Strengthening and weakening arguments

Last Updated on Nov 8, 2020

Once you have mastered the art of finding the central assumption of a critical reasoning problem, the next skill to focus on is identifying ways in which to Strengthening and Weakening Arguments. These questions present an argument, and then ask test-takers to identify the answer choice that, if true, would best strengthen or weaken that argument.

But before we get too deep into specifics, let’s take a step back and review the basics.

Why is an Argument?

An Argument is a set of statements. The goal of any argument is to get you to believe something or agree with something – that “something” is called the conclusion of the argument. Most of the time, an argument cites one or more fact that supports the conclusion. Often, between the premises and the conclusions, there’s a hidden logical connection i.e. the assumption of the argument. Our job as readers is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these arguments and figure out whether or not we should adopt the perspectives they present. The assumptions are the bond that holds an argument together and weakening or strengthening the assumptions will weaken or strengthen the argument. The trick of the Strengthen/Weaken question is to strengthen or weaken the assumptions.

Strengthening an Argument

The key to strengthening an argument is finding the answer choice that confirms that the central assumption is correct. This is generally done in one of two ways.

1. First, the correct answer can simply be a rewording of the assumption itself. If you encounter an answer choice that would be correct on an assumption question, it would also be correct on a strengthen question.
2. Second, the correct answer can confirm the assumption by citing a study, survey or any other relevant piece of additional evidence that makes the assumption more likely to be true. Remember, you only need to make the argument more likely to be correct; you do not need to make the argument certain to be correct.

Weakening an Argument

Finding a statement that weakens an argument follows the same process, only backward. Again, two possibilities exist.

1. First, an answer that weakens the argument can directly refute the assumption. Any choice that states that the assumption is wrong will weaken the argument.
2. Second, just as new pieces of evidence can strengthen the argument, new pieces of evidence can weaken the argument. Any new information presented in an answer choice that makes the assumption less likely to be correct will act to weaken the argument as a whole.

Read the sample question given below to get more clarity:

The cellular service quality has dropped significantly in India. Ten years ago, there were no instances of a call drop or no connectivity. There is also a decrease in the speed and reliability of service.

All of the following would tend to strengthen the conclusion of the argument above except:

1. The volume of connections handled by the Mobile operators has increased dramatically over the last ten years.

2. Unprecedented increases in the cost, as well as the scarce availability of spectrum for mobile services, have put severe pressures on the Mobile companies.

3.  Mobile services have diversified from carrying mere voice data to a whole range of internet data such as downloading, video-calling, data sharing, etc.

4. The opposition to negative externality of cellular radiation has obstructed increase of network services in response to the increasing subscriber base.

Understand the question carefully. The question is asking you look for an option that will weaken our conclusion. For that, you need to find the conclusion. The conclusion in the given argument is ‘The cellular service quality has dropped significantly in India.’

Now if we look at the option A, it is uprightly giving us a reason as to why there is a decline in the services. If the volume of the mobile connection subscriber increase in a dramatic way, and the service provider is not in a capacity to handle it perfectly, it will surely lead to mismanagement. And similar is the case with option B, as- if there is a scarcity of spectrum it will be difficult to give good services.

We are now left with option C and D. Option C says that as compared to the older times when the cellular companies were catering to only one kind of service whereas, now they have diversified their services. This option is weakening the main argument, which makes it the correct answer option.

Option D is also strengthening the conclusion as it says that due to the negative externality of the radiation, people are opposing it but they are not opposing the use of mobile phones, which means there may be less mobile towers in comparison to the increasing subscriber base.

Summary

In this blog post, we have mentioned how an argument can be strengthened and weakened. We have started with the basics by defining an Argument and then explaining questions related to it with more clarity. Hope you liked our post. Share your views in the comment section below.  For related posts click here.