In conventional terms we think of arguments as verbal fights, e.g., “yesterday my boyfriend and I had an argument because he thinks the Detroit Lions suck.” But in philosophy the term argument has a much more specific and technical meaning. To put it in the simplest terms, in philosophy an argument is a list of reasons to believe something is the case. For example, if someone asks you why you think the Detroit Lions will win the Super Bowl next year and you give them a list of reasons (or even one reason) for why you think the Lions will soon be champions, you’ve just made an argument (in the philosophical sense) for your claim. To boil all this down to its essence: any time you answer the why question in reference to an opinion you’ve expressed, or give reasons for why you think someone else’s opinion is wrong, you’re making an argument.
In other words, we make arguments all the time. But in philosophy arguments are particularly important because they are essential to justifying or criticizing the kind of claims that philosophers make. In fact, there is an entire science of argumentation that is a major subfield of philosophy called logic, which is deployed to arrive at the truth not only in philosophy but in every rational attempt to know the world. If you’re interested in learning more about the science of logic, you should consider taking Critical Thinking or Symbolic Logic, both of which are offered by the philosophy department every year.
But for present purposes our simple definition of argument (“a list of reasons to believe something is the case”) will suffice. Bear in mind that when we’re reading the assigned texts for this course we’ll be focusing on the arguments the authors are making for their positions. At the same time, you will be asked to justify the opinions you express about these texts by making an argument for them.
© D. R. Koukal