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Because the Analyze an Argument section of the test requires you to critique an argument and discuss the logical soundness of it, we will study the logic of arguments before we begin writing our essays.



Most argument questions hinge, either directly or indirectly, on determining the conclusion of the argument. The conclusion is the main idea of the argument. It is what the writer tries to persuade the reader to believe. Most often the conclusion comes at the end of the argument. The writer organizes the facts and his opinions so that they build up to the conclusion. Sometimes, however, the conclusion will come at the beginning of an argument; rarely does it come in the middle; and occasionally, for rhetorical effect, the conclusion is not even stated.


The police are the armed guardians of the social order. The blacks are the chief domestic victims of the American social order. A conflict of interest exists, therefore, between the blacks and the police.—Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice

Here the first two sentences anticipate or set up the conclusion. By changing the grammar slightly, the conclusion can be placed at the beginning of the argument and still sound natural:

A conflict of interest exists between the blacks and the police because the police are the armed guardians of the social order and the blacks are the chief domestic victims of the American social order.


The conclusion can also be forced into the middle:


The police are the armed guardians of the social order. So a conflict of interest exists between the blacks and the police because the blacks are the chief domestic victims of the American social order.


It is generally awkward, as in the previous paragraph, to place the conclusion in the middle of the argument because then it cannot be fully anticipated by what comes before nor fully explained by what comes after. On the rare occasion when a conclusion comes in the middle of an argument, most often either the material that comes after it or the material that comes before it is not essential.


In summary:  To find the conclusion, check the last sentence of the argument. If that is not the conclusion, check the first sentence. Rarely does the conclusion come in the middle of an argument.


Writers use certain words to indicate that the conclusion is about to be stated. Following is a list of the most common conclusion indicators:

Conclusion Indicators







follows that

shows that

conclude that


as a result

means that

These conclusion flags are very helpful, but you must use them cautiously because many of these words have other functions.



All devout Muslims abstain from alcohol. Steve is a devout Muslim. Thus, he abstains from alcohol.

In this example, thus anticipates the conclusion that necessarily follows from the first two sentences. Notice the different function of thus in the following argument.



The problem is simple when the solution is thus stated.


In this example, thus means “in that manner.”
Most often the conclusion of an argument is put in the form of a statement (as with every example we have considered so far). Sometimes, however, the conclusion is given as a command or obligation.



All things considered, you ought to vote.

Here, the author implies that you are obliged to vote.



Son, unless you go to college, you will not make a success of yourself. No Carnegie has ever been a failure. So you will go to college.

Here the conclusion is given as an imperative command.
The conclusion can even be put in the form of a question. This rhetorical technique is quite effective in convincing people that a certain position is correct. We are more likely to believe something if we feel that we concluded it on our own, or at least if we feel that we were not told to believe it. A conclusion put in question form can have this result.



The Nanuuts believe that they should not take from Nature anything She cannot replenish during their lifetime. This assures that future generations can enjoy the same riches of Nature that they have. At the current rate of destruction, the rain forests will disappear during our lifetime. Do we have an obligation to future generations to prevent this result?

Here the author trusts that the power of her argument will persuade the reader to answer the question affirmatively.
Taking this rhetorical technique one step further, the writer may build up to the conclusion but leave it unstated. This allows the reader to make up his own mind. If the build-up is done skillfully, the reader will be more likely to agree with the author, without feeling manipulated.



He who is without sin should cast the first stone. There is no one here who does not have a skeleton in his closet.

The unstated but obvious conclusion here is that none of the people has the right to cast the first stone.
When determining the conclusion’s scope be careful not to read any more or less into it than the author states. Certain words limit the scope of a statement. These words are called quantifiers—pay close attention to them.

Following is a list of the most important quantifiers:



















Whether the world is Euclidean or non-Euclidean is still an open question. However, if a star’s position is predicted based on non-Euclidean geometry, then when a telescope is pointed to where the star should be it will be there. Whereas, if the star’s position is predicted based on Euclidean geometry, then when a telescope is pointed to where the star should be it won’t be there. This strongly indicates that the world is probably non-Euclidean.

Although the opening to the passage states that we don’t know whether the world is non-Euclidean, the author goes on to give evidence that it is non-Euclidean. The author doesn’t say that the world is non-Euclidean, just that evidence strongly indicates that it is. In the last sentence, the word probably properly limits the scope of the main idea that the world is most likely non-Euclidean but can’t be stated so definitively.


