Introduction to Inference Identifiers

The language in which an argument is presented often contains words or phrase to help identify its parts, especially its premises and conclusion. These words and phrases are identifiers of the function played in the argument. Unfortunately, identifiers are only as precise as the persons using them, and both the individual making an argument and the one evaluating it are liable to make mistakes by inexact or sloppy use of identifiers. Since the purpose of an argument is to communicate an idea clearly, the careful use and interpretation of identifiers is an important skill for critical thinking.

The following are some of the most common premise and conclusion identifiers:

Premise Identifiers: Conclusion Identifiers:
since therefore
for thus
because so
supposing that as a result
given that consequently
assuming that we can conclude that

These are only a few of the words and phrases commonly used to identify premises and conclusions. In addition, keep in mind that:

  1. some of these words can also appear within the context of an argument, but without indicating an inference. "So," for example, has several meanings, only one of which is a synonym for "therefore."
  2. sloppy usage may produce confusing identifiers. A common answer to the question, "What would you think if the sky suddenly clouded up and turned very dark," is "I would assume it was going to rain." Yet "it is going to rain" here is a conclusion, not an assumption or premise.
  3. "if" and "then" are often used to identify premises and conclusions, respectively. However, "if" and "then" are also used to introduce the two halves of a conditional premise. In either usage, "then" is sometimes omitted; and it has other meanings, as well.
  4. an identifier may not immediately precede or follow the word or phrase whose function it is indicating. For example, in the sentence "Thus, whenever the sun rises, the rooster crows," there are two claims: a premise, "the sun rises," and a conclusion identified by "thus" (but not immediately following it), "the rooster crows."
  5. in cases where there are no identifiers, the most frequent order is conclusion first, followed by one or both premises. If both premises are given, they are often conjoined with "and" or "but." For example, "I like Mozart. I like most classical composers, and Mozart was a classical composer."

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Exercises for Premise and Conclusion identifiers


1. Which of the following can identify a premise?

  thus
  so
  since
  therefore

2. Which of the following can identify a conclusion?

  assuming that
  as a result
  as a matter of fact
  as everyone knows

3. "Red is a better choice for me, because it brings out the color in my cheeks." What sort of claim does "because" identify here?

  premise
  conclusion
  neither

4. Which of the following pairs has a premise identifier, followed by a conclusion identifier?

  so, therefore
  thus, therefore
  for, since
  since, so

1. Which of the following can identify a premise?

You answered:

  since

Correct!

"Thus," "so," and "therefore" are the most common conclusion identifiers. The only premise identifier on the list is "since." Consider the argument, "Since it's Monday, I have my critical thinking class." Here, "since" identifies the premise, "it's Monday."

2. Which of the following can identify a conclusion? You answered:

  as a result

Correct!

3. "Red is a better choice for me, because it brings out the color in my cheeks." What sort of claim does "because" identify here? You answered:

  premise

Correct!

4. Which of the following pairs has a premise identifier, followed by a conclusion identifier? You answered

  since, so

Correct!

Notice that most arguments will have a premise identifier or a conclusion identifier, but not both. For example, "Since Peggy had no money, I paid for her" or "Peggy had no money, so I paid for her." An example with both would be, "So, since Peggy had no money, I paid for her."

1. Which of the following can identify a premise?

You answered:

  thus

"Thus," "so," and "therefore" are the most common conclusion identifiers. The only premise identifier on the list is "since." Consider the argument, "Since it's Monday, I have my critical thinking class." Here, "since" identifies the premise, "it's Monday."

1. Which of the following can identify a premise?

You answered:

  so

"Thus," "so," and "therefore" are the most common conclusion identifiers. The only premise identifier on the list is "since." Consider the argument, "Since it's Monday, I have my critical thinking class." Here, "since" identifies the premise, "it's Monday."

1. Which of the following can identify a premise?

You answered:

  therefore

"Thus," "so," and "therefore" are the most common conclusion identifiers. The only premise identifier on the list is "since." Consider the argument, "Since it's Monday, I have my critical thinking class." Here, "since" identifies the premise, "it's Monday."

2. Which of the following can identify a conclusion?

You answered:

  assuming that
An "assumption" is another word for a "premise," so "assuming that" is a premise identifier. The only conclusion identifier on the list is "as a result." Results, in this context, are conclusions, and causes are premises.

2. Which of the following can identify a conclusion?

You answered:

  as a matter of fact

That is neither a premise identifier nor a conclusion identifier. The only conclusion identifier on the list is "as a result." Consider the claim, "Therefore, the resolution is unconstitutional." It must be a conclusion, as identified by "therefore." Because "as a matter of fact" can be inserted into the claim without any logical consequences, "Therefore, as a matter of fact, the resolution is unconstitutional." it cannot be used to identify an inference.

2. Which of the following can identify a conclusion?

You answered:

  as everyone knows
That is neither a premise identifier nor a conclusion identifier. The only conclusion identifier on the list is "as a result." Consider the claim, "Therefore, the resolution is unconstitutional." It must be a conclusion, as identified by "therefore." Because "as everyone knows" can be inserted into the claim without any logical consequences, "Therefore, as everyone knows, the resolution is unconstitutional," it cannot be used to identify an inference.

3. "Red is a better choice for me, because it brings out the color in my cheeks." What sort of claim does "because" identify here?

You answered:

  conclusion

"Because" introduces a cause, and in logical terms the cause is the premise, and the effect is the conclusion.

3. "Red is a better choice for me, because it brings out the color in my cheeks." What sort of claim does "because" identify here? You answered:

  neither

"Because" introduces a cause, and in logical terms the cause is the premise, and the effect is the conclusion.

4. Which of the following pairs has a premise identifier, followed by a conclusion identifier?

You answered:

  so, therefore
But both "so" and "therefore" are conclusion identifiers.

Notice that most arguments will have a premise identifier or a conclusion identifier, but not both. For example, "Since Peggy had no money, I paid for her" or "Peggy had no money, so I paid for her." An example with both would be, "So, since Peggy had no money, I paid for her."

4. Which of the following pairs has a premise identifier, followed by a conclusion identifier?

You answered:

  thus, therefore
But both "thus" and "therefore" are conclusion identifiers.

Notice that most arguments will have a premise identifier or a conclusion identifier, but not both. For example, "Since Peggy had no money, I paid for her" or "Peggy had no money, so I paid for her." An example with both would be, "So, since Peggy had no money, I paid for her."

4. Which of the following pairs has a premise identifier, followed by a conclusion identifier?

You answered:

  for, since

But both "for" and "since" are premise identifiers.

Notice that most arguments will have a premise identifier or a conclusion identifier, but not both. For example, "Since Peggy had no money, I paid for her" or "Peggy had no money, so I paid for her." An example with both would be, "So, since Peggy had no money, I paid for her."

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