Specimens Of Agrumentation
( Originally Published 1912 )
A CAREFUL study of specimens of argumentation affords one of the best means of developing clearness and ac-curacy of thought. By observing the method by which such writers make their reasons plain the student may gradually formulate a method of his own, and learn quickly to discriminate between truth and error.
The extracts presented in the following pages will, it is believed, repay careful analysis, and at the same time suggest a larger field for investigation, in which-the reader is at liberty to make his own selection. The proper procedure may be indicated thus :
1. Read the extract first in its entirety in order to secure a general idea of its contents. Look at it as you would a picture, in its unity rather than in detail. After you have read it, close the book and endeavor to recall the picture. Determine what effect it has had on your mind. Does it appear to you to be reasonable and true? Have you been sufficiently imprest to give your assent? Is your general impression clear or obscure, favorable or unfavorable? Has he interested you?
2. Read it a second time in order to judge it more particularly and in detail. Is every statement true? Is logical connection well observed? Does the writer lead you from the known to the unknown, from the certain to that which has been questioned? Does he prove each point to your satisfaction? Is there skilful use of word or phrase? Have you detected his personality in his style and argument?
3. Read the passage again to indicate such parts as you wish to commit to memory.
4. Make a list of questions bearing upon the subject under discussion, and answer them yourself.
5. Clearly state your objections, if any, and then write out your proofs to support them.
6. Finally write a composition of your own upon the subject, and request a friend to favor you with a frank criticism of it.
The student is recommended to supplement this material with the great debate between Webster and Rayne, which may be had in several cheap editions.
To imagine, or rather to conceive an infinite line, is to conceive a line to whose lineal value nothing can be added, for as long as an addition to it can be conceived it is not yet infinite. Is such a line conceivable as a reality No. Let us see why. Imagine your infinite line extending through space in opposite directions—say north and south. Now, this so-called infinite line is not infinite so long as we can conceive it in-creased by additional length. Let us now imagine another so-called infinite line of equal length with the first, and running parallel to it. If we add the second to the first, do we not increase its lineal value? Most certainly. Then the first line was not infinite because it admitted of addition. Nor are the two together infinite because we may imagine another parallel line and another addition and a consequent increase of lineal value. We may continue this process forever and never exhaust the possibilities—never come to a lineal value that excludes possible addition. From this you will see that you can not conceive, much less imagine, an infinite line so "readily" as you thought—L. A. LAMBERT.
Once more: what are my grounds for thinking that I, in my own particular case, shall die? I am as certain of it in my own innermost mind as I am that I now live; but what is the distinct evidence on which I allow myself to be certain? how would it tell in a court of justice? how should I fare under a cross-examination upon the grounds of my certitude? Demonstration, of course, I can not have of a future event, unless by means of a divine Voice; but what logical defense can I make for that undoubting, obstinate anticipation of it, of which I could not rid myself if I tried?
First, the future can not be proved a posteriori; therefore, we are compelled, by the nature of the case, to put up with a priori argument; that is, with antecedent probability, which is by itself no logical proof. Men tell me that there is a law of death, meaning by law, a necessity; and I answer that they are throwing dust into my eyes, giving me words instead of things. What is a law but a generalized fact; and what power has the past over the future? and what power has the case of others over my own case? and how many deaths have I seen? how many ocular witnesses have imparted to me their experience of deaths, sufficient to establish what is called a law?
But let there be a law of death ; so there is a law, we are told, that the planets, if let alone, would severally fall into the sun—it is the centrifugal law which hinders it, and so the centripetal law is never carried out. In like manner I am not under the law of death alone; I am under a thousand laws, if I am under one; and they thwart and counteract each other, and jointly determine the irregular line, along which my actual history runs, divergent from the special direction of any one of them. No law is carried out, except in cases where it acts freely. How do I know that the law of death will be allowed its free action in my particular case? We often are able to avert death by medical treatment : why should death have its effect, sooner or later, in every case conceivable?
