convincing possible argument.

Present arguments

The standard representation of arguments has established itself to first list the individual premises and finally the conclusion (marked by a line or another conclusion symbol) (see presentation of the example arguments ).

Arguments in which conclusions that have already been developed are used as premises in other sub-arguments and thus act as intermediate conclusions can also be presented in list form, whereby it is helpful to indicate the interdependencies of the intermediate conclusions (see, for example, argumentation in example 4 ).

Inference diagram of an economic liberal argument created with

The internal structure of an argument can be visualized using so-called inference diagrams (see the illustration of example 4 in the figure on the right).

Entire debates in which arguments are supportive and attacking can be analyzed and presented as argument maps.

How, in turn, the results of a detailed argument analysis (which are available in standard form and possibly as an argument map) in a running text depends in particular on

  • what goals are being pursued with the text (e.g. defending a thesis, presenting a state of debate, making an interpretation plausible, etc.) and
  • to which addressees the text is aimed.

There are no recipes for writing such texts. Overly rigid guidelines for writing argumentative texts (such as those found in German didactics under the keyword “ discussion ”) are judged critically.

Objectives of arguing

Immediate and final goals of arguing

Anyone who argues initially only shows contexts of reasoning and claims that certain statements necessarily justify another statement, or at least make it plausible. Clarifying such contexts of justification can in turn serve very different goals, e.g. B .:

Arguments exercise - to paraphrase Habermas - only a “peculiarly informal compulsion”: They force us to accept a conclusion as true (or plausible) if we accept the premises. However, this constraint remains informal in that they always give us the choice of rejecting a premise instead of agreeing to the conclusion. In other words, arguments can force changes to a belief system as a whole, but leave open exactly how a belief system needs to be modified.

Besides arguing, there are numerous other methods of convincing yourself or another person of something. Observation or intuitive heuristics are examples of non-argumentative belief formation. Ways of forming beliefs can be examined from the point of view of their rationality ( epistemology ), their actual persuasive power ( rhetoric ) or their psychological functioning ( cognitive science ). Non-argumentative belief formation is not necessarily irrational. At the same time, arguing is considered a paradigmatic method of rational conviction formation .

Obstacles to good reasoning

There can be various reasons why an act of reasoning fails and the arguing objectives are not achieved. Here are some examples:

First obstacle: Missing or inconsistent terminology. Discussants often lack suitable terms or a shared understanding of the term to be able to speak precisely about arguments. This means that contexts of justification and discussion cannot be addressed at all, reflected on together and, if necessary, corrected. For example, it is not possible to distinguish between different forms of criticism.

Second obstacle: false tolerance. Tolerance can be misunderstood as an imperative not to contradict others and / or not to raise objections to their views. This attitude prevents from the outset any reasonable discussion and especially the careful examination of arguments.

Third obstacle: righteousness. The unconditional desire to be right in discussions can lead to ignoring or deliberately misunderstanding the arguments of others and to masking known weaknesses in one's own reasoning. This can negatively affect the argumentative quality of a discussion and, in particular, prevent arguments from being examined impartially.

Fourth obstacle: excessive relativism. Generalized, often misunderstood and exaggerated relativism and constructivism can lead to the fact that one no longer tries to critically examine claims and their justifications. (Variations: "In principle, every claim can be justified equally well", "Everyone has their own truth", "Everything, including science, is arbitrarily socially constructed", "Everything is subjective".)

Fifth obstacle: deliberation stopper. An argumentative exchange of ideas can be broken off with different rhetorical strategies (such as ad hominem arguments ). This prevents a reasonable discussion and, in particular, the critical analysis of arguments.

Rules of reasoning-oriented discussion

In addition to the formal rules of logic and argumentation theory, various rules for discussion, discourse, debate or argumentation were generally proposed. Among other things, they are researched in discourse theory .

What exactly is a good discourse or a good discussion naturally depends on the goals that the participants pursue. There are numerous lists of such rules, but they have been developed for very different purposes of discourse or discussion (see culture of dispute , rules of discussion ).

