Eng101a freshman English Logic and Argumentation I learning Objectives

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ENG101A Freshman English

  • Logic and Argumentation I

Learning Objectives

  • Basics in Logic and Argumentation
  • The Writer’s Position in Argumentative Writing

But first, a riddle!

  • There is a really rich man and he has two sons. One day he dies and in his will it says "My dear sons, I am only going to give one of you my entire fortune, and you will have to race for it. Whose ever horse finishes last, wins."
  • The next day the two brothers set off as slow as they possibly can. In the first day they don't even make a mile, and at the end of the day they decided to stop at an inn to rest. The two brothers told the inn keeper about their race. The inn keeper told them only two words. The next day the two brothers set off as fast as they could go. What were the two words that the inn keeper told them to make them race so fast?

Basics in Logic and Argumentation

Opinions vs. arguments

  • An opinion is a claim about something.
  • When reasons are added to the claim, the combination of claim and reasons becomes an argument.
  • Arguments are more effective in convincing people about something than are mere opinions.
  • Arguments are made up of premises and conclusions, which can usually be recognized by identifying premise indicators (e.g., "because") or conclusion indicators (e.g., "therefore").

Formal and informal arguments

  • Arguments are, in essence, conditional statements that have the form
  • IF premises, THEN conclusion.
  • The type and quality of the premises in an argument directly affect how convincing the argument is.
  • Formal arguments are more convincing that informal arguments.
  • Formal arguments are logically complete arguments (also called deductive arguments). That means that the premises provided in a formal argument lead directly to the claim being made (the conclusion).
  • In other words, in a formal argument, if the premises (also called the antecedent of the conditional statement) are stated and found reasonable, then the conclusion (also called the consequent of the conditional statement) must unavoidably be deemed acceptable.
  • Informal arguments are not logically complete.

Logical form

  • Formal arguments follow a predictable pattern composed of a major premise followed by a minor premise and ending with a conclusion.
  • The major premise is usually an if/then statement that makes a claim about some truth in general, e.g., "if something has wings, then it flies."
  • The minor premise that follows makes a claim about a specific instance, e.g., "butterflies have wings."
  • Stated together, the major and minor premise inevitably call up the conclusion, e.g., "butterflies fly."
  • Only formal deductive arguments can be adequately evaluated. That is because the combination of major and minor premises they contain is intended to be adequate evidence for the conclusion. Informal arguments do not contain adequate support.


  • Many informal arguments have just a major premise or just a minor premise. Such informal arguments can be made into formal arguments rather easily by supplying whichever premise is missing.
  • These arguments are called enthymemes.
  • An example of an enthymeme is the statement "There must be a fire here because I smell smoke." The one premise ("I smell smoke") is a minor premise, as it makes a specific claim about a specific instance. Adding the general rule (a major premise) that "If there is smoke, then there is fire" makes the argument a complete formal argument: "If there is smoke, then there is fire. There indeed is smoke. (I smell smoke.) Thus there must be a fire."
  • A second example of an enthymeme might be "The theory of evolution is unacceptable because I don't believe that humans evolved from apes."
  • The unstated major premise is: "If the theory of evolution is accepted, then one must believe that humans evolved from apes."
  • The completed formal argument is then "If the theory of evolution is accepted, then one must believe that humans evolved from apes. I don't believe that humans evolved from apes. So the theory of evolution cannot be accepted."
  • A third example of an enthymeme might be "Extramarital sex is wrong because if a practice breaks up marriages, then it is wrong."
  • The unstated minor premise is "Extramarital sex breaks up marriages."
  • The completed formal argument is then "If a practice breaks up marriages, then it is wrong. Extramarital sex breaks up marriages. So extramarital sex is wrong."
  • Specifically stating the missing but assumed premise of an enthymeme allows critical thinkers to evaluate the adequacy of both premises.


  • With a partner, write a formal argument (major premise, minor premise, conclusion) proving each of these:
  • Dogs are better than cats.
  • It is more healthy to brush your teeth once a week, instead of twice a day.
  • It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.
  • If you had a superpower, it would be better to be able to turn invisible than to fly.
  • The greatest food in the world is ramen noodles.


