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Claims as elements of reasoning

Effective thinking skills can be elusive. Reasoning has a structure and content that can be hard to control (as an author) and hard to discern (as a reader) when it is expressed in normal English (so-called ‘natural language’). We tend to assume that claims are indistinguishable from their particular forms of expression, and it may be hard to grasp just what claims do within reasoning unless we shake them loose from their normal modes of expression. Claims may be expressed in natural language. However claims are better understood as elements of reasoning:

The basic units of analysis in our arguments and explanations. Written and spoken English does make claims, but draws them together and expresses them in ways that are stylish, but which also make it harder to identify and understand individual claims. In particular, sentences, which assist in making English easy to write and read, can obscure the more analytical function of the statements that these sentences express.

Look, for example, at the following: Many Australians favour making the nation a republic. However, it is unclear just how many Australians there are in favour of this, and until we know and are sure that a very large majority of Australians want a republic, we should not move too quickly to implement this change. How do we identify the claims? In the first sentence, there is just one claim. In the second sentence, though, there are two claims.

The first is ‘it is unclear just how many Australians there are in favour of this’ (note the use of ‘this’ to mean ‘making the nation a republic’); the second is ‘until we know and are sure that a very large majority of Australians want a republic, we should not move too quickly to implement this change’. Note how tricky the process of identifying claims can be. In the second sentence, the first ‘and’ indicates a break between two claims, but the word ‘and’ is later used differently to combine ‘know and are sure’.

Lastly comment

Similarly, the comma after ‘however’ in the second sentence indicates that a claim is starting, but later on, a comma proves to be part of a claim. Note, too, the use of pronouns such as ‘this’ and ‘it’, which are used as substitutes for the actual nouns that claims contain

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