Areas of Argumentation

Particular subject matters often give rise to new kinds of arguments and special standards for assessing arguments. One reason is that arguments in different areas have different purposes. Much scientific reasoning is aimed at explaining observations, including findings in experiments, whereas the point of moral reasoning is not to explain what happens but, rather, to evaluate and to determine which acts are justified. The audience also varies from one area of argumentation to another. Some religious reasoning is addressed only to people who already accept certain basic claims of a religious tradition, such as that the Bible is inspired, whereas philosophical reasoning typically prides itself in questioning common assumptions and authorities. Similarly, arguments about different topics often take place within different institutional contexts with distinctive rules. Legal arguments, for example, often assume specified burdens of proof, certain basic laws (such as in a constitution), and other fundamental features of the legal system in the jurisdiction; whereas moral reasoning is sometimes used to overturn those very same features of legal systems. Because these areas of argumentation differ in so many ways, we need to look at each of them separately and carefully to see which standards are at play in each area. That is one main goal of Part V. Another goal is to provide extensive examples of arguments both as targets for criticism and as models of how to construct a good argument. We can get better at arguing for our own views if we learn to appreciate the strengths in arguments given by other people, including our opponents. Toward these ends, Part V will discuss and give illustrations of legal, moral, scientific, religious, and philosophical reasoning in Chapters 18–22, respectively.

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