Argument structure. Biases

What is an argument

Argument – an attempt to persuade someone through reasoning that they should agree with a particular conclusion.

She wrote the world’s leading psychology textbook: her views on psychology must be worth taking seriously.

The video my friend posted on Facebook is really funny. I’m going to click ‘like’.

Assertion – a statement of fact or belief, provided without support of justification.

Conclusion – the final point that someone making an argument is trying to convince you of.

Premise – a claim presented by an argument in support of its conclusion.

Premises can be:

  1. Implicit
    • hidden premises, they are implied but are not stated
  2. Explicit
    • they are stated openly

Extraneous material – information that is not relevant to the argument and should be left out as we carefully clarify each premise and conclusion by rewriting them.

When you are trying to work out whether someone is making an argument, start by seeing if there is a particular conclusion they want to convince you of.

Example of an argument: I’m the right person for the job. I’m the best qualified and I’m available now

Example of not an argument: I have plenty of work experience from around the world; I’m a great worker (the person is just stating the facts).

Standard form

To understand the argument better, you may want to turn it into a standard form, where all the reasoning is sorted in a list of numbered premises and the conclusion is at the end.

Listen up! We must set off by 5pm at the latest. The river crossing is only open until 6pm. We need to use that river crossing – and we are one hour’s travel away.

Argument presented in Standard form:

  •  Premise 1: We need to use the river crossing.
  •  Premise 2: We are one hour’s travel away from the river crossing.
  •  Premise 3: The river crossing is only open until 6pm.
  •  Conclusion: We need to set off by 5pm at the latest.

Exntended argument – an argument that includes premises which, in turn, are conclusions of other arguments.

Types of non-argument elements:

  1. Description
  2. Summary
  3. Opinion/belief
  4. Clarification
  5. Illustration
  6. Explanation


Bias – approaching an issue in a one-sided way so that it creates a distorted imagine of the situation.

Dogmatism – a claim that certain things are to not be questioned and doubted in any case, they are true no matter what; the opposite of critical thinking.

Common biases

Confirmation bias – using only information that supports your point of view rather than seeking to clarify your understanding.

Survivorship bias – taking only succesfull examples into consideration, refusing to pay attention to the bigger picture in which most of the examples are failures.

Conscious bias – purposefully presenting only one side of the situation/issue.

Unconscious bias – when someone’s opinions or choices are influenced by the factors they are not aware of.

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