After the essential premises and conclusion are isolated, we often need to clar- ify these claims before we can begin our logical analysis. The goal here is not perfect clarity, for there probably is no such thing. It is, however, often neces- sary to eliminate ambiguity and reduce vagueness before we can give an ar- gument a fair assessment. In particular, it is usually helpful to specify the referents of pronouns, because such references can depend on a context that is changed when the argument is put into standard form. “You are wrong” or “That’s wrong” can be perfectly clear when said in response to a particular claim, but they lose their clarity when they are moved into the conclusion of an argument in standard form. We also often need to specify whether a claim is about all, most, many, or just some of its subject matter. When people say, “Blues music is sad,” do they mean all, most, some, or typical blues music?


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Another common problem arises when someone argues like this:

You should just say “No” to drugs, because drugs are dangerous.

What counts as a drug? What about penicillin or aspirin? The speaker might seem to mean “drugs like cocaine,” but “like” them in which respects? Maybe what is meant is “addictive drugs,” but what about alcohol and nicotine (which are often addictive)? You might think that the speaker means “danger- ous drugs,” but then the premise becomes empty: “Dangerous drugs are dan- gerous.” Or maybe the idea is “illegal drugs,” but that seems to assume that the law is correct about what is dangerous. In any case, we cannot begin to evaluate this argument if we do not know the extent of what it claims.

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