[A02] The standard format

§1. Presenting arguments in the standard format

When it comes to the analysis and evaluation of an argument, it is often useful to label the premises and the conclusion, and display them on separate lines with the conclusion at the bottom :

(Premise 1) If you want to find a good job, you should work hard.
(Premise 2) You do want to find a good job.
(Conclusion) So you should work hard.

Let us call this style of presenting an argument a presentation in the standard format. Here we rewrite two more arguments using the standard format:

We should not inflict unnecessary pain on cows and pigs. After all, we should not inflict unnecessary pain on any animal with consciousness, and cows and pigs are animals with consciousness.

(Premise 1) We should not inflict unnecessary pain on any animal with consciousness.
(Premise 2) Cows and pigs are animals with consciousness.
(Conclusion) We should not inflict unnecessary pain on cows and pigs.

If this liquid is acidic, the litmus paper would have turned red. But it hasn't, so the liquid is not acidic.

(Premise 1) If the liquid is acidic, the litmus paper would have turned red.
(Premise 2) The litmus paper has not turned red.
(Conclusion) The liquid is not acidic.

In presenting an argument in the standard format the premises and the conclusion are clearly identified. Sometimes we also rewrite some of the sentences to make their meaning clearer, as in the second premise of the second example. Notice also that a conclusion need not always come at the end of a passage containing an argument, as in the first example. In fact, sometimes the conclusion of an argument might not be explicitly written out. For example it might be expressed by a rhetorical question:

How can you believe that corruption is acceptable? It is neither fair nor legal!

In presenting an argument in the standard format, we have to rewrite the argument more explicitly as follows:

(Premise) Corruption is not fair and it is not legal.
(Conclusion) Corruption is not acceptable.
  • If you want to improve your reading and comprehension skills, you should practise reconstructing the arguments that you come across by rewriting them carefully in the standard format.
  • Presenting arguments is not just a way to defend your own opinion. It helps us understand other people as well.

Rewrite these arguments in the standard format.

  1. He is either in Hong Kong or Macau. John says that he is not in Hong Kong. So he must be in Macau.
  2. If the Government wants to build an incinerator here they should compensate those who live in the area. Incinerators are known to cause health problems to people living nearby. These people did not choose to live there in the first place.