  • Formal arguments can be evaluated.
  • An acceptable argument is called a sound argument.
  • To determine if an argument is good or sound, analyze two things:
  • the logical form of the argument (the argument's validity)
  • the reasonableness of its premises, i.e., whether the premises are probable and relevant to the conclusion.
  • If either test fails, the argument is not sound.
  • A valid deductive argument has premises that (if we assume they pass the test of acceptability) lead unerringly to the conclusion.
  • IF acceptable premises, THEN acceptable conclusion.
  • Reducing an argument to its logical form is called symbolizing the argument by identifying its propositions and logical connectives and substituting letters or symbols for those elements.
    • There are three valid logical forms:
    • Modus Ponens: If p then q; p; hence q.
    • Modus Tollens: If p then q; not q; hence not p.
    • Disjunctive Syllogism: p or q; not p; hence q.
  • Just as there are forms of rational thinking (e.g., rationalization, weak-sense critical thinking, and instrumental reasoning) that resemble critical thinking but are not critical thinking, so too there are logical forms of deductive arguments that resemble valid forms but are invalid. Two examples of such invalid argument forms follow.
  • If p then q; q; hence p. (the fallacy of affirming the consequent)
  • If p then q; not p; hence not q. (the fallacy of denying the antecedent)


  • Having evaluated the validity of an argument, we know that
  • if an argument has a valid logical form, then its conclusion must necessarily be accepted (if the premises are also determined to be reasonable).
  • if an argument has an invalid logical form, then its conclusion does not necessarily have to be accepted (even if the premises are determined to be reasonable).
  • if an argument has a valid form but the conclusion is known to be false or questionable, then at least one of the premises must not be reasonable.
  • Evaluating arguments is easier when we have a model or standard against which to measure their worth.

The Writer’s Position in Argumentative Writing

  • (Adapted from: http://www.ln.edu.hk/eng/rhetoric/)

Argumentative Writing

  • The writer’s position
  • Use of tone
  • Foregrounding and backgrounding
  • Paragraph development
  • Essay development
  • Fluency
  • Argumentative strategies

1. The writer’s position

What is a Writer’s Position?

  • In an argumentative essay, the Writer’s Position is the overall position the writer takes with regard to the controversial issue being argued. It is also known as the thesis statement in an essay.

Why do we need a Writer’s Position?

  • The Writer’s Position makes it clear to the reader which side of a controversial issue the argument will defend. It makes the reading of the essay more straight forward and easier to follow.

Some Examples of the Writer’s Position

  • Below is a good example of the Writer’s Position statement. The writer is expressing his view towards the issue of whether scientists should continue with the research on cloning despite the moral and legal controversy surrounding it.  The significant parts have been highlighted for your attention:

Example 1: 

  • Adapted from ‘Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: What’s Wrong with It? ‘ by: David S. Oderberg; Human Life Review. New York: Fall 2005. Vol. 31, Iss. 4; pg 21, 13 pages.

Paragraph 1

  • Paragraph 1
  • Science does not take place in a vacuum. When I speak of science as not being done in a vacuum, however, I am referring not to society but to the scientist’s own character. For when it comes to a momentous issue such as human embryonic stem cell research, reading of the literature reveals that far too many scientists and bioethicists think that all the stem cell researcher should be doing is getting on with his research while leaving it to society somehow to solidify the ethical problems the research leaves in its wake. For some researchers, the view seems to be that their duty is to try—in the name of scientific freedom—to get away with as much as they can unless and until society, or the law, puts a stop to their attempts.
  • (continued…)
  • Most, however, take a more cautious position, namely that they should keep their head down and get on the job of pushing forward the frontiers of discovery in a way that does not cause any fright. For them, the task is not to get too far out of step with what society can tolerate, but to inch forward with their research in the hope that others will do the necessary work of negotiating the conflicting views surrounding that research and nudging the community toward a moral consensus that will gain for the scientist as much freedom as possible.

