One of the big things philosopher-types like to do with their students is work on extracting arguments from a piece of text and reconstructing them. This can be useful in locating sources of disagreement, whether they be specific premises or inferences.
But some chunks of text that seem like they ought to have arguments that can be extracted and reconstructed end up being … opaque.
For example, this question and answer between Katie Couric and Sarah Palin (transcript by way of Shakesville):
Couric [on tape]: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with healthcare, housing, gas, and groceries–allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy–instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?
Palin [on tape]: That’s why I say, I, like every American I’m speaking with, we’re ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bailout. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are [glances down] concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed [glances down] to help shore up our economy. [glances down] Helping the–oh, it’s got to be about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So healthcare reform [glances down] and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief [glances down] for Americans, and trade we’ve–we’ve got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing, but 1 in 5 jobs being created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout [is a part of that].
Unless I’m mistaken, asking one’s students to reconstruct the argument in Palin’s response would be seen as an unfair question — and rightly so. You’d likely receive responses like this:
To Prove: It is not better to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with healthcare, housing, gas, and groceries–allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy–instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess.
1. Healthcare reform is needed to shore up our economy. (premise)
2. Job creation is needed to shore up our economy. (premise)
3. One in five jobs created today are created in the trade sector. (premise)
4. Taxpayer money will fund the $700 billion bailout. (implicit premise)
5. Reducing taxes has got to accompany tax reductions. (tautology)
6. ???? (modus ponens?)
7. Job creation is trade is healthcare reform is tax relief. (constructive dilemma??)
8. Therefore, bailing out the big financial institutions is no worse than spending $700 billion helping middle-class families. (something here about “completeness”?)
The puppy has never been sadder.