Lecture Notes.

Module Two: Session Three

Elements of Thought: Issues


  • All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some question, to solve some problem.
Man wondering
  • The function of an issue is to raise the question which will be answered by the reasoning process.
  • This means that the issue is always a question.
  • Though we frequently hear people use the word "issue" to describe topics, this is really incorrect. Notice that "capital punishment" is a topic, but it does not ask a question. There is no way to answer a question unless one is asked (at least implicitly).

Finding the Issue

  • To find the issue, try to figure out what question the author is trying to answer. One trick is to determine what the conclusion is, then figure out what question is being asked that the conclusion answers

Examples of Issues

  • Is capital punishment ever justified?
  • Should abortion remain legal?
  • Should I go to U.C.L.A?
  • Whether or not gun ownership should be restricted?
  • Should the Headwaters old growth forest be purchased by the government?
  • Whether or not I should take an introductory philosophy course.

Issues and the word "whether."

  • Important: Notice that some of these issues do not have question marks at the end. The word "whether" indicates that a question is being asked, even though the punctuation at the end of the sentence is a period. Here is how it works:
  • Sentences with the word "whether" take two opposing questions and push them together. Let's look at this example:
  • "Whether or not I should take an introductory philosophy course."
    This sentence puts together the following questions:
  • "Should I take an introductory philosophy course?" and
    "Should I not take an introductory philosophy course?"
  • (Also, the words "or not" are redundant.)


  • Regarding issues, consider the following:
  • Take time to clearly and precisely state the question at issue.
  • Express the question in several ways to clarify its meaning and scope.
  • Break the question into sub questions.
  • Identify if the question has one right answer, is a matter of opinion, or requires reasoning from more than one point of view.
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