Lecture Notes.

Module Two: Session Four

Elements of Thought: Assumptions

  • Assumptions are unstated reasons, which are essential in arriving at the conclusion.
  • For example:
    • Tom says, "Oh, you should take Dr. Jones. He's an excellent teacher."
      The conclusion is, "You should take Dr. Jones."
    • The only stated reason is, "He's an excellent teacher."
    • There is a gap between the reason and the conclusion. What makes Dr. Jones an excellent teacher? You might assume that what Tom thinks is an excellent teacher is the same as what you think is an excellent teacher. In this case, what makes an excellent teacher is the reason that is being assumed.
  • Remember,
    • Assumptions are unstated.
    • Assumptions are reasons, not conclusions
  • Value Assumptions: Values are ideas that people think are especially important. Frequently when people take a position, it is based on a value they hold. For instance, a person arguing for nationalized health care values collective responsibility over individual responsibility. To successfully communicate, one must be aware of the value assumptions. Value conflicts must be dealt with if progress is to be made.1
  • Descriptive Assumptions: These are assumptions about how the world is When looking for these missing reasons, ask whether or not the conclusion makes sense without some unstated reason. Identify what that reason is, and you've discovered your assumption.2

Finding Assumptions

  • Look for the gaps between the reasons and the conclusion. What's missing? Often what is not stated is as important or more important that what is stated. Don't take things for granted. Remember the old recommendation to "read between the lines." That's what detecting assumptions is all about.


  • Regarding assumptions, Clearly identify your assumptions and determine whether they are justifiable.
  • Consider how your assumptions are shaping your point of view.
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