Once you’ve found the conclusion, most often everything else in the argument will be either premises or “noise.” The premises provide evidence for the conclusion; they form the foundation or infrastructure upon which the conclusion depends. To determine whether a statement is a premise, ask yourself whether it supports the conclusion. If so, it’s a premise. Earlier we saw that writers use certain words to flag conclusions; likewise writers use certain words to flag premises. Following is a partial list of the most common premise indicators:


Premise Indicators





is evidence that


in that


owing to


inasmuch as


may be derived from

Premise indicators are very helpful. As with conclusion indicators, though, you must use them cautiously because they have other functions. For example, since can indicate a premise, or it can merely indicate time.



Since the incumbent’s views are out of step with public opinion, he probably will not be reelected.

Here since is used to flag the premise that the incumbent’s positions are unpopular. Contrast this use of since with the following example.




Since the incumbent was elected to office, he has spent less and less time with his family.

In this case, since merely expresses a passage of time. The statement as a whole expresses an observation, rather than an argument.

Suppressed Premises

Most arguments depend on one or more unstated premises. Sometimes this indicates a weakness in the argument, an oversight by the writer. More often, however, certain premises are left tacit because they are too numerous, or the writer assumes that his audience is aware of the assumptions, or he wants the audience to fill in the premise themselves and therefore be more likely to believe the conclusion.



Conclusion: I knew he did it.

Premise: Only a guilty person would accept immunity from prosecution.

The suppressed premise is that he did, in fact, accept immunity. The speaker assumes that his audience is aware of this fact or at least is willing to believe it, so to state it would be redundant and ponderous. If the unstated premise were false (that is, he did not accept immunity), the argument would not technically be a lie; but it would be very deceptive. The unscrupulous writer may use this ploy if he thinks that he can get away with it. That is, his argument has the intended effect and the false premise, though implicit, is hard to find or is ambiguous. Politicians are not at all above using this tactic.



Politician:  A hawk should not be elected President because this country has seen too many wars.

The argument has two tacit premises—one obvious, the other subtle. Clearly, the politician has labeled his opponent a hawk, and he hopes the audience will accept that label. Furthermore, although he does not state it explicitly, the argument rests on the assumption that a hawk is likely to start a war. He hopes the audience will fill in that premise, thereby tainting his opponent as a warmonger.
When attacking an argument, we often challenge its suppressed premises. Finding the suppressed premise, or assumption, of an argument can be difficult. To test whether something is a suppressed premise, ask yourself whether it would make the argument more plausible. If so, then it is very likely a suppressed premise.


American attitudes tend to be rather insular, but there is much we can learn from other countries. In Japan, for example, workers set aside some time each day to exercise, and many corporations provide elaborate exercise facilities for their employees. Few American corporations have such exercise programs. Studies have shown that the Japanese worker is more productive than the American worker. Thus it must be concluded that the productivity of American workers will lag behind their Japanese counterparts, until mandatory exercise programs are introduced.

The unstated essence of the argument is that exercise is an integral part of productivity and that Japanese workers are more productive than American workers because they exercise more.


Example (Suppressed false premise)

The petrochemical industry claims that chemical waste dumps pose no threat to people living near them. If this is true, then why do they locate the plants in sparsely populated regions? By not locating the chemical dumps in densely populated areas the petrochemical industry tacitly admits that these chemicals are potentially dangerous to the people living nearby.

The suppressed false premise of the argument is that, all things being equal, there is no reason to prefer locating the sites in sparsely populated areas. To weaken the argument, we need to show it is not true that all things are equal. In other words, there are advantages other than safety in locating the sites in sparsely populated areas, such as cost and ease.


Example (Suppressed true premise)


The news media is often accused of being willing to do anything for ratings. However, recent action by a television network indicates that the news media is sometimes guided by moral principle. This network discovered through polling voters on the east coast that the Republican candidate for President had garnered enough votes to ensure victory before the polls closed on the west coast. However, the network withheld this information until the polls on the west coast closed so that the information would not affect the outcome of key congressional races.

The suppressed premise in this argument is that the network expected its ratings to increase if it predicted the winner of the presidential race, and to decrease if did not predict the winner.

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