Logic 101 · Series

Logic 101: Four Types of Terms

The word “term” is an ambiguous word. It gets used in many different ways in logic textbooks. Within each particular context we can tell what the word “term” means, but since I’m drawing from multiple sources in this logic series, I have to be clear exactly what I mean when I use the word “term.”

When I use the word “term” in this post or when I talk about the terms in an argument, I’m talking about argument terms. The purpose of this post is to discuss three different kinds of argument terms, and lead into a discussion of the fourth kind of terms for the next post.

The three types of terms I will discuss here are claim markers, claim modifiers, and claim materials. This post will be somewhat longer than normal, but it’s essential for understanding logic as a whole.

Claim Markers

A claim marker is a term that indicates whether the claim being put forward is the conclusion of an argument, or one of the premises in an argument. These were introduced in the last post. Essentially, a claim marker indicates that the phrase that follows it is the conclusion or premise. As I also pointed out that post, there are special sentence constructions that use claim markers of one type that indicate the phrase before it is of the opposite type (e.g., “I am a fast runner, so I am good at football.”).

Here are the tables I gave before that give examples of claim markers for conclusions and premises:

Conclusions

Therefore Thus Hence
Accordingly As a result Consequently


Premises

Because Since For
For example For instance For the reason that

Claim Modifiers

A claim modifier is a term that makes a claim either stronger or weaker in context. There are a number of different types of claim modifiers that are worth discussing. Each of these, except what I’m calling “strengthening terms,” are discussed further in this Coursera course. I would recommend that you take a look at those videos, especially the “close reading” videos that put these together in application.

Assuring Terms

First, there are assuring terms. These are terms that, when spoken by the right person in the right way, are meant to assure the audience (readers or listeners) that the claim that has just been stated can be taken at face value. In other words, you can believe the claim that they are putting forward even if they haven’t given any evidence for it. Assuring terms always assume that the author (writer or speaker) has evidence, but that they either (1) can’t share it with you because you may not comprehend it, (2) don’t have time to share all of their evidence, or (3) are hiding the fact they actually don’t have evidence.

Here’s some examples of assuring terms (and phrases):

Experts agree Scholars say Everyone knows
Scientists no longer hold I’ve written on this and . . . I’ve thought a lot about . . .
Nonsense! No one would deny Only fools think

Notice that these terms are used in three ways: (1) To refer to an outside authority; (2) To refer to oneself as an authority; (3) As an interjection. The first two are legitimate uses of assuring terms, provided that who you are citing (including yourself!) is qualified to speak to your topic. The third is an abusive use, and shouldn’t be used in serious argumentation.

Guarding Terms

There are also guarding terms, which are terms that intend to weaken a claim to make it more difficult to object to. Really, it means making a claim more modest (in most cases).

The following diagram will help describe guarding terms and the next type of terms.

Figure 1. Guarding Terms Diagram

There are two sliding scales here. One is a scale between how many things in a class are being referred to (All/None). The other is a scale between how likely (or probable) it is  that a claim is true (Certain/Impossible). When it’s clear that an author is using a term to stay away from either extreme, or to remain vague about where he (or she) stands on the scale, then that author is using a guarding term. (For convenience, I’ll place this between the 25% and 75% mark.)

Here are some non-probabilistic (“how many”) guarding terms that place how many things we’re referring to in the middle of “All” and “None”:

Some Sometimes Occasionally
A few A handful Several

Here are some are usually in the middle of the probabilistic (“how certain”) scale:

Possibly Could Maybe
Might Plausible Implausible

Finally, guarding terms are also used to by authors to report their own degrees of belief about a claim, or to make it so that objecting to them seems unfair. For example, if somebody prefaces their claim with the phrase “I feel,” then objecting to their feelings about something seems unfair or rude. In any case, here are some common guarding terms that report mental states:

I feel It seems to me It seems like
As far as I know As far as I’m aware For all we know


Strengthening Terms

Given my definition of a “claim modifier,” the name strengthening term seems boring. (I actually wanted to call these “bolstering terms,” but I thought that might sound too much like “guarding” to some people.) A strengthening term is one that does the opposite of a guarding term. So there’s three ways they can do this.

On the either scale this means the term intends to refer to the “below 25%” or “above 75%” areas. (Again, I’ve chosen these for convenience only.) In other words, these words deliberately move closer toward (rather than away from) one end of the scale or the other.

Non-Probabilistic / “How Many”

All None Many
Few Most 90% of . . .


Probabilistic / “How Certain”

Certainly Proves Will
Absolutely Probable Improbable
Likely Unlikely Quite plausible

And just like guarding terms, there are strengthening terms that report one’s own mental states with regard to how sure they are that a claim is true (or not):

I’m certain I’m positive I’m sure
I strongly believe I’m convinced I’m not persuaded


Discounting Terms

The role of a discounting term is to introduce a response to a criticism toward an author’s claim. Discounting terms can be used merely dismiss objections, but they don’t need to be used this way. These aren’t hard to grasp, so I’ll give you examples of them.

However But Although
Even if Whereas Nevertheless
Yet Still While


Evaluative Terms

These ones are also easy to grasp. Essentially, an evaluative term connects something with being either “good” or “bad.” Some terms do this inherently, like the words “right” and “wrong.” Others are only evaluative in context, like when a theological opponent is criticized for engaging in “speculation.” Speculation isn’t bad in itself, but used in this kind of context, the author intends it to be an evaluative term.

Evaluative terms can either point toward something good and be positive, or point toward something bad and be negative. Here are examples of each. (Keep in mind that the theological terms I’ve given in either category may or may not be evaluative in that particular direction based on context.) 

Positive

Smart Useful Pro-
Bible-based Christ-centered Conservative
Right Great Positive


Negative

Dumb Useless Anti-
Pelagian Nestorian Liberal
Wrong Opinion Negative


Claim Materials

The claim materials are terms that either (1) make claims a particular type of logical claim or (2) make them intelligible in English.

The following table lists different kinds of logical claims and the terms that we can use to identify them. Each of these will be explained in later posts, so don’t worry about precisely how they function right now. The point is to be able to tell what kinds of claims they are. (The left column lists the claim types, and the right column lists the claim materials for each claim type.)

Conjunctive “and”
Disjunctive “or”
Conditional “If . . . then”
Biconditional “If and only if”
Numerical Identity “just is”, “=”
Definitional “by definition,” “=def”
Negation “not”

Claim materials also make sentences intelligible in English. Again, I’ll go into this in detail later, but the point right now is that claims in English must have a clear subject and predicate. That is to say, when an author makes a claim, we have to know what they are discussing (the subject) and what they are saying about the subject (the predicate). So, subject and predicate are essential claim materials for logical arguments. If these are unclear, then the argument will be unclear as well.

The “Three M’s” and Argument Reconstruction

How do all of these (claim markers, claim modifiers, claim materials) relate to reconstructing arguments? If you read the last post it’s probably obvious to you. But I’ll explain how anyway.

Typically we will want to look for claim markers first, because they help with the I.D. Step. (Remember, that’s to: (1) Identify the conclusion; (2) Determine the conclusion’s support.) After we identify those, we have to see what other words in context go with each claim.

This means that we must then look for claim modifiers for each of the claims we’ve identified. After that, we look for any claim materials that we’ve missed so that, when we reconstruct the argument, we are presenting it in the same form that the author intended to give it.

Technical Terms

In the next post I will discuss the fourth type of terms: technical terms. These are terms that should be defined in an argument. By drawing on Herrick’s Many Worlds of Logic, I hope to point out the different kinds of definitions and show how we can give precise definitions when we reconstruct or raise arguments.

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