Paragraph 2

  • Paragraph 2
  • Such an attitude is radically misguided.

Discussion of Example 1


Strengths of the WP in Example 1: 

Strength 1--Setting the Scene

  • This article addresses the philosophical issue of moral and personal accountability for the results of scientific advances. The context is vast, and therefore requires a lengthy introduction and explanation of the particular frame of reference for human embryonic stem cell research. From the very beginning, the writer uses the contrary position to establish the context of the position he will defend. As we often say: “the best offence is a good defense.” By attacking the weak points in an opposing argument, the writer is able to present evidence in support of his own opinion in a more favorable light. Thus, as this writer points out, scientists who try to get on with stem cell research in the middle of the controversy are escapists, who are just avoiding the moral and legal questions.

Strength 2--Making a Clearcut Declaration

  • The Writer’s Position is put in the second paragraph in no uncertain terms—that the scientists who leave others to solve the moral problems caused by their research are misguided. After such a clear declaration of the Writer’s Position, the writer primes the reader to go on to read in detail the reasons why in the rest of the essay.

Example 2:

  • Different Genders, Different Buildings
  • In most schools, male and female students traditionally live in separate buildings in the hostel. However, some people would challenge this long-standing practice, saying that male and female students should live in the same building, because it would benefit both genders a lot, creating a better understanding of the opposite sex and a more harmonious atmosphere in the dorm buildings. For my part, although I won’t deny these good points, male and female students ought to live in different buildings for the following three reasons.

Discussion of Example 2


Strengths of the WP in Example 2:

  • 1. Addressing the Issue
  • The writer addresses the issue by capitulating major arguments of the opposing viewpoint .
  • 2. Declaring the Writer’s Position
  • While recognizing the opposing viewpoint, the writer declares clearly what position is adopted in the essay and prepares the reader of what is to come in the rest of the essay.

Developing the Writer’s Position for a Written Argument

Developing the Writer’s Position for a Written Argument

  • The writer’s position is the attitude or conviction of the writer about the topic being written about. Choosing a side to argue from is the most basic strategy of an argument. Before deciding on an argumentative strategy, the thesis statement, or the writer’s position, must be a defensible one. A writer cannot write from an indefensible position. “War is desirable,” for example, is a difficult (though not entirely indefensible position). Nowadays, in light of current scientific knowledge, it may well be impossible to argue that smoking cigarettes is an acceptable habit, or that overuse of prescription drugs is not a significant medical problem.
  • Look at the following example of how a Writer’s Position can be developed:

Example of How to Develop a Writer’s Position

  • Topic--The need for a university education 
  • Positive Assertion--Young people nowadays require a university education in order to have a successful career. 
  • Negative Assertion--Young people do not require a university education in order to have a successful career 
  • Positive Thesis statement--University education dramatically enhances the potential of young people to contribute meaningfully to the development of their societies. 
  • Negative Thesis statement--Over-qualification of the youth employment sector leads to disgruntled workers and a lack of unskilled laborers.

What to do in Choosing a Writer’s Position?

  • 1. After a thorough investigation of the topic, a writer may find that the second assertion and thesis statement have less possibilities of being successfully defended. The writer must choose his position to coincide with the best evidence at his disposal. He must research his topic to learn the best strategy for the argument.
  • 2. When choosing the position he wants to defend, the writer should make his thesis statement sufficiently broad, so that he will not be locked into a limited defense strategy and that his position has ample evidence to be used in the defense
  • 3. The writer’s position is often restated throughout the argument as the writer produces evidence that corroborates it. The argument progresses through various stages guided by the position proposed by the writer. The reader is in turn guided by the Writer’s Position throughout the argument.

What to Watch out for in Writing the Writer’s Position Statement?

  • What to Watch out for in Writing the Writer’s Position Statement?

Overstating and Understating the Writer’s Position

  • When learners write a statement for the position they take, they sometimes either overstate it or understate it. Overstatements of the Writer’s Position exaggerate the claim the writer is making with regard to the issue being argued and therefore make it more difficult for the writer to defend the position taken. An overstated position may also alienate the reader as being too strong a view to agree with. On the other hand, an understatement does not do justice to the writer and has the unfortunate effect of undermining the force of the argument unnecessarily. Both overstatements and understatements are therefore to be avoided.

An Example of an Understated Writer’s Position

  • Should Male and Female Students Live in Separate Buildings in Hostel?
  • Most universities and colleges in Mainland China follow the tradition of arranging for their male and female students to live in separate buildings in the hostel. But times are changing and social attitudes have become more tolerant, especially in big cities. As a university student in Guangzhou, a big city in China and the capital of GuangDong province, I would like to focus on the situation here.

Discussion of the above example

  • This writer’s position can be categorized as an understatement because the writer does not actually state his or her opinion. Understatements erode the writer’s position because the reader is not sure what the writer’s argument is. A firm statement of the writer’s position guides the reader and focuses the writer’s argument. The following changes illustrate the point:
  • Most universities and colleges in Mainland China follow the tradition and arrange for their male and female students to live in separate buildings in the hostel. But times are changing and social attitudes have become more tolerant, especially in the big cities. As a university student in Guangzhou, a big city in China and the capital of GuangDong province, I would like to focus on the situation here. I find that under the present circumstances, a case can be made for having co-ed hostels in Southern China.
  • Understatement is a form of irony. In English we frequently use understatement as a humourous device or to indirectly emphasize a point. Therefore, ESL students are advised to be very cautious in the use of understatement, not only in the writer’s position, but throughout the essay.

Examples of Understatement

  • (1) We might be a little upset if you were hit by a drunk driver at 2:00 A.M., so we hope you will come home early.
  • (2) The laws of gravity suggest that it might be a little difficult for an elephant to fly.

An Example of an Overstated Writer’s Position

  • Mixed Hostels or Not?
  • It isn’t new at all for male and female students to share the same buildings in the hostel isn’t in western countries. From America to Canada, and from England to Sweden, males and females live in harmony under the same roof. However, here in Mainland China, the education authority shows little interest in such a policy. I wonder why they cannot follow the example of Taiwan Universities, where male and female students are permitted to share the same dorm building and even the same lavatory.

Discussion of the above example

  • This writer’s position might be considered a little too strong. For example, the implied recommendation of having co-ed lavatories goes far beyond what needs to be defended, that is, the adoption of co-ed hostels. . The writer could in fact strengthen his position by toning it down and lessening his burden of proof. This can be done by leaving out overly aggressive implications, as the following changes show:
  • It is nothing new for male and female students to share the same hostel buildings in western countries. From America to Canada, and from England to Sweden, males and females live in harmony under the same roof. However, here in Mainland China, the education authorities show little interest in such a policy. Admittedly, the situation may be different in China, but rapid changes in recent decades have brought a lot of changes to people’s lives, including the way they interact with the opposite sex. If campus life is a training ground for adult social life, I believe universities should provide co-ed hostels for their students.


Question 1

  • Which of the following thesis statements is the most appropriate for introducing university students to the topic of “co-ed dormitories” (same-sex hostels) on university campuses?


  • Five Yale University students have had the courage to challenge the rule that requires students to live in coed dormitories, where many engage in casual sex without shame and most use coed showers and toilets. The dormitory environment features the open availability of sex manuals and condoms, and attendance at safe sex lectures is required of freshmen.


  • First came the coed dormitory. Next there was the coed floor and even the unisex campus bathroom. But are colleges ready to embrace the ultimate step in gender blending -- the coed room?


  • It is very common that one goes to study in public classrooms and soon has to retreat because some lovers are billing and cooing on the left of you and on the right of you. This sort of public display of affection is For example,, yet one must tolerate it, for these people are victims of an unreasonable system. Generally speaking, male and female students live in distinct dormitory buildings. More often than not there is a superintendent sitting at the entrance of each dormitory building, ready to catch the “stowaways” at any moment (usually boys who try to sneak into their girlfriends’ dormitory building) The public classroom is one of the few places male and female students are allowed to be seen together. Thus it naturally becomes lovers’ refuge. However, their self-indulgent behavior greatly impacts other students. And the separation of male and female students in the hostels is the root of the problem..