It is true that the human frame, in all in-stances which come before me, first grows, and then declines, wastes, and decays, in visible preparation for dissolution. We see death seldom, but of this decline we are witnesses daily; still, it is a plain fact, that most men who die, die, not by any law of death, but by the law of disease ; and some writers have questioned whether death is ever, strictly speaking, natural. Now, are diseases necessary? Is there any law that every one, sooner or later, must fall under the power of disease? and what would happen on a large scale were there no diseases? Is what we call the law of death anything more than the chance of disease? Is the prospect of my death, in its logical evidence—as that evidence is brought home to me—much more than a high probability?
The strongest proof I have for my inevitable mortality is the reductio ad absurdum. Can I point to the man, in historic times, who has lived his two hundred years? What has become of past generations of men, unless it is true that they suffered dissolution? But this is a circuitous argument to warrant a conclusion to which, in matter of fact, I adhere so relentlessly. Anyhow, there is a considerable "surplusage," as Locke calls it, of belief over proof, when I determine that I individually must die. But what logic can not do, my own personal reasoning, my good sense, which is the healthy condition of such personal reasoning, but which can not adequately express itself in words, does for me, and I am possest with the most precise, absolute, masterful certitude of my dying some day or other.
I am led on by these reflections to make another remark. If it is difficult to explain how a man knows that he shall die, is it not more difficult for him to satisfy himself how he knows he was born? His knowledge about himself does not rest on memory, nor on distinct testimony, nor on circumstantial evidence. Can he bring into one focus of proof the reasons which make him so sure? I am not speaking of scientific men, who have diverse channels of knowledge, but of an ordinary individual, as one of ourselves.
Answers doubtless may be given to some of these questions; but, on the whole, I think it is the fact that many of our most obstinate and most reasonable certitudes depend on proofs which are informal and personal, which baffle our powers of analysis, and can not be brought under logical rule, because they can not be submitted to logical statistics. If we must speak of law, this recognition of a correlation between certitude and implicit proof seems to me a law of our minds.-JOHN HENRY NEWMAN.
The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make of them. If there shall be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the facts, and the inferences and observations following that presentation. In his speech last autumn at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in the New York Times, Senator Douglas said:
"Our fathers, when they framed the government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now. "
I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting-point for a discussion between Republicans and that wing of the Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry : What was the understanding those fathers had of the question mentioned?
What is the frame of the Government under which we live? The answer must be, "The Constitution of the United States." That Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787, and under which the present government first went into operation, and twelve subsequent framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed in 1789.
Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution? I suppose the "thirty-nine" who signed the original instrument may be fairly called our fathers who framed that part of the present Government. It is almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether true to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of the whole nation at that time. Their. names, being familiar to nearly all, and accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated.
I take these "thirty-nine," for the present, as being "our fathers who framed the government under which we live." What is the question which, according to the text, those fathers uneven better, than derstood "just we do now?"
It is this: Does the proper division of the local from Federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to control as to slavery in our Federal territories?
Upon this, Senator Douglas holds the affirmative, and Republicans the negative. This affirmation and denial form an issue ; and this issue—this question—is precisely what the text declares our fathers understood "better than we. Let us now inquire whether the "thirty-nine," or any of them, ever acted upon this question; and if they did, how they acted upon it—how they exprest that better understanding.—ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
I call on working men to take hold of the cause of temperance as peculiarly their cause. These remarks are more needed in consequence of the efforts made far and wide to annul at the present moment a recent law for the suppression of the sale of ardent spirits in such quantities as favor intemperance. I know that there are intelligent and good men who believe that, in enacting this law, Government transcends its limits, left its true path, and established a precedent for legislative interference with all our pursuits and pleasures. No one here looks more jealously on Government than myself. But I maintain that this is a case which stands by itself, which can be confounded with no other, and on which Government, from its very nature and end, is peculiarly bound to act. Let it never be forgotten then the great end of Government, its highest function, is, not to make roads, grant charters, originate improvements, but to prevent or repress crimes against individual rights and social order. For this end it ordains a penal code, erects prisons, and inflicts fearful punishments. Now, if it be true that a vast proportion of the crimes which Government is instituted to prevent and repress have their origin in the use of ardent spirits ; if our poorhouses, work-houses, jails, and penitenitaries are tenanted in a great degree by those whose first and chief impulse to crime came from the distillery and dram-shop ; if murder and theft,
the most fearful outrages on property and life, are most frequently the issues and consummation of intemperance, is not Government bound to restrain by legislation the vending of the stimulus to these terrible social wrongs? Is Government never to act as a parent, never to remove the causes or occasions of wrong-doing? Has it but one instrument for repressing crime ; namely, public, infamous punishment-an evil only inferior to crime? Is Government a usurper? Does it wander beyond its sphere, by imposing restraints on an article which does no imaginable good, which can plead no benefit conferred on body or mind, which unfits the citizen for the discharge of his duty to his country, and which, above all stirs up men to the perpetration of most of the crimes from which it is the highest and most solemn office of Government to protect society ?—W. E. CHANGING.
