On their surface, the systems we develop here might appear as little more than well-structured subjectivity, but if there’s objective analysis to be found, it’s in the shared subjectivity that results from structured judgements. In this text, we will develop a system to create and evaluate inferences to the best explanation, as well as a related system for making recommendations. Following that, we will address special topics, focusing on judgements about recommendations.
Investigations result in explanations, principles, or patterns, each inspiring their own Recommendation. An explanation inspires a Request for Solution, a principle a Request for Guidance, and a pattern inspires a Request for Prediction.
We find these species of Recommendation sometimes on their own, in the wild, and sometimes we discover them nested in one another. For example, A Request for Solution often includes the results of an Investigation; the investigative results guide the request. Throughout the text, will trace a tangible example of a car that will not start. After collecting evidence, we might determine a best explanation for the car’s trouble – perhaps an electrical failure. In this one case, we do not discover a general rule for how cars work, and neither do we establish a pattern we might apply to cars in general. We simply have an explanation of a problem, and more work needs to be done. That next step is the Request for Solution, whose recommendation will be a suggested course of action to remedy the problem identified in the investigation. We will call this preferred recommendation “reliable”.
Once we have arrived at a solution, we might wonder about ways to implement the solution. This complex structure – the Investigation plus the Request for Solution – can be embedded in a Request for Guidance. The results of this request are a recommended way to bring the preferred change about. This structure will become clearer as we proceed.
At yet another level, all of this might embed in a Request for Prediction, wherein we might answer questions about the effects of implementing the solution we prefer. This would be based on a critical view toward the historical patterns resulting from similar implementations.
Though we will treat, essentially, six topics, the combinations of these topics into comprehensive analyses of problems, and suggestions for action in the world, generate a powerful system of persuasive writing. Persuasive arguments are clear, well-organised, and address a variety of competing explanations and recommended conclusions. Developing our skills at producing good and persuasive arguments is our primary objective here.
Beyond these combinations, we might ask for Justifications of our decisions. This sort of “meta-analysis” we will treat in a later chapter, and we note its close connection to legal defence. Below is a visual model of the structure:
(are requests for)
In every Request For:
The species of Recommendation Requests listed above (Explanation, Pattern, Principle) can appear on their own as well.
Sometimes a Request for Solution simply ends with a recommendation. Case closed.
A Request for Guidance might arise when trying to decide what to cook for dinner, or which route to take across the city at rush hour. In these requests, we express our wants and dislikes, expressing a context in which we will accept or reject recommendations. No nested investigation necessary.
Finally, Requests for Prediction – from wanting to know who will most likely win the rugby match, to wondering what might happen in a scientific experiment - depend on our having identified patterns in the world. Those patterns function as reasons to think some outcome likely. Argument by analogy will be key to understanding the persuasive power of arguing with patterns as reasons.
A more specific application of the structures developed here is the application of a Request for Guidance to moral problems. Though we will not put strict limits on the contents of these requests, when the specific requests are moral in nature, this structure can help us express why we find a particular course of action acceptable or not acceptable. In moral terms, these are models for complex cases.
Requests for Guidance can be as simple as “What movie should I watch?” or as complex as asking about the ethical treatment of livestock. The simple cases provide models for the complex cases, such as requests for moral guidance.
When treating each of the species of Recommendation Requests, we will start with the simplest of cases in order to illustrate the concepts and the vocabulary. Then, we will complicate the cases, eliminating our approximations, edging ever closer to practical, in the world applications. We will begin by learning to identify simple arguments in the wild. Then, we will work through a structure we can use to give form to these otherwise informal arguments.