OSSA Day 2: Goddu on ‘Real’ Arguments

Geoff Goddu, “Why I Still Do Not Know What A ‘Real’ Argument Is”

Consider the old saw for syllogisms:

Socrates is a man, and All men are mortal; therefore, Socrates is mortal.

It’s regularly claimed that this is not a real argument, and so is pointless to use as teaching tools.  So what’s a real argument?

C.Hamby’s criteria for real arguments amounts to: matter of judgment, is substantial, is relevant, is controversial, matters, is non-trivial, is prospectively used, is practical.  So the realness of arguments depend on subject-interests.

Goddu’s counter-examples.  With the Socrates syllogism above, imagine someone giving this as a reply to Socrates’ case for the immortality of the soul.  That’s a real argument.

Other cases:  (A1):  some arguments are composed solely of existential generalizations, so some arguments are composed solely of existential generalizations;   (A2) Petunias prance proudly past the pool, so some ‘unreal’ arguments have absurd premises.   (A3) Lemons are red, so the moon is made of blue cheese.  These are all cases where we could, like with the Socrates case, tell a story of how someone could be interested in the arguments.  So they can be ‘real’ arguments.

The class of non-real arguments, then, is, at least by its nature, empty.  Our lack of interest puts things in there – but that’s not about the arguments, but about us.

Moreover, there’s a self-refutation argument.  Here’s how it goes: If you claim that X is not a real argument, that’s a matter of interest to us, so now we have it being a real argument.

Hamby’s reply (which is awesome that the target for criticism was at the session!):  why does the fact that ‘real’ is a matter of indexing to subject interest make the notion of ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ not a useful part of your ontology of arguments?  Surely that’s an important element of pedagogy– we want to teach arguments that make a difference in their lives and our lives.

Q: Doesn’t the self-refuation argument confuse use and mention for argument X?  For the argument to go through, we must use X, but in the form presented, it’s mention-only.