Ingersoll—Logic is not satisfied with assertion.
Comment—Then it is not satisfied with your assertion in reference to it. But you are evidently ignorant of what logic means. Logic as a science deals with principles, not assertions; and logic as an art deals with assertions only. Assertions are the subject-matter onwhich it acts. It simply deduces conclusions from assertions or propositions called premises, and cares not whether these premises are true or false. Hence, the very reverse of what you say is true. Logic is satisfied with assertions, and knows and deals with nothing else. Your blunder arose from your confounding reason with logic. Reason deals with principles and truths, logic with assertions. That reason is not satisfied with assertions becomes more apparent the more your article on the "Christian Religion" is subjected to careful analysis.
Ingersoll—It (logic) cares nothing for the opinions of the great.
Comment—If those opinions are formulated into assertions, it does care for them, because it deals with nothing else. You meant to say: Reason cares nothing, etc. This careless use of words and confounding of terms indicates a con-fused and imperfect method of thinking. Ile who thinks with clearness and precision is not hard to understand, while a slovenly thinker leaves the reader in a state of chronic doubt as to what is meant.
Ingersoll—In the world of science a fact is a legal tender.
Comment—Then, before you can assert a legal tender, you must demonstrate a fact. A fact must be established as such before it is legal tender. Now, the question between you and the Christian is this : What are the facts? The
whole controversy rests on the answer to this question. What you offer as facts, the Christian may reject as fallacies and sophistries, and what he offers as facts you may reject. It follows, therefore, that until both parties agree as to what are the facts, they can not agree as to what is legal tender. What you intended, then, as a wise saying has no practical sense in it. But for those who like that sort of thing, it is about the sort of thing they will make.
Ingersoll—A fact is a legal tender.
Comment—A counterfeit is a fact; is it legal tender? Oh! no. Well, then, a fact is not a legal tender until it is known to be a fact. What is a legal tender? It is a promise to pay which may not be worth ten cents on a dollar, but which the law compels you to accept when offered. Is this your idea of what facts are? And do you intend the facts offered by you to be received in that light? If so, perhaps you are right.
Ingersoll--Assertions and miracles are base and spurious coins.
Comment—If this be true, then the assertion you have just made is base and spurious coin. You say all assertions are base and spurious. Is it because they are assertions or because they are false? If all assertions are base and spurious, we can not believe anything whatever that is asserted, simply because it is asserted. I assert that two and two make four. This is an assertion. Is it false? Is it false? It must-be, if what you say is true. From this it appears that you again failed to say what you meant; for you will certainly admit that some assertions are true—your own, for instance.
Perhaps you meant to say false assertions are base and spurious. If so, this is on a par with your legal-tender sophisms and involves the same amount of meaningless verbiage. The truth or fallacy of an assertion must be established be-fore you can assert it to be base and spurious. But the truth or fallacy of an assertion is the question in debate. Let me illustrate : I make the assertion that the Christian religion is of divine origin. You will observe that the truth or fallacy of this assertion is the point in debate, and to assert either one or the other without proof, is to beg the question. This you do when you make the assertion that assertions are base and spurious.
But perhaps I have misunderstood you all this time. You "probably think" that all assertions favoring Christianity are base and spurious, while all those against it have the true ring. If you meant this you should have had the "courage of the soul!" to say it, and not hide your insinuation under a meaningless, commonplace phrase. I notice you are fond of making curt little maxims, which, on examination, mean nothing, unless when they cover a fallacy. They are scattered through your article so liberally as to lead one to believe you intended them for argument. But Ingersoll-Miracles are base and spurious coins.
