Paul Poenicke Paper Outline 1 Rachels, “Some Basic Points about Arguments”
Rachels thinks that we need to understand arguments to do philosophy well (pg. 20).
Argumentdef: A chain of reasoning designed to prove something (pg. 20). Consists of premises and conclusions
What’s “follows from”? (pg. 21) It’s validity. Validitydef: If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. (2) is valid: (2) All people from Georgia are famous. Jimmy Carter is from Georgia. Therefore, Jimmy Carter is famous.
Problem is that first premise is false. For a good argument, we want validity and soundness (valid argument with all true premises; pg. 22). Arguments can be unsound even if all premises are true (pg. 21-22).
Rachels applies his work about argument to moral skepticism (pg. 22-27), defined as the rejection of moral truth; it’s not merely the idea that we can’t know truth (pg. 22). The Cultural Differences argument claims that there are no moral facts (pg. 23). (4) 1. In some societies, such as among the Eskimos, infanticide is thought to be morally acceptable. 2. In other societies, such as our own, infanticide is thought to be morally odious. 3. Therefore, infanticide is neither objectively right or wrong; it is merely a matter of opinion that varies from culture to culture. *Problem: invalid argument; premises are what people believe and conclusion is about the way things are. Like reasoning from views about disagreements about flat vs. roundness of the world, and concluding the earth’s shape is just a matter of opinion (pg. 23).
Cultural Differences argument suggests that (1) one can still have a true conclusion but false premises and unsound, (2) most versions have misguided presentation of the relevant facts (see (6) on pg. 24).
Make sure you keep arguments separate. Similar arguments, perhaps with the same conclusion, rise and fall based on their own premises and reasoning (pg. 24-25).
Rachels thinks that an argument taking on a motivation for the Cultural Differences argument, namely proof, would be valid; the argument is the Provability Argument (pg. 25-27): (7) 1. If there were any such thing as objective truth in ethics, we should be able to prove that some moral opinions are true and others false. 2. But in fact we cannot prove which moral opinions are true and which are false. 3. Therefore, there is no such thing as objective truth in ethics.
Argument is valid. Is it sound? Seems right—tracks how we have abortion debates. Rachels believes this is misguided because there’s a difference between (1) Proving an opinion correct and (2) Persuading others to accept your proof (pg. 27). When it comes to premise 2, Rachels thinks it’s false. Why? A. Abortion is always going to be hard to debate, but other ethical matters actually gain agreement (murdering innocents). B. Your argument could be stronger than a mere opinion and still be rejected by a misguided opponent.
Guidelines for Outlines
1. Use 10 point font so that you can fit your work into one page.
2. Apply a standard format. I didn’t use bullet points, but that would be a legitimate way of taking notes as well.
3. Make sure you focus on content. Content includes: important definitions, objections, arguments, reasoning, distinctions.
4. Make sure you focus on form. The article moves from presentation of arguments to application of those principles to two major arguments for moral skepticism. I also noted that those argument are being offered as examples of what Rachel’s opponent would claim, then provided the reasons why Rachels rejected them.
5. Provide a sense of where in the document each bit of content takes place. I did so via page numbers; you might want to use sections, paragraphs, or time signatures for videos.
6. Focus on what’s important. Ask yourself: What’s the author’s main point (conclusion)? What sort of reasons do they use for their conclusion (premises)? What is the paper’s purpose? Is the paper making an argument, laying out positions, presenting important terms/distinctions and applying them (as Rachels is in this paper), etc?
7. Keep your outline to one page. This will force you to hone in on what’s most important. If you can sketch out the major moves in a paper (i.e. presented content and form), then you will have done well.
8. Make sure you put identifying information on your outline (especially name of outlined author and piece).