Argument Analysis Assignment for PHIL 303

Contact: Dr. Jan Garrett

Last revised date: February 16, 2004

There are three other web pages directly associated with this assignment. You may want to print them out for convenient reference. (Argument Construction moves in the opposite direction of Argument Analysis. But it may be useful when analyzing an argument to be conscious of how someone constructing an argument tends to think.)

1. Argument Analysis: The Basic Method

2. Example: Descartes on Knowing the Essence of a Physical Thing

3. Constructing an Argument: Finding the Middle Term

Here's another example of argument analysis (on Socrates' Defense Speech).

Due: Friday, February 13

Length: 2-3 pages, double-spaced

Most Desirable Format: The very best would display the premises, intermediate steps, and conclusions as in the formalized (numbered-steps) analysis of Descartes' Argument in item #2 above.

You should indicate, where possible, the previous steps on which a conclusion or intermediate conclusion rests.

Choose one of the passages indicated below and perform a Preliminary Argument Analysis:

(1) Locate the main conclusion

(2) Locate the premises (or intermediate conclusions) that are meant to support the main conclusion.

(3) Locate the premises (or intermediate conclusions) that are meant to support any intermediate conclusions.

(4) If the author's reasoning seems to hinge on the meaning of a key (perhaps a repeatedly used) term, make sure you understand the sense in which this term is used. Definitions of such terms may function as premises in reasoning. Terms are linguistic elements, usually nouns or noun phrases, that refer to concepts.) For help with some of the Cartesian terms, see Cartesian Glossary in the "Lectures High-Priority" section of this website.

(5) If the author is using any unstated assumptions to get to his conclusion, try to formulate them.

(6) State the final conclusion and each of the premises, intermediate conclusions, and assumptions as declarative sentences.

(7) Label your steps and show (perhaps by a tree diagram) how they are interconnected.

Two additional considerations: Be fair to the position under study. Your preliminary analysis should show whatever strengths it has. (Doing this is known as following the Principle of Charity.) Of course, you should also be careful not to attribute to it logical virtues that it entirely lacks.

The details below are new as of January 27, 2004.

Choose your passage to analyze from either of the following:

(1) Descartes on What Is More and What is Less Knowable. See Meditation II, esp. 30.2.23-32.1.28 and 33.2.15-34.1.9. (The third number refers to the line number within the column, starting from the top.)

Don't spend much time analyzing the middle section about the wax and how it is known-- I have already analyzed it in my sample argument analysis. (You may incorporate conclusions from that section as premises in your argument reconstruction if you find doing so useful).

There are two main parts of this argument, one that leads to a conclusion about what I (the reasoner) know myself to be; the other leads to a conclusion that I am much less sure about a certain class of other things. This makes possible a conclusion for this Meditation that one thing and its nature are better known than other things. (I am being deliberately vague here and expect you to supply greater precision based on your study of the text.)

Controlling the reasoning is the rule that I may admit into my conclusions only what I know without doubt, and that I know without doubt only those ideas that pass the test of supposing the existence of the very powerful Evil Demon.

Concepts that are important in this argument are thinking, imagination, and sensing, mind, body, and essence or nature.

(2) Descartes on the Source of Human Error. See Meditation IV, 42.1 bottom - 43.1 bottom.
We must distinguish carefully between the understanding (also called the intellect) and the will.

Understanding, or the intellect, is also called the faculty of knowing. For Descartes, the intellect enables one to perceive ideas, especially to perceive some ideas clearly and distinctly. When it perceives ideas most clearly and distinctly, the individual can assent to those ideas without fear of error. Descartes also holds that the intellect is limited in human beings. (How would he prove this?)

Alongside the intellect, the human mind or soul contains the will. It is described in this section. (See also the Cartesian Glossay under "Lectures, High-Priority".) Among other things, Descartes regards will as the capacity to withhold judgment about, or to affirm or deny, an idea. He says the human will, in itself, is infinite in its range. (This seems to mean that the will can assent to any idea the mind has that does not involve an outright contradiction.)

Descartes distinguishes different uses of the will, low-grade freedom (our assent to ideas that are unclear) and high-grade freedom (our assent to ideas that are extremely clear. Both of these are exercises of our freedom. Although the distinction between them is important, the main interest in this argument is the role of low-grade freedom.

The general structure of Descartes' argument in this section has to do with the role of intellect and will in the origin of error. Descartes wants to pinpoint the cause of human error, and he considers four possibilities: that God is the cause, that the limited human intellect, taken by itself, is the cause; that the human will, taken by itself, is the cause; that the cause is the (faulty) use we make of the will (when?).

In a previous argument, Descartes has reached the conclusion that God is not a deceiver. This conclusion operates as a premise in the argument under consideration.