What is a philosophical argument?

Published 30 Mar 2017

We make arguments not because we want to make conflict with others but to lay down our assertions and claims with credibility and truthfulness. This is where philosophical argument comes in. A philosophical argument contains a conclusion, where the claim of the argument is located, and the premises, which are primarily composed of proofs and evidences that support the given conclusion. It is normal that we prove the validity of the arguments based on how the conclusion and the premises are represented and given in the philosophical argument. Coherence between these two essential components of a philosophical argument should strictly be considered.

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Intuitively, we judge that if the premises are true the conclusions should also be true. However in testing a philosophical argument’s validity, it can be the case that a philosophical argument contains one or more false premises which may affect the credibility of the conclusion. Also, a false conclusion can still be considered valid in a philosophical argument. Furthermore, when the conclusion and the premises are true, and they are proved to be formally valid, they are considered as sound argument. The soundness of a philosophical argument strictly depends on the representation of the premises. A premise may lose an argument’s soundness if it fails to convince a person even if the premise is true. Logical fallacies are the very common disturbances that may undermine the argument. The argument may be sound but the truth of the premises and even the conclusions are problematic. Hence it is noteworthy to take into consideration the formulation of the premises as well as the conclusion.

Another important point that needs to be stressed is that a philosophical argument may either be made deductively or inductively. We say that a philosophical argument is framed deductively when the reasoning suggests that the conclusion follows necessarily from the given premises. On the other hand, a philosophical argument is said to be formulated inductively if the conclusion gets its truthfulness based on the premises.
Lastly, it is also noteworthy to consider the degree of force of the argument. A philosophical argument is said to have a ‘great force’ if it is framed deductively where the conclusion is essentially made up from the premises. One’s argument is always open for refutations thus it is very important that the argument is formulated with validity, soundness and effectiveness. In order to illustrate how a philosophical argument is formulated, below is an excerpt from Socrates’ Apology:

“I reasoned with myself that I was wiser than this man. For it appears that neither of us knows any thing beautiful or good: but he indeed not knowing, thinks that he knows something; but I, as I do not know any thing, neither do I think that I know. Hence in this trifling particular I appear to be wiser than him, because I do not think that I know things which I do not know.” (Helm)

Examining the above example, here is how we transform it into a formal argument:

  • Proposition/Claim: Socrates is wiser than the man.
  • Premise1: Neither Socrates and the man knows anything beautiful or good.
  • Premise2: The man thinks he knows something that is beautiful or good.
  • Premise3: Socrates does not think that he knows anything beautiful or good.
  • Conclusion: Socrates is wiser than the man.

Analyzing the given formal argument of a philosophical argument, the argument is valid because the conclusion follows from the given premises, in which case the premises are set as true; the argument is sound and effective – it is never intelligible to say that you know everything for in fact you do not. Socrates admitted that he did not know anything that is beautiful or good thus he is wiser than the man who claims to be knowledgeable of such for in fact he does not.


  • Helm, James J. Plato: Apology. Rev Sub edition ed: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1997.
  • Taylor, Charles. Philosophical Arguments ed: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • Weston, Anthony. A Rulebook for Arguments Hackett Pub Co Inc, 2000.
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