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How to reason by Hoamofaleono Guttenbeil

15253452 746839772135927 1222816692853709858 nArguments are ways to express reasons. And in order to have good reasons, we need to have good arguments. We argue to get better reasons for our own beliefs and actions and to also avoid mistakes. In this essay, I will discuss what I have learned about arguments and why they matter.

In order to know why arguments are important, we need to know what they are. Arguments are NOT fights! You cannot simply win an argument by yelling at someone because that does not make the argument any better. Argument is an intellectual process whereby not asserting your views but giving some kind of reasons for them. As Monty Python puts it, it is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition.

Arguments are used in some cases to justify. At a used car lot, a person would say, “You ought to buy that Mustang.” Will that convince you? Not really. But, if the person says, “You should buy this Mustang because it goes really fast and has great gas mileage”, then you might be convinced. Furthermore, arguments are also used to explain. Explaining is giving a good reason why something happened. For example, why did the All Blacks win the rugby championship in 2011?

We could say it is because they had great players, had a great coach or they just got lucky. Explanation deals with facts whereas persuading does not. When you justify something, your audience might not believe you but when you explain something, both you and your audience believe you. Thus, the goal of explanation is to help us understand why something is true and also helps us to increase understanding and remove confusion. 

Justifying is trying to give good reasons or show someone a reason to believe the conclusion. Persuading on the other hand, tries to change your beliefs or actions and bad reasons can do that. To understand it better, if the arguer is trying to change someone’s mind or behaviour, the purpose is persuasion. But if the arguer is trying to give some kind of reason to believe something, then the purpose is justified. Strong arguments do not always persuade everyone. In politics, politicians yell at each other, disagreeing. Argument helps us to co-operate with each other and compromise on the very important issues we all face. We should never set our sights TOO HIGH! If our goal is to try and convince everyone, we will not succeed. Instead, we will just end up getting frustrated.

To understand arguments better, we need to know what they are made of and they are made out of language. Humans is said to be the only ones that reasons and argues. Language, according to Hellen Keller, is important. For instance, people in America drives on the right-hand side whereas people in Tonga and elsewhere does not. Language is conventional, and is representational. One’s flag and anthem represents where one is from. Language is social. If you do not know what a grapefruit is, then you will have a hard time with words that simply do not state what they are. It obviously does not look like a grape, but it has been accepted to be a grapefruit. Thus, language is shared. In all of those levels is language being operated. The rules of language are not always obvious. We can all use language, without knowing the rules. In other words, we do not have to be language-rule conscious, AT ALL! Language can just be heard and spoken rather than speaking without not knowing how to write it as found in the words, finger, singer and danger. 

Ways in which the meaning of language is being utilized are linguistic, speech and conversational acts. Linguistically speaking, you cannot say, ‘dog fleas my has.’ They are all words but the way they stand is wrong, grammar-wise. It should read, ‘My dog has fleas’. Meaningful words with the wrong grammatical structure will not work. English language is complicated but once we know the rules, we can make perfect sense of everything around us. Next, is speech acts. The power of language lies in those who have authority to do so and acts accordingly. Such as when an umpire says it’s a score but we saw it was not yet we simply cannot do anything about it because we have no power but he does. A more perfect example is when a priest utters the words: “I now pronounce you husband and wife” and the bride and groom both responds, “I DO!” He made them husband and wife just by uttering those words. You or I cannot just randomly walk up to any couple on the street and say the same exact words. That would be absurd and people would think you are crazy. It has to occur in the right circumstances and speech acts works only in the appropriate circumstances. As we can see, arguing, justifying and explaining are all speech acts.

Lastly, is conversational act which is bringing about of the intended effect, which is the standard effect for the kind of speech act that the speaker is performing. It goes from speech to conversational. For instance, a question requires an answer, an apology a forgiveness and a promise, a reliance. And it does not occur when the effect does not occur. Paul Grice came up with a theory called conversational maxims which has four stages. They are quantity, quality, relevance and manner. Conversational implication is NOT logical implication. However, be aware of sleazy implications that leaves out the relevant parts such as when someone says, “I have a policy to reduce crimes by putting criminals off the streets into jail.”

From this essay, I have learned that arguments are important in life as we all try to avoid the mistakes that befalls us. It is important because arguments are made up of language and language is being used in our everyday lives. Therefore, argument is language and language is vital for our social survival or else, our lives will be lost and confused.

 NB. First published article by Malia Hoamofaleono Guttenbeil (BA student in philosophy of law at the School of Ethno-science and Humanities, as well as, Rational Studies of Lo'au University)