Empirical Perspectives on Arguing

On the one hand, arguing can be understood as a normative practice: one can argue right and wrong, just as one can calculate right and wrong. This is the perspective of argumentation theory, discourse theory, and logic, in which arguments are evaluated from the point of view of rational strength (see Basic Properties of Arguments ).

On the other hand, arguing can also be viewed purely descriptively: the actual argumentative practice is described as adequately as possible and an attempt is made to explain argumentative behavior. Very different disciplines examine arguing from this perspective:

In political science and sociology , social and collective mechanisms of political debate and deliberation are in the foreground.

In communication sciences , for example, the relevance of arguments in public debates is determined using empirical discourse analyzes .

In psychology and cognitive science , the cognitive foundations of reasoning are explored. In the last few decades, cognitive science has gained numerous and in some cases groundbreaking empirical insights into argumentation. Above all, the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky should be mentioned here. Empirical research shows that actual thought processes rarely fully satisfy the ideal of rational argumentation. As a rule, we orientate ourselves on approximate, fast heuristics , which are at the same time prone to errors.

Historical references

With the insight that arguments can be characterized and classified according to their form , Aristotle established logic and argumentation theory. Particularly strict and detailed rules of justification-oriented discussion were already developed and practiced in medieval scholasticism (see disputation ). From a rhetorical point of view, i. H. With regard to their persuasiveness, Arthur Schopenhauer discusses effective argumentation strategies in the Eristic Dialectic . Thank God Frege is the founder of modern logic, the powerful theory of deductively valid reasoning. In a countermovement to this, Stephen Toulmin and other proponents of informal logic have shown that it is not just the formal-logical form that distinguishes interesting and revealing types of arguments.


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  • André Bächtiger, John S. Dryzek, Jane Mansbridge, Mark E. Warren (Eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy . 1st edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2018.
  • Klaus Bayer: Argument and Argumentation. Logical foundations of argumentation analysis . 2nd Edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007.
  • Gregor Betz: Theory of dialectical structures . 1st edition. Klostermann, Frankfurt 2010.
  • Tracey Bowell, Gary Kemp: Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide . 4th edition. Routledge, London 2014.
  • Georg Brun: The right formula . 1st edition. ontos Verlag, Frankfurt 2003.
  • Georg Brun, Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn: Text analysis in the sciences . 1st edition. vdf Hochschulverlag, Zurich 2009.
  • Wolfgang Detel: Basic Philosophy: Logic . 1st edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2011.
  • Frans H. van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst: A Systematic Theory of Argumentation: The Pragma-dialectical Approach . 1st edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004.
  • Wilhelm K. Essler, Rosa F. Martínez: Principles of Logic I: The logical reasoning . 1st edition. Klostermann, Frankfurt 1991.
  • Richard Feldman: Reason and Argument . 2nd Edition. Pearson, Harlow 2014.
  • Leo Groake: Informal Logic (= Edward N. Zalta [Ed.]: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Spring 2017 Edition). 2017 ( ).
  • York Hagmayer: Logic in psychology - Why people do not infer according to the laws of logic (= P. Klimczak, P. Zoglauer [Ed.]: Logic in the sciences ). Mentis, Paderborn 2017, p. 157-180 .
  • Gilbert Harman: Change in View: Principles of Reasoning . 1st edition. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1986.
  • Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, Amos Tversky (Eds.): Judgment under uncertainty: heuristics and biases . 1st edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1982.
  • Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, fast and slow . 1st edition. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 2011.
  • Manfred Kienpointner: Everyday Logic. Structure and function of argumentation models . 1st edition. Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart 1992.
  • Manfred Kienpointner: Argue sensibly. Rules and techniques of discussion . 1st edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1996.
  • Paul Kirschner u. a. (Ed.): Visualizing Argumentation . 1st edition. Springer, London 2003.
  • Gerda Lauerbach and Karin Aijmer: Argumentation in Dialogic Media Genres — Talk Shows and Interviews (Special Issue) . In: Journal of Pragmatics . tape 39 , no. 8 , 2007, p. 1333-1464 .
  • Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber: The enigma of reason . 1st edition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2017.
  • Christian Nimtz, Stefan Jordan: Lexicon of Philosophy: Hundreds of Basic Concepts. Induction . 1st edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2017.
  • Jonas Pfister: Tools of Philosophy . 1st edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2013.
  • Wesley Salmon: Logic . 1st edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 1983.
  • Oliver R. Scholz: What does it mean to understand an argument? - On the constitutive role of presumptions (= Geert-Lueke Lueken [Hrsg.]: Forms of argumentation ). 2000, p. 161-176 .
  • Holm Tetens: Philosophical Argumentation . 1st edition. Beck, Munich 2004.
  • Stephanie Uther: Discourses of Climate Engineering. Arguments, actors and coalitions in Germany and Great Britain . 1st edition. Springer VS, Heidelberg 2014.
  • Douglas N. Walton, Chris Reed, Fabrizio Macagno: Argumentation Schemes . 1st edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; New York 2008.

