Strong and Weak Arguments – Tricks for Critical Reasoning

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018


Strong and Weak Arguments Tricks for Critical Reasoning

Let’s talk about one of the trickiest parts of critical reasoning– Identifying strong and weak arguments. Sounds tricky? Well, it’s also one of the most scoring and time-saving parts of CAT. So, how can you ace this section of exam? You just need to learn a few fundamental concepts and invest sufficient amount of time in practice. Eventually, you will be able to tackle these questions with more confidence and a good degree of accuracy. But, what exactly is an argument?

An argument is basically a combination of three things:

  1. Facts/Claims
  2. Assumptions/Reasons/Evidence
  3. Conclusion

Generally, argument-based questions consist of certain propositions/statements/premises followed by two/more arguments. As you would guess, the given arguments may be in favour of or against the statement. The purpose of such questions is to assess your decision making ability. You are supposed to analyse the arguments to select the appropriate answer option. So, firstly, you need to determine the strength and relevancy of the argument. How do you go about identifying whether it is a strong argument or a weak argument?

Let’s discuss the some important things to keep in mind while assessing the strength of an argument:

  1. Elimination in the first reading

There are some arguments that you will be able to reject at the first reading itself. What kind of arguments are these? Let’s see:

  • Irrelevant arguments: Such arguments are out of context with regard to the given statements. So, you will be able to spot them easily.
  • Simple assertions: These arguments are related to the given subject but do not give any evidence/reason to believe it. In other words, they are neither strongly favourable nor strongly against the given statement.
  • Comparative/relative arguments: Such arguments compare the results of the course of action taken in a different situation/environment. E.g. stating the consequences of a law/rule implemented in some other country with the country talked about in the given statements. As you would know, this doesn’t provide a strong reasoning since the circumstances and reasons vary from one country to another.
  • Vague/ambiguous arguments: As the name says itself, these arguments are unclear and do not state the evidence explicitly. Even if the argument is contextual, you are unable to extract a clear meaning/message from this kind of argument.
  • Too strong or too weak arguments: Putting it in other words, such arguments do not match up with the magnitude of the given statements. Either these do not make much difference to the ideas given in the statements or they are too strongly favourable/unfavourable that they seem out of context.

Now, you know what kind of arguments to reject at the first go. Let’s explore some more points to simplify the task further.

  1. Inductively strong or Deductively validarguments

While evaluating the strength of arguments, you need to check:

  • Does the argument provide enough logical reasons/support?
  • Is the argument true?

Firstly, check whether the argument is deductive or inductive. Once you have identified this, the next step is to see whether the argument is deductively valid or inductively strong. Sounds confusing? Let’s understand the meaning of these first.

deductive argument need to be valid so as to be taken into consideration. Simply stating, it should guarantee the truth of the conclusion if the given premises are true. The premises are required to provide strong support for the conclusion such that, if the premises are true, then it should be impossible for the conclusion to be false. So, now you must have understood the meaning of deductively valid argument (An argument in which the given premises/statements succeed in guaranteeing the conclusion).

A deductive argument that is invalid is considered to be a weak argument.

An inductive argument needs to be strong enough such that if the premises are true, then it is unlikely that the conclusion is false. So, you must have observed something about inductive arguments that differentiates it from deductive arguments. Well, an inductive argument’s strength is a matter of degree. Inductive arguments that are not strong are called weak arguments. A weak argument fails to provide the probable support for the given conclusion. There is no well-defined or sharp line between strong and weak inductive arguments.

Another important point is that the inductive argument may be weakened/ strengthened because of a new premise while a deductive argument remains unaffected. Let’s understand the difference better with help of some examples:

  1. The weather is sunny in Kerala. If it’s sunny in Kerala, then Tina won’t be carrying an umbrella. So, she won’t be carrying an umbrella.

Clearly, this is a deductively valid argument.

  1. All the odd numbers are integers.
    All the even numbers are integers.
    So, all the odd numbers are even numbers.

This is an invalid argument. The argument is deductive but premises do not provide any support for the conclusion.

  1. Every time John walked by Amy’s dog, it hasn’t tried to bite him.

So, the next time he walks by her dog, it won’t try to bite him.

Do you think the argument is strong enough? Well, you may feel doubtful. Indeed, it’s a mildly strong inductive argument. Putting it other ways, it does not count as a ‘strong enough’ argument.

  1. Today, Reema said she likes John.

So, she likes John today.

This is a strong inductive argument. But, what if there is another premise like: Reema told Sheena today that she didn’t really like John.

As you can see, the strength of the argument reduces. So, make sure to go through all the premises before deciding your answer choice.

  1. Most Indian people have dark hair. Riya is an Indian.
    Therefore, Riya has dark hair.

The argument is strong, but may not be valid. Putting it other ways, it is a strong inductive argument. So the conclusion is ‘most likely’, even though it is not definitely true. Now, let’s consider a variation of the above example:

  • Most Indian people have dark hair. Riya has dark hair.
    Therefore, Riya is an Indian.

This is a weak argument.

In a nutshell, the procedure to tackle such questions is:

Identify the argument -> Evaluate it with deductive and inductive standards -> If it is not deductively valid, what premises would ensure the validity of the arguments -> Whether these premises are implicit? ->  Go on to assess whether it is inductively strong -> If not, what premises are needed to improve the strength of the argument -> Reevaluate your decision about the answer choice.

By now, you must have understood that validity applies to deductive arguments and strength applies to inductive arguments.

Since you are well familiarized with the essential concepts of strong and weak arguments, let’s explore some more tips to spot the correct answer:

1. Do not let your personal opinion bias your judgement regarding the answer choice. Also, personal beliefs often form the part of weak arguments. This way, you will be able to reject the weak arguments in the first go.

 

2. Sometimes the given arguments seem absurd and not in line with the real facts. But if such arguments are strong enough in the given context, they need to be considered as strong arguments.

 

3. You need to be able to differentiate facts from conclusions. While checking your answer choice, combine the assumptions and facts given in the argument. If you reach at the same conclusion as given in the argument, then you have made the right choice else it’s a wrong one.

 

4. If you see carefully, the conclusions are implicitly stated in the given premises, provided the favourable arguments are valid/strong enough.

 

5. Deductive arguments generally have a logical structure and sequence. So, it will be easy to figure out the correct option in such cases. The deductive validity of the argument can be verified in a number of alternative ways. An argument is valid if:

  • All the premises/statements cannot be true without the conclusion being true.
  • The truth of all the premises compels the conclusion to be true.
  • It will be inconsistent if all the premises are true while the conclusions are false.
  • The conclusions follow with certainty from the given statements/premises.
  • It has no counterexample (a situation which makes all the premises as true and the conclusion as false).

 

6. Some hints for selecting the favorable/supporting or opposing/ unfavorable argument are:

  • The supporting/ favorable argument is generally based on a positive result or a positive feature which will follow, on implementing the course of action given in the statement.
  • The opposing/unfavourable argumentis usually based on a negative result or a negative feature that is likely to follow if the given course of action is implemented.
  • Strong arguments comprise of facts/reasons/evidence/examples. Weak arguments mostly feature personal or biased opinions without any supporting evidence/example.

In either case, the argument should be ‘strong enough’. It should either strongly support or strongly weaken the propositions.

Finally, you are well acquainted with the tricks and strategy to arrive at the right answer choice. It can greatly enhance your score and accuracy in Verbal section of CAT. The last task is to implement the learnings and invest a good amount of time in practicing such questions from mock tests and previous year papers.

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Strong and Weak Arguments – Tricks for Critical Reasoning

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