Ethics
Resources for Matt Cleaver's ethics classes

Argument Analysis Discussion Replies

An example discussion thread is provided below. It shows you what I am looking for in your Argument Analysis discussion post.


(Random Student’s Initial Post)

Abortion is a divisive topic and has been for a long time (“State legislatures see flurry of activity on abortion bills”). The heart of the debate revolves around whose rights deserve to be given the most weight: the mother or the fetus? It seems like you can’t have both, and since abortion involves, at a minimum, terminating the life a living organism to whom some grant full personhood the stakes are even higher.

Against Abortion

  • Premise 1: A human fetus has a heartbeat at six weeks of gestation.
  • Premise 2: Abortion after six weeks stops a beating human heart.
  • Conclusion: Abortion is wrong after six weeks of gestation.

In Favor of Abortion

  • Premise 1: Women have a right to abortion.
  • Premise 2: Jane had an abortion.
  • Conclusion: Jane had a right to have an abortion.

(Other Student’s Reply)

Option A - Correct an invalid argument.

@RandomStudent, your argument against abortion is invalid. Premise 1 and 2 are both facts, and then your conclusion is a value judgment. You can’t get a value judgment in your conclusion without a value judgment in your premises. Here is how I would re-state it:

  • Premise 1: A human fetus has a heartbeat at six weeks of gestation.
  • Premise 2: Abortion after six weeks stops a beating human heart.
  • Premise 3: It is wrong to stop a beating human heart.
  • Conclusion: Abortion is wrong after six weeks of gestation.

(Other Student’s Reply)

Option B - Make a descriptive argument prescriptive.

@RandomStudent, your argument in favor of abortion is descriptive. It doesn’t say why Jane has a right to abortion. I would restate it like this:

  • Premise 1: A woman has a right to make decisions relating to her own body.
  • Premise 2: Abortion is a decision about a woman’s body.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, a woman has a right to decide to have an abortion.

(Random Student’s Reply)

Option C - Refute a premise using an argument by analogy (tell us which premise, exactly, you are refuting).

@OtherStudent, thank you for improving my arguments. I would like to offer an argument by analogy to refute your premise, “It is wrong to stop a beating human heart.” Consider the case of an elderly, chronically ill person on life-support. They have no more hope of recovery and the family decides to take them off of life support. When that happens, that is stopping a human heart from beating, but most people intuitively agree that it would be acceptable to remove life support in that case. You cannot say that it is wrong in all cases to stop a beating human heart.


(Other Student’s Reply)

Option D - Critique someone else’s argument by analogy.

@RandomStudent, that is a good analogy, but I think there is a problem with it. In the case of the fetus, the human heart is developing and gaining in strength. In the case of the chronically ill elderly person, their heart is declining and losing strength. This is a crucial distinction. No matter how long the elderly person is on life support, their heart will not get stronger, but if the fetus remains alive in the mother’s womb, the heart will eventually develop to the point where it can support itself apart from the mother.

(You could stop there and likely receive full credit. But to make sure you earn an A+ rating on this comment, you could suggest a better argument by analogy, such as the following:)

A better analogy would be removing life support from a young person who was in a tragic accident who was on life support while they recovered. In this case, the life support is simply allowing the body to strengthen and heal itself until the person is healthy enough to be taken off. If life support were removed from this person, most people would intuitively agree that is the wrong thing to do.


(Another Student’s Reply)

Option E - Suggest a different argument for a topic.

@OtherStudent & @RandomStudent. Good discussion, but I think you could approach this topic from a different angle. Here is what I came up with:

  • Premise 1: It is wrong to inflict pain on innocent beings.
  • Premise 2: A fetus is an innocent being.
  • Premise 3: A fetus can feel pain at 25 weeks of gestation.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, abortion before 25 weeks is permissible, but after 25 weeks is wrong.