Comment—That depends. And here I must make the same distinction I made in regard to assertions. If a miracle is a fact, it is not base and spurious. Now, the fact or fallacy of a miracle is the point in debate. Until that point is settled, not by assertions, but by valid arguments, you can not say that it is spurious, for when you make that assertion you simply beg the question. To beg the question in argument is like asking a knight or a castle of your opponent in a game of chess. It is a sign of conscious weakness.
Ingersoll—We have the right to rejudge the justice even of a god.
Comment—If by "a god" you mean some deity of heathen mythology, I can not stop to consider it. If you mean the infinite Being, whom Christians call God, I deny your right or competency to rejudge His justice, for reasons which I have already given, and which I need not here repeat. It is sufficient to say that the finite can not be the measure of the infinite.
Ingersoll—No one should throw away his reason—the fruit of all experience.
Comment—Your purpose here is to leave the impression that, to be a Christian, a man must throw away his reason. Man's reason is a gift of God, and God requires him to exercise and use it, and not throw it away. And he will one day ask him to give a strict account of the use he has made of it. While telling us not to throw away our reason, you give a good illustration of how it can be thrown away. Thus you say :
Ingersoll—Reason is the result of all experience.
Comment—When you make reason the result of experience you destroy its proper entity. Experience is impossible without something that experiences. What is it that experiences? Rea-son? No ; for if reason is the result of experience, it can not exist until after the experience has been complete. What, then, is it that experiences? The individual? But the individual minus reason is incapable of apprehending experience. What, then, is it that experiences? There must be some being that experiences, for experience can not exist without a subject. The mind? But mind and reason are identical. Reason is the mind, in action. The fact is, human reason, or conscious mind, is that which experiences; it is, therefore, prior to experience, and since it is prior to experience, it can not be a result of it. Without reason experience is impossible, and, therefore, when you make reason the result of experience you throw away both reason and experience. This is the logical result of your proposition. Again you say :
Ingersoll—Reason is the fruit of all experience.
Comment—By this "all" you mean, I sup-pose, the experience of all mankind, together with your own. But you have barred yourself from the right to benefit by the experience of others, for that experience can be made known to you only by assertions or propositions. Now, you have declared ex cathedra that assertions are base and spurious coins, and rejected with con-tempt the statements of the dead past, by which alone the experience of the human race can be known. You have sawed off the limb on which you sit, and deprived yourself of all experience except your own.
Ingersoll—It (reason) is the intellectual capital of the soul, the only light, the only guide.
Comment—Reason is the soul or intellect it-self in conscious action ; hence it can not be its own intellectual capital, or its only light and guide. You seem to forget what you have said before, namely, that reason is the result of experience. Now, to say that reason is the only light and guide of the soul, and at the same time the result of experience, is to contradict your-self. What lights and guides the soul while it is experiencing? Reason? No ; for you have told us that reason is the result of that experience. A result is an effect, and an effect can not be prior to its cause. It follows, then, from your own definition, that reason is not and can not be the only light or guide of the soul. But even if you had not contradicted yourself egregiously, your assertion that reason is the only light, etc., can not be accepted, for it is a pitiable begging of the whole question at issue—a denial of revelation as a guide to reason, and this you will see is the point between you and the Christian. Your statement thus cunningly assumes, as proved, that which you set out to prove. This is one of the peculiarities of your method in debate. It is on this account that I am under the necessity of analyzing almost every assertion you make.—L. A. LAMBERT.
The history of thought during the present century proves that the world has come round spontaneously to the position of the first. One of the ablest philosophical schools of the day erects a whole anti-Christian system on this very doctrine. Seeking by means of it to sap the foundation of spiritual religion, it stands unconsciously as the most significant witness for its truth. What is the creed of the agnostic but the confession of the spiritual numbness of human y? The negative doctrine which it reiterates with such sad persistency, what is it but the ech of the oldest of scientific and religious truths? And what are all these gloomy and rebellious infidelities, these touching and too sincere confessions of universal nescience, but a protest against his ancient law of death?—HENRY DRUMMOND.