3. Arguments and Non-arguments: Doing things with words (2022)

For greater appreciation of what an argument is and what it does, it is useful to contrast the entire category of arguments with things that are not arguments. What other kinds of things do we typically do with words, in passages of text or in speeches, conversations, etc.?

We might just tell, or pass along, facts (or apparent facts) about a situation, pointing out some event or some feature of a situation. We could call such doings “reports.”

Or we might be saying how we feel about some person or state of affairs. We could call this “stating anopinion.”

Or we might talk about what we believe to be the case with respect to a given situation. That sounds like the word “belief” might capture the idea.

(Now, even though I just presented opinion and belief as two categories, for the purpose of this course, I’m going to suggest we not concern ourselves with insisting on their difference. In my view, they have more in common, and that’s what’s important: they are both expressions of a claim, made without supporting evidence. The difference (that one seems to express a personal feeling, while the other expresses what someone thinks is true) is less important, from the point of view of logic, than is the fact that if you add another statement, and a conclusion or premise indicating word, you’ll get an argument from them both.)

Often what we do is something like telling others what they ought to do (or what they ought not to do!) or how they ought to do it. On the positive side, this would beadvice; viewed a little more negatively, you might call it a “warning.”

In none of those five cases are we providing an argument, because in none of them are we giving reasons to support what we are conveying. (But that last sentencewasan argument: It proposed a reason why you should believe that none of the others were arguments. Hopefully, you noticed “because” functioning as a premise indicator.)

Reporting, advising, warning, stating your belief about something or expressing your opinion about something –these are all very commonplace everyday things we do with words. Being able to identify and name cases of them as they occur –around us and within us–is a matter of a tiny little skill at observing, paying attention, and categorizing. In Philosophy in general, and in Logic in particular, that kind of skill is quite important to cultivate.

Let’s move on to some other kinds of things that we do with words. These are a little more sophisticated perhaps.

You might claim something is true (that’s stating a belief), but then give an example of it to help make the point you’re trying to convey more clear. Giving an example is what we’ll call an “illustration.” “If it’s not obvious enough what I mean, let me draw you a picture!” one might say. And with that, I have provided an illustration of what “illustration” means.


You might claim that something is trueon condition thatsomething else is true. This is not the same thing as merely expressing a belief, because in this case, the believed thing is presented as dependent on some other thing, which is presented as hypothetical. To illustrate, consider this:

“If the Pope is a Nazi, I’m a monkey’s uncle.”

(Video) Intro to Logic Part 3: Arguments vs Non Arguments

Strange enough proposal, you might think. And you might immediately realize that the point of it is that whoever said it wanted whoever heard it to reject as utter nonsense the notion that the Pope is a Nazi. We will call such things“conditional statements.”At first glance, it could seem that a conditional statement is making an argument: is it not proposing that something is true as a result of something else?

The answer to this question is “No.” What a conditional statement is doing is saying that one thing is the caseifsomething else is the case. But it is not claiming that either of them actually is the case. The conditional is one single claim, not a series of claims; the word “if” brings this about.

This claim requires that we be very literal, and of course, in everyday life we seldom are. Consider the following conditional statement, one of the most consequential perhaps, of 2019, from Robert Mueller’s press conference on the day he resigned from the Justice Department: “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Literally this is just a single statement. But it is hard not to hear “and we did not say so, so we do not have confidence that the president did not commit a crime.” In context, single statements can have more force than they have on their own, decontextualized. As you will see later in the course, this conditional statement is the first premise in a formal argument pattern called “Modus Tollens.”

A conditional statement has two parts. The “if” clause is known as theantecedent,and the “then” clause is known as theconsequent. You’ll want to get those terms into your vocabulary if you don’t already use them. Conditionals are a very central topic in Logic, and we’ll be talking about the relations between antecedents and consequents quite a lot later on. For now, it is worth pointing out that “if” and “then” are paradigmatic ways to express conditionals in English, but not the only ways. “Then” need not be said; “if” can do all the work. Also, “if” can be expressed by other words, such as “given that,” or “provided that,” or “on condition that.” Also, in ordinary everyday language, the order in which antecedent and consequent come makes no difference:

If it rains, you’ll wish you had an umbrella.

