Example Informal Arguments

The following are a series of brief argumentative passages, philosophical and otherwise, which you are invited to use as exercises in extraction.

Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of the truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

JOHN STUART MILL, On Liberty, 1859

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment 2

I am convinced that chimpanzees are conscious. Why? Well, I am conscious, I know a mere 500,000 generations separate me from of my chimpanzee cousins, and I know evolutionary innovations don't just spring into existence full blown.

HELENA CRONIN, "What Do Animals Want?" The New York Times Book Review, 1 Nov. 1992

The indictment is that they [Eugene Dennis and ten other leaders of the Communist Party of the United States] conspired to organize the Communist Party and to use speech or newspapers and other publications in the future to teach and advocate the forcible overthrow of the Government. No matter how it is worded, this is a virulent form of prior censorship of speech and press, which I believe the First Amendment forbids. I would hold Section 3 of the Smith Act authorizing this prior restraint unconstitutional on its face and as applied.

JUSTICE HUGO BLACK, dissenting, in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 1951

The saying that "no one is voluntarily wicked or involuntarily happy" seems to be partly false and partly true; for no one is involuntarily happy, but wickedness is voluntary.

ARISTOTLE, Nichomachean Ethics, bk. 3, ch. 5

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Man and Superman, 1903, act 3

Thinking is a function of man's immortal soul. God has given an immortal soul to every man and woman, but not to any other animal or to machines. Hence no animal or machine can think.

A. M. TURING, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," Mind, vol. 59, 1950, p. 433

A gray surface looks red if we have been looking at a blue-green one; plain paper feels smooth if we have been feeling sandpaper or rough if we have been feeling plate glass; and tap water tastes sweet if we have been eating artichokes. Some part of what we call red or smooth or sweet must therefore be in the eyes or fingertips or tongue of the beholder, feeler, or taster.

B. F. SKINNER, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, (New York, Knopf, 1971), p. 103

Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed, for everybody thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that even those most difficult to please in all other matters do not commonly desire more of it than they already possess.

RENE DESCARTES, A Discourse on Method, 1637

Taken together... experimental and anecdoctal evidence support the notion that primates are socially intelligent animals. Macaques, vervet monkeys, and baboons recognize and differentiate between troopmates; they adhere to sophisticated hierarchies; they form and maintain relationships that benefit them in daily activities; and on occasion they manipulate others to serve their own desires.

MEREDITH F. SMALL, "Political Animal," The Sciences, March 1990, p. 42

The investigation of supernatural phenomena lies outside the realm of science. Therefore, science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.

JAMES A. HOPSON, letter to the editors, The New Republic, 12 September 1983, p. 4

School choice is essential to inner-city educational reform for two reasons: (1) It transfers power over educational decisions from government officials to parents, who have the greatest stake in their children's future. (2) For the first time it forces bloated public school bureaucracies to compete for low-income children and the funds they command.

CLINT BOLICK, "School Choice," New York Times, 12 November 1992

(From Copi and Cohen, "Introduction to Logic" (New York: Macmillan, 1994), 9th ed, pp. 16 - 21.)