The Temple Metaphor for Logical Writing
Many of the words we use to talk about arguments are borrowed from architecture. We say it "doesn't hold up" or it's "solid." We build up our arguments, and we try to tear down those of our opponents.
Architecture offers us a good metaphor for a successful argument.
The Temple Metaphor
Actually, human beings have been using their powers of reason for longer than they have been building temples... perhaps the first architects actually borrowed concepts from the realm of logic!
A neoclassical temple and an academic argument both require a solid base.
|While the foundation
of a building is stone; the foundation of an argument is a premise.
The building blocks of your argument are facts and assertions, known
as suppositions. A mason
shapes and stacks round blocks in order to form a pillar; in the
same way, a writer arranges and connects suppositions in order to
provide a chain of logical connections; like a pillar that runs
all the way from the ground to the roof, these connections are the
evidence that supports the writer's
main point. The stronger the columns, the heavier the roof
can be; in the same way, a stronger array of supporting evidence
can support a "weightier" conclusion.
Just as building must withstand the force of gravity, your argument must hold up under the force of logic. As you write, conjure up the image of an alter-ego who challenges you at every turn... not a bad guy, but an intelligent and honest critic testing out your argument, the same way one might tap on a wall to test its strength. If the wall collapses, it's not the tester's fault!
|Love your neighbor.|
And sometimes they can be complex:
An essay that addresses the question "Was Hamlet mad?" has an unspoken premise -- that we know enough about the play Hamlet to determine the sanity of the title character. Underlying that premise is a deeper one -- that we know enough about the concepts of sanity and madness to make any such exploration worthwhile. Those of us who are bored with English literature ask whether it make any sense at all to examine an imaginary literary character in this kind of detail... if we ask this question, we are challenging an even deeper premise. Those of us who are bored with life as a whole, who wear black turtlenecks and chain smoke in trendy downtown cafes, might wish to challenge a premise that lies deeper still -- can we ever claim knowledge about anything at all?
Note: This line of thought is called "deconstruction." It digs up the foundation of every premise it can find. It is very depressing, and therefore very trendy. It deals with the elimination of all that mankind has previously known to have been good and true. While it does not actually bring us any closer to the question of whether Hamlet is mad, it has from time to time encouraged many otherwise healthy graduate students to experience madness for the first time.
- There is a table at the front of this room.
- All apples are fruits.
- An apple is not an orange.
- Nobody knows the troubles I've seen.
- My favorite color is blue.
- The population of the United States in 1976 was about 200 million.
- The moon is made of green cheese.
(This one is not as easily verifiable as the others... such a supposition might be a weak link)
(Another potential weak link, since this is not easily verifiable)
(When properly documented, a statement such as this is a fact.)
(Scientific research has proven this to be false... but it is still a supposition.)
- Give me liberty or give me death.
- He is an officer and a gentleman.
- Some apples are yellow. [Implies that there are apples with different colors.]
- I buy this brand of laundry detergent because the box bears a cheerful design.
- No dogs can vote. "Sammy" cannot vote. It is plausible that Sammy is a dog.
- If he knew his words were misleading, then he must have lied.
Of course, Sammy could be a cat, or a child,
or a prisoner... or dead.
By themselves, these suppositions don't amount to much.
Sometimes the chain is more convoluted, coiling around, knotting up, and tangling. It's your job to smooth it out:
Equate #3 & #4 to get the following:
In #2, substitute equated terms from #5 to get the following:
Please allow me to abuse the temple metaphor a little bit more, in the noble interest of making my point: