Discussion Topic

Read page 263 (“The Case Against the Death Penalty”) in your text and the Analysis Exemplar document. This will provide you with an example of how to identify the parts of an argument within a case or article.

Then, select an article from the USA Today Opinion page.Use this article: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/03/13/… Unless you see another that would be better, ASK ME FIRST. Be sure to click on an editorial article marked “Opinion.” In your initial post, address the following:

  • Post the link to the article that you selected.
  • Identify the premises and conclusion of the argument.
  • Using what you have learned about logic so far, discuss whether you agree with the argument that you have identified.

Use this format and feedback from the teacher:

A very important aspect of laying out arguments is to avoid bringing our own preconceptions into the argument or to add details that are not given in the argument. I want to walk you through this process so that you can implement it yourself on your chosen editorial. We’re going to use the argument found in Chapter 6 of your e-book. It’s small, so I’ll reproduce it for you.

“1 in 3 Americans have tried marijuana and federal marijuana laws can arrest or imprison every one of them just for simple possession. These laws are unfair and abuse our criminal justice system. Prosecuting and jailing these Americans wastes valuable resources better spent keeping violent criminals off our streets. As it is, hundreds of thousands of citizens have already been imprisoned—many of them non-violent, otherwise law-abiding and many of them stripped of their right to vote, their property, their jobs, and their college grants. Let’s adopt common sense and fairness and enact more realistic marijuana laws. And let’s save jails for real criminals.”

The first temptation is to talk about the content of an opinion piece like this and discuss whether or not we agree with the conclusion. But that’s not what we’re doing this week (in other words, don’t do that in your posts). We are working on laying out each piece and part of the argument methodically so that we can more clearly analyze each element and determine the overall strength of the argument, not just whether or not we happen to like the conclusion.

To avoid bringing in bias and background beliefs, I suggest that we use the writer’s original wording to lay out the argument (using quotes and citing, of course). So, we need to first look to find the conclusion. What is/are the line(s) that best sum up what the writer is trying to convince us of? Then, after we do that, we should ask what reasons the writer gives to try to convince us of this conclusion. Those are the premises of the argument. Heads up, since the task of an editorial is to convince you of something, there will likely be many premises in your chosen article. In some, the article is one premise after another and you do need them all to properly assess the argument. Don’t be afraid of how long the argument turns out to be. It’s important to accurately find all of the premises given. Also, sometimes there are subconclusion, which are premises that support the conclusion, but which, themselves, are supported by premises. Be on the lookout for those.

When we lay out arguments logically, we can do it in a couple of ways (see your text). One is diagram form. One is underline form. One is what is sometimes called P1, P2, etc. form or what we’ll call Standard Form. This is the easiest form to use for discussion posts and papers to lay out arguments for most people. It looks like a list. “P” stands for “premise”, so you are listing each premise by a number:






Ok, so going through this ACLU argument, and applying these concepts, this is how it breaks down:

1. Premise: “1 in 3 adult Americans have tried marijuana.”

2. Premise: “Federal marijuana laws can arrest or imprison every person who has tried marijuana just for simple possession.”

3. Subconclusion: “Marijuana laws are unfair.”

4. Premise: “Hundreds of thousands have been imprisoned–many of them non-violent, otherwise law-abiders and many of them stripped of their right to vote, their property, their jobs, and their college grants.”

5. Premise: “Prosecuting and jailing these Americans wastes valuable resources better spent keeping violent criminals off our streets.”

6. Subconclusion: “Marijuana laws abuse our justice system.”

Conclusion (from the two subconclusions): “We should enact more realistic marijuana laws and save jails for real criminals.”

NOTICE: This doesn’t say we should legalize marijuana. It doesn’t say that marijuana is harmless. Those things might be true and they might be implied, but we have to keep our analysis to what the argument actually says…to the reasons that are actually given. We wouldn’t necessarily notice that if all we did was see if we disagreed or agreed with the conclusion. So this is forcing us to be far more careful and precise in our thinking. It allows us too, to point to particular premises and evaluate them for soundness (we’ll get to that next week).

I know this is new. Don’t get discouraged. This is completely outside of the zone of what many of us make ourselves do with arguments. Most times, we just accept or reject them on as a whole. But, as we shall see, doing so is dangerous to good critical thinking because it often obscures us from recognizing the details of what we are agreeing to. We’ll work together on this and practice our skills this week. By the end, you will be experts at wielding the knife that carves out premises from conclusions!

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