Philosophy 86 - 5.3.1 Getting to the Premises

The first step in understanding an argument is to identify the conclusion. Ask yourself what you think the main point or main idea is. Can you identify a thesis? Sometimes identifying the conclusion may involve a little bit of “mind reading.” You may have to ask yourself “What is this person trying to make me accept?” The arguer may use words that indicate a conclusion—for example, “therefore” or “hence” (see Table 5.1). After you have identified the conclusion, try to summarize it as well as you can. Then, identify the premises or evidence the arguer offers in support of that conclusion. Once again, identifying reasons can be tricky and might involve more mind reading because arguers don’t always explicitly state all of their reasons. Attempt to identify what you think the arguer wants you to accept as evidence. Sometimes arguers also use words that indicate that reasons or premises are being offered. In presenting evidence, people might use terms such as “because of” or “since” (see Table 5.1). Lastly, if it is difficult to first identify the conclusion of an argument, you may have to begin by parsing the evidence to then figure out the conclusion.

Conclusion indicator words and phrases therefore, hence, so, thus, consequently, accordingly, as a result, it follows that, it entails that, we can conclude, for this reason, it must be that, it has to be that
Premise indicator words and phrases given that, since, because, for, in that, for the reason that, in as much as, as indicated by, seeing how, seeing that, it follows from, owing to, it may be inferred from
Table 5.1 - Navigating an Argument

Understanding evidence types can help you identify the premises being advanced for a conclusion. As discussed earlier in the chapter, philosophers will often offer definitions or conceptual claims in their arguments. For example, a premise may contain the conceptual claim that “The idea of God includes perfection.” Arguments can also contain as premises empirical evidence or information about the world gleaned through the senses. Principles are also used as premises in arguments. A principle is a general rule or law. Principles are as varied as fields of study and can exist in any domain. For example, “Do not use people merely as a means to an end” is an ethical principle.


See the introduction to philosopher chapter to learn more about conceptual analysis.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax