The Fault in Our Reasoning

(Kinda like this)

As I have previously gabbed on about (and here and here), warrants are imperative when making arguments because they are usually where issues arise with readers: why they would disagree and reject what you’re saying. Warrants are guiding principles for our reasoning and they often go unexplained or left suppressed–which, as we have discussed, is often problematic.  Why? Because! we aren’t all committed to the same beliefs/ideologies/views/ideas/what-have-yous. (And some people will never budge with what they believe, no matter what.) What’s important to remember is that it’s not always enough for an argument to be persuasive merely based on the claim, evidence, and reasoning connection; you need to understand your audience in order to understand how much heavy lifting you need to do with your reasoning with explaining the warrants of your work.

It’s difficult (and frustrating) to understand what warrant(s) need explaining given how many warrants can be at play given a particular discussion. Many times there are competing warrants given any argument.  Situations are complex, and people vary so much with how they understand them given their thinking and interpretations of particular issues. The Key Point: Don’t assume your reader will agree with you and your principles!

NOTE: When thinking about our specific purposes for the Inquiry Project, your methodology with your sources is meant to help your reader understand what you’re bringing to the table to analyze the particular problem you have established.  Your methodology gives the reader a framework for how you’re thinking/discussing the points throughout the paper: setting up the research and support you will draw on later in the essay to help situate concepts, context, definitions, etc.

Thinking about warrants also allows us to consider faulty ones, where the flaws in our reasoning can be identified and even categorized into general errors people make in argumentation. We call these things logical fallacies, and there are many of them. One of the biggest problems with fallacious arguments is that they’re disguised as valid ones. Consider the following:

We knew if Tommy showed up to Wednesday’s foursquare practice then he was definitely going to take home the gold in Saturday’s Jam-Off. He didn’t show up, though, so he’s not going to win.

This particular fallacy, denying the antecedent, often goes overlooked: Just because Tommy doesn’t show up to practice doesn’t mean he won’t win Saturday.  (Who knows what will happen at the Jam-Off!)  It’s easier to see the problem if we change the example but keep the same form:

We knew if Tommy became a firefighter he would save the lives of others. Unfortunately, he became a heart surgeon so he will never save anyone.

Despite being filled in with different content, both examples follow the same structure and are therefore equally fallacious. This is why fallacies have names: the structures have been used so many times to warrant an identity of type, where we can look to these types to readily pick them out when committed.

Though, merely knowing the names of fallacies and identifying them in stock examples doesn’t get us very far.  (It’s almost like a parlor trick.) It’s not hard for students to identify fallacies in examples when having time to deliberate; what’s hard is to not catch yourself committing one (or many) when it matters. This is (in part) why I suggest that, for our purposes with the Inquiry Project, we shouldn’t worry about specific fallacies over thinking of their general nature and the kinds of things they are doing: whether they are manipulating the structure of an argument, someone’s character, or the audience’s emotions.


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