Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Enthymemes Connect Reasons to Conclusions, and Build Bigger, Better Papers

Enthymemes? What the what?

The American English Dictionary defines an enthymeme as

"an argument in which one premise is not explicitly stated."

In other words: Because A = B, and B = C, then it follows that A also = C.

Even Wikipedia knows all about enthymemes and offers an example:
“Socrates is mortal because he's human.”
The complete formal syllogism (or enthymeme) in the classic is as follows:
    A. All humans are mortal. (major premise = assumed);
    B. Socrates is human. (minor premise = stated);
    C. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (conclusion = stated)
The word enthymeme was used by the Greek philosopher Aristotle when, in his treatise on rhetoric, he needed to describe how reasoning works informally in our everyday arguments where we do not necessarily use the mathematically rigid forms of logic.

In Greek, the term combines en = into, and thymos = soul, to suggest the way that reasoned language is able to produce belief. Aristotle called the enthymeme the “body (or substance) of proof.”

The relationship created between a reason and a conclusion is not self-contained. It makes implicit reference to other ideas that help to bind the reason to the conclusion, making it seem to follow.

Here is an example of enthymemes used in an actual argument, in a brief passage from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail:
“A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama, which set up the state’s segregation laws, was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?”

Conclusion: Alabama’s segregation laws are unjust.
Reason: Those laws were inflicted on a minority that had no role in enacting them.
Assumption: Any law that is inflicted on a minority that had no role in enacting it is an unjust law.
The reason here is itself the conclusion of another enthymeme:
Conclusion: African Americans had no role in enacting Alabama’s segregation laws.
Reason: African Americans were prevented from voting for the state legislature.
Assumption: Anyone prevented from voting for the legislature has no role in enacting laws passed by that legislature.

In other words: because A = B, and B = C, therefore A = C.
Your thesis statement (disguised as an enthymeme) begins to operate like so:

Because 'A' is true, therefore 'B' and 'C' are also true.

Question: “How do enthymemes help me build bigger, better papers?”

Answer: Enthymemes help to build a bigger, beefier thesis statement that also helps you structure your paper. (For you vegans out there, this is only a metaphor.)
The paper can now be written with the enthymeme in the place of a thesis statement. The next few paragraphs will flow more easily with that bigger, better, more forceful powerhouse (i.e., the enthymeme) on your side.

Remember: Because A = B, and B = C, therefore A = C.

*To pronounce the word, "enthymeme," go here: http://youtu.be/C0tMcoMleZg

1 comment:

  1. Tana...uhm...wow! Ok, I will be working on getting rid of the fallacies and working (or should I say) twerking in the enthymemes. ;-)