Explicating Arguments Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College
When I ask you to explicate an argument, I'll pick out one of the conclusions in the text we are currently reading. Your job will be to find the author's argument for that conclusion and restate it in a clear and orderly list of numbered propositions.
To explicate an argument, first read it in its natural habitat. See it in the context in which the author intended it to be seen. Understand what the author is trying to say, and why, as well as you can. This may require reading pages or chapters widely separated in the original work. Then:
- disentangle it from other arguments for other conclusions
- restate it in your own words
- omit what is irrelevant
- clarify the language
- decide which propositions are premises for the given conclusion
- supply tacit premises [in square brackets]
- state each premise as a single proposition
- cite the text by page number for each proposition
- put the propositions in logical order (premises first, conclusion last), and
- number each proposition.
That's all there is to it. It's hard, but it gets easier with practice and even fun.
The point of explicating an argument is to be in a better position to assess its strengths and weaknesses. This is much easier to do with an explicated arguments than with arguments in their natural habitats. Explications don't assess but clarify. To go beyond clarification to assessment, we need (1) an explication and (2) the clinical attitude.
In my Kant course, I make explication into a more formal and rigorous assignment. You may want to take a look at my explication hand-out for that course.
Department of Philosophy,
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 1998, Peter Suber.