Cogency is the quality of the appeal to reason. A cogent argument makes rational sense, which means it is not an appeal to for example pity, a treat of force. It is logic. The importance of cogency is that because it is logic and not emotional, it means an argument can be explained to and understood and accepted by others.

Evaluating Inductive Arguments

Inductive arguments, on the other hand, are considered strong if the conclusion probably follows from the premises and weak if it follows only improbably from the premises, despite what is claimed about it. If the inductive argument is not only strong but also has all true premises, then it is called cogent. Weak inductive arguments are always uncogent. Here is an example:

Strolling through the woods is usually fun. The sun is out, the temperature is cool, there is no rain in the forecast, the flowers are in bloom, and the birds are singing. Therefore, it should be fun to take a walk through the woods now.

Assuming you care about those premises, then the argument is strong. Assuming that the premises are all true, then this is also a cogent argument. If we didn’t care about the factors mentioned (perhaps you suffer from allergies and don’t like it when the flowers are in bloom), it would be a weak argument. If any of the premises turned out to be false (for example, if it is actually raining), then the argument would be uncogent. If additional premises turned up, like there have been reports of a bear in the area, then that would also make the argument uncogent.

To critique an argument and show that it is invalid or possibly unsound or uncogent, it is necessary to attack either the premises or the inferences. Remember, however, that even if it can be demonstrated that both the premises and the intermediate inferences are incorrect, that does not mean that the final conclusion is also false. All you have demonstrated is that the argument itself cannot be used to establish the truth of the conclusion.

Premises Are Assumed True

In an argument, the premises offered are assumed to be true, and no effort is made to support them. But, just because they are assumed to be true, does not mean that they are. If you think they are (or may be) false, you can challenge them and ask for support. The other person would need to create a new argument in which the old premises become the conclusions.

If the inferences and reasoning process in an argument is false, that’s usually because of some fallacy. A fallacy is an error in the reasoning process whereby the connection between the premises and the conclusion is not what has been claimed.

So, to summarize:

  • Cogent: “convincing or believable by virtue of forcible, clear, or incisive presentation”
  • A cogent argument appeals to reason and logic and makes rational sense rather than appealing to force or emotions
  • Cogent arguments can be understood and explained by others independent of who they are