Further reading

  • Klaus Bayer: Argument and Argumentation. Logical foundations of argumentation analysis . 2nd Edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007.
  • Tracey Bowell, Gary Kemp: Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide . 4th edition. Routledge, London 2014.
  • Georg Brun, Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn: Text analysis in the sciences . 1st edition. vdf Hochschulverlag, Zurich 2009.
  • Jonas Pfister: Tools of Philosophy . 1st edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2013.
  • Wesley Salmon: Logic . 1st edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 1983.

Web links

Wiktionary: Argument  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Georges: Comprehensive Latin-German concise dictionary
  2. Bayer 2007: p. 85ff.
  3. "An argument is an attempt to provide evidence in favor of some point of view." Groake 2017.
  4. ^ Brun, Hirsch Hadorn 2009: p. 198.
  5. S. Essler, Martínez 1991: p. 19.
  6. See also Brun, Hirsch Hadorn 2009: p. 203.
  7. See e.g. B. Bayer 2007: p. 86 f.
  8. See e.g. B. Bayer 2007: p. 190 f.
  9. See e.g. B. Bayer 2007: p. 88 f.
  10. See Feldman 2014: p. 22 f.
  11. See Salmon 1983: p. 5ff .; Bayer 2007: p. 101; Brun, Hirsch Hadorn 2009: p. 237; Pfister 2013: p. 23. However, some authors describe deductively valid arguments as "conclusive", for example Tetens 2004: p. 24; Detel 2011: p. 48.
  12. Salmon 1983: p. 63ff .; Bayer 2007: p. 125; Brun, Hirsch Hadorn 2009: p. 237; Pfister 2013: p. 27
  13. S. Nimtz, Jordan 2017: p. 139.
  14. Salmon 1983: p. 35f.
  15. ^ Brun, Hirsch Hadorn 2009: p. 277f.
  16. See Bayer 2007: p. 86; Feldman 2014: p. 181 ff.
  17. Pfister 2013: p. 26.
  18. See Bayer 2007: p. 101ff .; Brun 2003.
  19. See Bayer 2007: p. 106.
  20. S. Alexy 1983; Kienpointner 1992; Walton, Reed, Macagno 2008
  21. ^ Brun, Hirsch Hadorn 2009: p. 224 ff.
  22. Cf. Betz 2010: chap. 9.
  23. S. Scholz 2000; Bowell, Kemp 2014: p. 56 ff.
  24. S. for example Kirschner et al. a. 2003.
  25. S. write Web .
  26. ↑ On this, for example, Harman 1986.
  27. See Feldmann 2014, pp. 27ff.
  28. See Kienpointner 1996; van Eemeren, Grootendorst 2004; Tetens 2004: pp. 161-164.
  29. S. Bächtiger et al. 2018.
  30. ZB Lauerbach and Aijmer 2007; Uther 2014.
  31. Kahneman, Slovic, Tversky 1982; Kahneman 2011; but cf. also Hagmayer 2017; Mercier, Sparrowhawk 2017.