You’ll wish you had an umbrella if it rains.

It doesn’t hurt to point out –since we’re on the topic–that there are two kinds of conditions, and that their location in a conditional statement is quite predictable. A necessary condition is a state of affairs that has to be met in order that something else happen, such as rain being necessary for plant life, or gas in the tank being necessary for the car to run.

But more than gas is needed for the car to run; it may be necessary, but it’s not all that’s needed –that is, it is notsufficient. It would require quite a lengthy list of necessary conditions to constitute the sufficient condition for a car to run.

But, if the car is already running, there is something we can be quite sure of, isn’t there? Namely that there is gas in the tank! If all we have to know is that the car is running, in order for us to know that there is gas in the tank, thenthe car runningis a sufficient condition ofthere being gas in the tank.

If we try to capture this in a conditional statement, it’s going to be this one:If the car is running, there’s gas in the tank.

Now, we just saw that

a) Gas in the tank is necessary for the car to run.


(Video) Arguments and Non Arguments

b) The car is running is sufficient for there being gas in the tank.

This conditional statement says both these things, because the antecedent of a conditional expresses a sufficient condition (for the consequent), and the consequent expresses a necessary condition (for the antecedent).

Being a mammal is necessary for being a cat, so it makes sense to say “If Socrates is a cat, then he’s a mammal.”

And it also makes sense to say this because being a cat is sufficient for being a mammal.

Being 21 is old enough to buy a drink: that doesn’t mean that if you are 21, you can buy a drink; it means thatif you can buy a drink, you’re 21.Being 21 is a necessary condition for buying a drink; it is not sufficient (you also need money, for instance).


A final example for our purposes here in telling arguments apart from non-arguments is the case ofexplanations. In fact, there aretwo kinds of explanations, so this will give us two categories to distinguish between.

In everyday life we use “explanation” and “explain” to talk abouta)making the meaning of something more clear or evident, as well as b)why things happen the way they do. For instance (illustration), if, in talking about Descartes’Meditations, I mention his version of the ontological argument for God’s existence in the 5th Meditation, you might raise your hand and say “Can you explain why that’s an ‘ontological’ argument?” Probably, what you’re asking for is what “ontological” means in that context, i.e., you want to have some insight into the meaning of that word and its relevance. What I would offer would be an explanation in the sense of anexplication: exhibiting and clarifying meaning (the meaning of a word or phrase).

But there is another perfectly standard meaning of “explanation” which is not focused on the meanings of words or actions, but on the causes of events. “What is the explanation of poverty?” asks for an account of why poverty exists, not what it is. Of course, if you put “poverty” in quotation marks, and ask “What is the explanation of ‘poverty’?,” by this shift from use to mention, you have shifted the meaning of “explanation” from “causal account” to “clarification of meaning.” Now you’re not asking what causes poverty, you’re asking what the word itself means.

Some textbooks in Logic use “expository passage” to refer to what I’m thinking of as an explication. That makes sense too, since in an expository passage, one isexposing, at some length, the meaning or significance of some claim. But I think it’s a bit more narrow than “explication,” and I think it’s not as clear, in part because there is no acknowledgement that in everyday life we use “explanation” in both senses, and it is perfectly legitimate to do so. I’ll follow the standard, however, and say that we are going to use “explanation” to mean “a causal account of why something is the way it is.” In addition, I’ll introduce “explication” (you can interchange it with “exposition” if you like) to mean “a clarification of the meaning of something.”

The distinction between arguments and explanations is quite important, and there can be cases where it is difficult to make it with complete confidence. Another way to say this is:

Words like “because” have a logical sense as well as a causal sense.

