Periodic Table of Arguments

The building blocks of persuasive discourse

Argument from sign (Sig)

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All human beings by nature desire to know. A sign of this is our liking for the senses; for even apart from their usefulness we like them for themselves – especially the sense of sight, since we choose seeing above practically all the others, not only as an aid to action, but also when we have no intention of acting. The reason is that sight, more than any of the other senses, gives us knowledge of things and clarifies many differences among them. (Aristotle, Metaphysica 980a21-27)

Aristotle in this well-known passage states that All human beings by nature desire to know and supports this claim by saying that our liking for the senses functions as a sign of this. To identify the type of argument, we follow the instructions in the Argument Type Identification Procedure (ATIP).

The procedure starts with an analysis of the statements functioning as the conclusion and the premise, followed by a number of transformations of the original text so as to represent the argument in the standard order [conclusion, because premise]. This yields the following result:

All human beings by nature desire to know, because all human beings have a liking for their senses.

The next step of the procedure is to determine the ‘argument form’, which is defined as the specific configuration of the subjects and predicates. The present example fits the form “a is X, because a is Y“, which means it should be labelled as a first-order predicate argument (abbreviated as ‘1 pre’).

All human beings (a) by nature desire to know (X), because all human beings (a) have a liking for their senses (Y).

The analyst subsequently determines the ‘argument substance’, which is defined as the specific combination of the types of statements. In this case, both the conclusion and the premise count as a statement of fact (F). The argument thus combines a statement of fact with another statement of fact (abbreviated as ‘FF’).

Now that the analyst has determined the basic characteristics of the argument, they can be summarized by providing its systematic name, which combines the relevant labels for the argument form and the argument substance. In this case, we are dealing with a first-order predicate argument that combines a statement of fact with another statement of fact. Its systematic name, in abbreviated form, is thus ‘1 pre FF’. In the visualization of the Periodic Table of Arguments, such arguments are situated in the FF column of the Alpha Quadrant.

The systematic name provides the analyst with information about the so-called ‘lever’ of the argument, which is a formulation of its underlying mechanism and plays an important role in the evaluation of the argument (see Wagemans 2019). In this case, the systematic name tells us that the argument is based on the relationship between the predicates X and Y. A fitting keyword for describing this relationship is ‘sign’, as Aristotle already indicates by using this term to label the premise. The lever of the argument can thus be formulated as:

have a liking for the senses (Y) IS A SIGN OF by nature desire to know (X)

The keyword connects the systematic framework of the Periodic Table of Arguments to the names of argument types as they can be found in the traditional dialectical and rhetorical categorizations of arguments. To reflect this tradition, every systematic argument type that is distinguished in the table hosts an arbitrary number of so-called ‘isotopes’, which are named after the keyword that describes the underlying mechanism of the argument. In this case, the isotope name is ‘argument from sign’ (represented in the table by the symbol ‘Sig’).

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SOURCE

The example is taken from the opening paragraph of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and is represented here in the translation of T. Irwin and G. Fine (1995), Aristotle – Selections. Indianapolis: Hackett.