Spotting errors in arguments – beginning steps

23 Jul

All roads lead to Rome

Old Cabin Cove is a road

Therefore, Old Cabin Cove leads to Rome

Our Gravel Road in NC

We just moved to Western North Carolina.  We live on an unmarked gravel road.  Believe me; it does NOT lead to Rome.

So if the conclusion is not true, what went wrong?  And where do we even start to determine that?   Tell you what – if we analyze the three lines, we can determine where the hole in the thinking is.  And believe me, the process is actually FUN!

The 3 propositions or sentences in red above constitute a SYLLOGISM.  It’s easier to examine this argument or syllogism if we rewrite & label it. The 1st proposition we’ll label P1 for Proposition # 1, the 2nd will be P2 and the 3rd proposition is the conclusion, hence C.

And remember that each proposition is made up of a Subject, a Copula (is/am/are) and a Predicate.  Making these parts explicit or obvious will help.

To figure out which term is the Subject term and which is the Predicate, we start with the conclusion and label ‘bottom up’.  The simple rule is this:

  • In the conclusion of a syllogism, the term before the copula is ALWAYS the Subject term and the term AFTER the copula is ALWAYS the Predicate term.
  • Once you identify them IN the conclusion, they STAY labeled S and P no matter where they are in Premise 1 or Premise 2
  • The ‘left-over’ or 3rd term that remains to be identified is called the M term or Middle Term

*

P1 – All roads (M) are roads that lead to Rome(P)

P2 – ‘Old Cabin Cove’(S)  is a road (M)

C – Therefore, ‘Old Cabin Cove’(S) is a road that leads to Rome(P)

Some rules for a proper syllogism:    

  • We can only have 3 terms…and if you notice, each one shows up twice in the syllogism.  If you have fewer or more than 3 terms, the syllogism/argument is considered INVALID.
  • Nota Bene…..the plural term of ‘roads that lead to Rome’ is the same term as the singular term  ‘road that leads to Rome’. (not TWO separate terms)
  • The 1st proposition listed has to be the one that contains the Predicate term – it’s called the Major Premise because that predicate term is considered the Major Term ………….. hence the premise that contains the major term is the major premise – (this is not ROCKET SCIENCE!!) . If you see a syllogism with that Predicate or Major term in the 2nd premise, the argument is in the wrong form and you should SHOUT, “INVALID!”

So, can YOU spot what might be wrong?  Our syllogism SEEMS to be in the correct order and it DOES have the correct number of terms.  Yet we know that the conclusion is NOT correct.  Something else is in play here!

Next time we’ll look at the truth of each premise and to determine if we can spot the faulty reasoning.

Your HW – look at this syllogism and write it out in logical form and label it!  It’s tricky!

All animals that make good pets cuddle well

Some cats cuddle well

Tf, some cats make good pets     

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