Believing Falsehood Argument Reconstruction Paper

University of Manitoba Attas on Believing Falsehood Argument Reconstruction Paper


Believing Falsehood Argument Reconstruction


  1. Begin with a brief summary, in your own words, of the argument.
  2. Reconstruct the argument into a standard form: make sure your reconstruction is in your own words and valid
  • For each line in your argument, note whether it is a premise or a conclusion. If it is a conclusion, indicate which premises it follows from.
  1. Give a brief defense of each premise. You should aim for your defense for each premise to be a paragraph of text in length.
  2. Deny one (1) premise: explicitly state which premise you deny and explain why you think it is false. Do not object to the conclusion of the argument.
  3. Turn your own reasoning into a standard form argument. Make sure your reconstruction is valid, and that its conclusion is an explicit denial of the premise in question.
  4. For each line in your argument, note whether it is a premise or a conclusion. If it is a conclusion, indicate which premises it follows from.
    1. Give a brief defense of each premise. You should aim for your defense for each premise to be a paragraph of text in length.
    2. Add a concluding paragraph where you address the following question: how would the proponent of the original argument respond to your counter-argument? Which premise would they deny, and how would they do so?


“Now it is generally the case that individuals prefer their beliefs to be true. It might seem, then, that one’s welfare, in the sense of preference satisfaction, is reduced when one’s belief is false. But I think that preference satisfaction is irrelevant to the agent’s welfare when the agent doesn’t know if his want has been satisfied or not. I want my great grand children to live in a healthier environment: will the actual facts to which I am necessarily ignorant make the slightest difference to my happiness today? Would not my belief that my descendants environment be healthier, unfounded though it may be, enhance my welfare? It is not merely the fact of my preference having been satisfied or frustrated that has an effect on my welfare. Rather, it is also the epistemic aspect of the matter: in my knowing that this is the case, and, in the absence of knowledge, in my believing that my preference has been satisfied. So, though a person may prefer to hold true beliefs, his holding false beliefs will not affect his welfare since he necessarily believes his false beliefs to be true.” (Attas, p. 53)

Introduction to Argument Analysis


Opening Exercise: What do you imagine this course is going to be like? What do you think you’ll be learning and how?

Milton Friedman:

“In a free-enterprise, private-property system, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business. He has direct responsibility to his employers. That responsibility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.”


Steps of Argument Reconstruction

Step 1: Identify the Conclusion and Premises

Exercise: What is Friedman arguing for in this passage?

Exercise: What are the claims Friedman makes in favour of his conclusion? What is his evidence?

Step 2: Reconstruct into Standard Form

An argument is valid just in case:

  • it is impossible for the premises to be true while, at the same time, the conclusion is false.
  • The premises, if true, would guarantee the truth of the conclusion, i.e.,
  • If the premises are all true, then the conclusion must be true as well.

Exercise: can a valid argument have false premises? What about a false conclusion?


Argument Patterns

Affirming the Antecedent If P, then Q


So, Q

Denying the Consequent If P, then Q

Not Q,

So, not P.

Double Negation Not not P

So, P

Disjunctive Syllogism Either P or Q

Not P

So, Q

Hypothetical Syllogism If P, then Q

If Q, then R

So, if P, then R


More Complex Patterns

Universal Instantiation All As are Bs

x is A

So, x is B

Inverse UI All As are Bs

x is not B

So, x is not A

None/All No As are Bs

All As are not Bs

Some/Not All Some As are Bs

Not all As are not Bs

Categorical Syllogism All As are Bs

All Bs are Cs

All As are Cs

Existential Generalization x is A and B

Some As are Bs



Step 3: Motivate/Defend the Premises

An argument is sound just in case:

  1. It is valid, and
  2. Every premise is true.

We now know how to check for validity. But how do we check if the premises are true?



If…then premises:

Ramsey Test: Pretend the “if” part is true. Then see if, in pretending, you would have to pretend to believe the “then” part.

Exercise: Is the following sentence true?

“If the Earth is flat, then the Earth has an underside.”

“All” premises:

Exercise: Defend the following claims. Did you defend both the same way?

  1. All cats are mammals.
  2. All student cameras are turned off.

The Rest:

For any other premises, there are 3 ways to defend them:

  1. Note that the premise is too obvious to deny.
  2. Give some factual evidence/cite a source.
  3. Assume the premise is false. Then show that something outrageous follows.

Don’t be afraid to get creative!


Step 4: Object

Ground Rule 1: Don’t object to an argument’s conclusion. Object to a premise.

Exercise: Why is this a good rule?


Ground Rule 2: Only object to one (1) premise.

Exercise: Why is this a good rule?


Exercise: Which premise in Friedman’s argument is most objectionable?


Step 5: Assess

Exercise: What do you think of the argument now that we’ve looked at defenses and objections to it? Do you think it is sound, or do you think that one of our objections shows that a premise is false?

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