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(II) FIRST PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS: THE STRUCTURE OF THE ARGUMENT A good deal of the sense of a text lies in the way the argument unfolds. We must now see how the argument moves and we must test the claims made in its various propositions. This involves us in two correlated tasks: we must test the logic of the reasoning, and we must see if we are satisfied by the evidence offered for the claims being made. Here is one of several ways to go about it.
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1) What, in a single statement, is the main point of the text? If there is an important secondary point, state in another sentence what it is. 2) How is this statement arrived at? If it is the conclusion of an argument, present (in syllogistic form, if possible) the argument. Is it valid? In many instances, the main proposition will not be the conclusion of an argument, but rather a direct claim purporting to express an evidence. In any case, the author will feel that you only need to compare the claim with your own experience to see directly that what is stated is true. Our job is to see whether it is evidently true, just as stated, or not. Hence, the following. 3) Ask yourself what sort of claim it is? Take, for example, the first sentence of Descartes’ Discourse, where it is claimed that “Good sense is … equally distributed.” Obviously, we must first know what is meant by “bon sens.” In this case (which is very typical), one must know Descartes’ philosophy rather well before assigning an exact meaning to this key term. But once we know what is being claimed, then we can ask what sort of claim it is. Is it like “All triangles have 180 degrees” or “Some politicians are crooked.” If it is like the second, does it not need proof? What kind of proof might the first type of claim require? What kind of evidence is offered in the text, both in the passage under consideration and elsewhere in the author’s oeuvre. Perhaps elsewhere the author has offered ideas on what constitutes adequate evidence; does the author live up to his/her own standards? If you do not agree with the stated standard, you might use the claim at hand to show why you do not. Remember too, that the same standard of proof cannot always be demanded in every order of inquiry. 4) Does this claim seem to conflict with any other claim the philosopher has made? When you think that you have found a great philosopher in a contradiction – you owe it to him or her – or better – to yourself, to try to see if the two claims can be rendered consistent with each other