We saw at the outset of this course that “because” is a very common word for signaling a premise: whenever you encounter “A because B” you can be sure that A is the conclusion and B is the premise. Well, now we have to admit that that’s the case only if we are talking about an argument. If I replace “A” with “The lights are on” and “B” with “Someone forgot to turn them off,” then this is not an argument, but rather, an explanation. “The lights are on” is what’s called an explanandum (the thing to be explained), and “Someone left them on” is called an explanans (the thing that explains it). Pardon my Latin.

(Video) Critical Thinking - 1.2 Arguments vs. Non-arguments

With very minor paraphrasing, we can turn this explanation into an argument (actually we don’t even need the paraphrasing; it is a matter of a shift in attention):

No one turned the lights off, therefore they are on.

What accounts for the difference?

In the one case, I know the lights are on, but I don’t know why they are. What I am given is an explanation. In the other, I don’t know they are on, but I am wondering about it, and I am given a reason to believe they are on — an argument.

When someone says “It’s going to rain because the WUSA meteorologist said so,” is this an argument or an explanation? How about “Dr. Ackermann is here today because a student saw him”?

Both are arguments. To understand them as explanations would be to say that the student’s vision had the power to hallucinate Dr. Ackermann into existence, and that the weather forecaster has the ability to make it rain, by calling for it. It just takes a second to realize that that’s not the right interpretation of either.

Now, the rest of this chapter is simply three sets of exercises, selections of passages you can read over. Decide whether they are arguments or not. And if you think they are not, then draw on this list of non-arguments to see how it makes best sense to categorize them. They come from a range of sources, and this is the beginning of a phase in your thinking/ reading such that you should try to be mindful, and be on the lookout, as you read papers, websites, articles, etc., for these various things we do with words.

Here’s a brief audio recording that reviews these distinctions:

Here is a list of the seven kinds of non-arguments we’re identifying for the purposes of this class:

Advice/ warning,



(Video) Learning Logic [] 2 [] Non-arguments





It’s the first of several lists that you’ll need tocommit to memoryfor the duration of this course (and beyond).

This link will open a Powerpoint that reviews this material:

2-nonarguments rev

An Impeachment Example

On January 7, 2020, the Washington Post published this quote from a statement made by John Bolton (Trump’s former National Security Adviser, who did not appear before the House of Representatives during the Impeachment Inquiry):

“It now falls to the Senate to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to try impeachments, and it does not appear possible that a final judicial resolution of the still-unanswered Constitutional questions can be obtained before the Senate acts. Accordingly, since my testimony is once again at issue, I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.”

Five of our distinctions of things done with words can be applied to explicate what is going on in this passage. See if you can spell them out as clearly as you can before you read any further.

The first statement is a Report. The second statement (the second part of the first sentence) is an Opinion or Belief. The second sentence is an Conclusion based on the report and belief (note “Accordingly”). The conclusion is really “I have had to resolve this the best I could” which is presented here as the explanandum of an Explanation: the “since” is causal, not logical. The final statement looks like a conclusion, but I think it’s more accurate to say this is a Report of a conclusion, since he does not really give any information as to how he arrived at it (except “study and consideration”). And this report of a conclusion is in the form of a Conditional Statement.

Thank you Mr. Bolton, for a great and up-to-date example!

(Video) Arguments, Non Arguments, Logic

Now go on to 3.1 and other sets of exercises to continue practicing this ability to tell arguments from non-arguments. It’s fundamental to the course to be able to avoid confusing them.


What are some examples of non arguments? ›

Reports, pieces of advice, warnings, and statements of belief or opinion are some simple non-arguments.

What are arguments and non arguments? ›

A combination of statements are called an argument if there is an intent to persuade or there are conclusion keywords. A statement or a combination of statements is called a non-argument if they merely give information, with no intent to persuade and without conclusion keywords.

