What is a philosophical argument?
There is a lot of confusion as to what an argument is as it relates to philosophy. Most of the time arguing is something more like a verbal quarrel between two or more people expressing subjective or personal ideas about something. A philosophical argument (PA) is a little different.
To begin with a philosophical argument shouldn’t be used to attack an opponent or impress an audience with ones fine oratory skills. A second thing that an argument is not is a default gainsaying of the opposing position. Even in cases where you know the rival position is wrong you haven’t made PA until you have stated reasons why it is wrong. That in a nutshell is what an argument is; giving good reasons to support your conclusion.
A PA will consist of reasons (or premises) leading to a conclusion. These premises will typically be take for granted and follow the assumption that if you accept these premises then you ought to accept the conclusion that follows. For example:
P.1 Everything which begins to exist has a cause
P.2 The universe began to exist there for the universe had a cause
C. This cause is what we call God
The premises in the argument above are marked with the P. and the conclusion with a C. Having said this there are three questions one ought to be asking herself when evaluating an argument like this:
1. Is the argument form valid?
2. Are the premises true?
3. Is the argument sound?
Each of these are completely independent issues so that one might agree with the premises but the form of the argument might be fallacious or wrong. In other cases the argument for is correct but the premises are untrue. Or in some cases both the argument form is bad and the premises are untrue.
In the argument above one could make the case that P.1 is wrong and give an example of an atomic photon light that enters and exits existence without any apparent cause. Then it would be up to the arguer to either accept the refutation, reject it on the basis of something like “apparent causes” not being a strong basis for refutation, or abstain.
Another way of attacking the argument is by attacking its form which will be a topic for another blog post.