Arguing about the likelihood of consequences: Laypeople's criteria to distinguish strong arguments from weak ones

Thinking and Reasoning 20 (1):77-98 (2014)
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Abstract

High-quality arguments have strong and lasting persuasive effects, suggesting that people can distinguish high- from low-quality arguments. However, we know little of what norms people employ to make that distinction. Some studies have shown that, in evaluating arguments from consequences, people are more sensitive to differences with respect to the desirability of these consequences than to differences in the likelihood that these consequences will occur. This raises the question of whether people lack the criteria to distinguish high-quality from low-quality arguments in support of such claims. In an experiment, 196 participants without any training in argument theory rated their acceptance of 30 claims about the likelihood that a certain outcome would result from a certain action. These claims were supported by an argument from authority, or from cause to effect, or from example. Arguments were systematically manipulated to violate nine specific criteria. For seven out of the nine criteria violation decreased acceptance of the claim supported. These findings show that people can use argument type specific criteria to distinguish high- from low-quality arguments

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