University of Manitoba Himma on Rights vs Consequences Paper

University of Manitoba Himma on Rights vs Consequences Paper

Rights vs Consequences

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?

Assignment 2: Argument Reconstruction

Write a paper where you reconstruct one (1) of the arguments below. Your paper should:

  1. Begin with a brief summary, in your own words, of the argument.
  2. Reconstruct the argument into standard form: make sure your reconstruction is in your own words and valid
  3. 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.
  4. Give a brief defense of each premise. You should aim for your defense for each premise to be a paragraph of text in length.
  5. Have a brief concluding paragraph where you consider which premise an opponent of this argument would try to deny.



“Imagine a Hobbesian state of nature[1], in which everyone treats everyone else abysmally. Such conduct is immoral. Now imagine that, in this state of nature, each person solemnly swears to stop pursing his own interests, and to begin pursuing the interests of the person next to him. What changes? From the moral point of view, nothing much. It is still the war of all against all, except that now it is being carried out by proxy. Certainly the mere fact that each person is acting “altruistically”—advancing the interests of her neighbor, rather than her own—is not enough to transform this into a morally acceptable state of affairs. If it could, then the simple act of promising would permit unlimited “laundering” of immoral acts into moral ones. (Heath, pp. 540)

[Identifying the conclusion of this argument is tricky. Take your time on it.]


“Affirmative action defenders often [cite] the beneficial consequences of affirmative action, but this line of argument implicitly concedes the dispositive point to opponents. As Ronald Dworkin has shown, a right can be outweighed by another right, but never by consequences: “[t]he claim that citizens have a right to free speech . . . impl[ies] that it would be wrong for the Government to stop them from speaking, even when the Government believes that what they will say will cause more harm than good.” Thus, if preferences violate a right, they are wrong no matter what their consequences might be.” (Himma p. 278)


[1] This refers to a hypothetical scenario imagined by Hobbes where there are no laws, rulers, or institutions, and everyone is always only looking out for themselves at the expense of others.

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