Question 2

  • Which of the following thesis statements introduces a factual argument in favour of cloning?


  • Nowadays, with the development of science and technology, nearly every thing can be “duplicated”. Movies, songs, tables, chairs, etc. have already become too easy for men to “duplicate”. Cloning, which is defined as “the descendant of a single plant or animal, produced nonsexually from any one cell, and with exactly the same form as the parent” in the Longman Dictionary of English Language & Culture, was once a thought that most of us would never expect to come true. However, since the birth of the genetically cloned sheep Dolly in 1996, it has become possible. The question of whether cloning should be encouraged has become a controversial issue for some time. Here, I shall put forward three reasons to support why cloning should be encouraged.


  • Since the cloned sheep Dolly was ‘born’, the issue of cloning has aroused many people’s awareness. Undoubtedly, cloning is a breakthrough in technology. But many people are strongly opposed to it because they believe that cloning is an immoral issue. From my point of view, cloning should be encouraged.


  • Cloning is a medical breakthrough; many researches revealed that cloning can cure many illnesses such as heart attack and cancer, Those people dying from these illnesses are like being sentenced to death because no existing. Since cloning was invented, there is still hope for them. People who have incurable diseases need this technology to help them.

Question 3

  • Given the following topic, are the position and thesis statement defensible?
  • Topic: Book censorship
  • Position: Book censorship is not acceptable
  • Thesis statement: When books are taken off library shelves and are dropped from school curricula, students are denied exposure to the interchange of ideas.
  • (Questions 3-7 are adapted from exercises in Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers, Lynn Quitman Troyka, editor. Third Edition, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1993. Pp. 149-50 )


  • Defensible. Most societies do not accept censorship.

Question 4

  • Given the following topic, are the position and thesis statement defensible?
  • Topic: Television  
  • Position: Television viewing is not acceptable without limits. 
  • Thesis statement: Children’s television viewing should be limited, as this is a passive activity and trains them to accept information unquestioningly.


  • Defensible. Although there is no strong scientific evidence that it is damaging to children, the anecdotal evidence suggests that this is true, and there are many more productive things that children can do that will assuredly not have this effect on them.

Question 5

  • Are the position and thesis statement defensible?
  • Topic: Prisons  Position: Prisons are not acceptable  Thesis statement: Prisons should be closed because they are schools for crime and contribute to the further delinquency of their populations.


  • Not defensible. Although they are not the best conceivable solution to the crime problem, we have no better alternative, and we cannot just allow dangerous criminals to continue their careers unimpeded. To do so would invite chaos.

Question 6

  •  Are the position and thesis statement defensible?
  • Topic: Drugs and athletics   Position: Drugs are acceptable in athletics  Thesis statement: Drugs are necessary in athletic competitions, because without modern medicine, athletes could not perform to the best of their ability.


  • Not defensible. Performance enhancing drugs are known to be dangerous to the health of competitors and unfairly disadvantage those who engage in fair play.

Question 7

  • Defensible or not?
  • Topic: Diets for weight loss  Position: Diets for weight loss are necessary  Thesis statement: Dieting to lose and maintain a healthy weight is a key strategy in combating heart disease and other problems.


  • Defensible. Although dieting can be dangerous if there is no medical supervision, it is important to keep one’s weight within reasonable limits in order to prevent serious diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Question 8

  • Defensible or not?
  •  Topic: Grades   Position: Grades are less important than knowledge in university education.   Thesis statement: Knowledge and skills are essential to achieving professionalism; grades are not.


  • Defensible. Knowledge and skills are essential to professionalism. Grades are not.

Next lecture…

  • Basic Logic and Making Inferences
  • Task 2: Writing a 300-word argumentative essay (5%)

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