What are the three basic arguments? ›

To be complete, arguments should have three parts: an assertion, reasoning and evidence (easily remembered with the mnemonic ARE).

What is non argument expression? ›

: a flawed, empty, or incorrect argument that should be dismissed or disregarded Last November, when my colleague Scott Martelle first wrote about this brouhaha, some from the city sniped that the majority of the American Legion members don't even live in Newport Beach. That's a nonargument, I'd say.

What are the different types of arguments? ›

Type of arguments
  • Causal argument. A causal argument is a type of argument used to persuade someone or a group of people that one thing has caused something else. ...
  • Rebuttal argument. ...
  • Proposal argument. ...
  • Evaluation argument. ...
  • Narrative argument. ...
  • Toulmin argument. ...
  • Rogerian argument. ...
  • Classical Western argument.
May 11, 2021

What is the example of argumentative? ›

Common Argument Examples

For example, the subject of an argument might be, “The internet is a good invention.” Then, we support this contention with logical reasons, such as “It is a source of endless information,” and “It is a hub of entertainment,” and so on.

What is a non argument passage? ›

Simple non-inferential passages are nonarguments because while the statements involved may be premises, conclusions or both, the statements do not serve to infer a conclusion or support one another. This is distinct from a logical fallacy, which indicates an error in reasoning.

Is this an argument or not? ›

The best way to identify whether an argument is present is to ask whether there is a statement that someone is trying to establish as true by basing it on some other statement. If so, then there is an argument present. If not, then there isn't.

What are the uses of non argumentative language? ›

Explanations. Another non-argumentative language type is explanations. Explanations are different from arguments because they take something that is true and show why it is true. Arguments take a claim that is not proven and try to argue that it is true.

What are the 3 parts of argumentative essay? ›

Breaking Down the Sections of An Argumentative Essay

These are the parts that will flesh out your argument and support the claim you made in your thesis statement. Like other types of essays, argumentative essays typically have three main sections: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

What is an argument answer? ›

An argument is a statement or set of statements that you use in order to try to convince people that your opinion about something is correct. There's a strong argument for lowering the price. [ + for] The doctors have set out their arguments against the proposals. [ + against]

What is in an argument? ›

Definition: An argument is a group of statements some of which, the premises, are offered in support of another statement, the conclusion.

What is a non argument illustration? ›

More Non Arguments - YouTube

What are the two parts of an argument? ›

Arguments consist of two main parts: conclusion and evidence.

How can you distinguish argumentative passage from non argumentative passage? ›

The difference (that one seems to express a personal feeling, while the other expresses what someone thinks is true) is less important, from the point of view of logic, than is the fact that if you add another statement, and a conclusion or premise indicating word, you'll get an argument from them both.)

What are non argument passages? ›

A simple non-inferential passage is a type of nonargument characterized by the lack of a claim that anything is being proved. Simple non-inferential passages include warnings, pieces of advice, statements of belief or opinion, loosely associated statements, and reports.

What is a non argument illustration? ›

More Non Arguments - YouTube

What is non argumentative writing? ›

One type of non-argumentative text is informational text, where the purpose is to convey information rather than state and defend a claim. One way to check if a text is informational is the thesis statement. It (and the rest of the text) should be made up of provable and easily verifiable facts, not opinions.

How can you distinguish argumentative passage from non argumentative passage? ›

The difference (that one seems to express a personal feeling, while the other expresses what someone thinks is true) is less important, from the point of view of logic, than is the fact that if you add another statement, and a conclusion or premise indicating word, you'll get an argument from them both.)


1. Logic s14 04-04-05-06 Argument vs, Non-Arguments
(Richard Legum)
2. 1.2 Nonarguments Part 1
(Melvin Sanchez)
3. Arguments and non-Arguments - My Takeaway from Dr. Sadler's Critical Thinking Lecture
(Joey Wickham)
(Ita Chrys)
5. More Non Arguments
(Michael Gavin)
(Promise Benson)

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