SOUND OR STRONG CONCLUSIONS

Reasoned frameworks are powerful because reasoning allows for ABSTRACTION. If arguments lead to strong conclusions, then the conclusions can be used as premises.


DEFINITION: "Abstraction" is the ability to focus on the the most important characteristics of an object or a concept without having to consider its details or connections to other objects/concepts (Locke, 1689).


We use abstraction all the time in daily life. For example, we use computers without knowing how most of the internal components work. Abstraction allows us to consider the computer as a simple-to-use tool and not think about the millions of circuits in every computer. Abstraction also helps manufacturers make computers in the first place. For example, many types of computer screens may share a common type of plug. The screen does not "know" what kind of computer it is connected to. As long as the screen receives appropriate inputs from the computer, the screen can properly display information. Therefore, abstraction is an essential part of modern life.


How can we use abstraction to improve our reasoning and writing?


We can we use abstraction to improve our reasoning and writing by constructing reasoned arguments that are MODULAR, where each argument is self-contained. Self-contained (modular) arguments have two important properties:


1) The argument supports ONE clearly-stated conclusion.

2) All of the information required to support the conclusion is contained in the argument.


Modularity and abstraction can help us construct more complex arguments from simpler arguments. For example, consider an argument that soda consumption is associated with obesity in children. We might imagine our overall argument to be:


PREMISE: In the past 50 years, obesity rates have increased concurrently (at the same time) as increases in soda consumption (i.e. there is a correlation between obesity and soda consumption).

PREMISE: Plausible physiological mechanisms link soda consumption and obesity .

CONCLUSION: Therefore, both correlations and physiological evidence suggest that soda consumption may cause obesity in children.


What is a problem with the premises of the argument? One problem is that the premises do not include citations, either to specific data or to peer-reviewed, quantitative research studies. Perhaps studies correlating obesity to soda consumption and investigating plausible mechanisms simply do not exist. However, even if studies to support each premise do exist, another important problem remains.


PROBLEM: General scientific questions are almost never answered by a single research study!


Most significant scientific questions require many experimental and theoretical studies to address. Therefore, using a single reference, or even several references, would not provide enough context and evidence to adequately support the premise. Each premise may require the support of a separate, modular, reasoned argument.


To support the first premise, we could construct a simple argument:


MODULAR ARGUMENT 1:

PREMISE: From 1970 to 1990 there was a 123% increase in soda consumption among children (Hu and Malik, 2010).

PREMISE: From 1986 to 2006, the percentage of obese children doubled (Hedley et al., 2004).

CONCLUSION 1: Therefore, in the past 50 years, obesity rates have increased concurrently (at the same time) as increases in soda consumption.


Arguments do not need to only have two premises. For example to support the second premise of our general argument, we could construct another modular sub-argument:


MODULAR ARGUMENT 2:

PREMISE: Sugar consumption increases calorie intake (Ludwig et al., 2001).

PREMISE: Sugar consumption also changes metabolism to favor fat storage (Brand-Miller et al., 2002).

PREMISE: Consuming sugar as liquid is less satisfying, increasing calorie intake (DiMeglio and Mattes, 2000).

PREMISE: Soda consumption displaces milk consumption among children, reducing the obesity-preventing role of calcium (Miller et al., 2001).

CONCLUSION 2: Therefore, there are plausible physiological mechanisms that link soda consumption and obesity.


If both modular arguments are strong (or sound), then we can consider both conclusions to be reasonable and well-supported (or "true"). Reasonable, well-supported conclusions can be used as premises for arguments. Therefore, modular arguments and the process of abstraction can help simplify reasoning by allowing complex arguments to be broken down into simpler elements. Modular arguments also leverage the power of hierarchies to structure and communicate complex ideas.

We do not have either our data or a single source that can appropriately defend many premises. Using the principle of abstraction, we can construct modular arguments to support clear conclusions. If the modular arguments are strong or sound, then the conclusions can be considered "true" and used as premises for a larger argument.