New feature: Sub-arguments

I’m really excited to announce a major new feature on Sequiturs: sub-arguments! This is a huge step in realizing the vision for Sequiturs.

What is a sub-argument?

With the sub-arguments feature, arguments on Sequiturs can use other arguments for support. You can use the conclusion of one argument as a premise in another argument. This makes the former argument a sub-argument of the latter. Here’s how it works.

Suppose we have the following argument about why Bob Dylan deserved the Nobel Prize:

Because Bob Dylan’s art is music, step 2 is not obvious and could use more support. Up to now, there wasn’t a good way to provide that support. We might have crammed more into the premise, like this:

A longer premise like this isn’t an ideal solution, because it contains multiple ideas: that Dylan’s lyrics are poetry, that poetry is literature, and that this implies his art is literature. Everyone who wants to discuss the premise now has more work to do, to be clear about which of these points they have in mind.

As you can see, the content of this longer premise is a kind of mini argument for why Dylan’s art qualifies as literature. What we really want, then, is a way to make that its own argument, and to draw upon that argument in the larger argument about why Dylan deserves the Nobel.

With the sub-arguments feature, we can!

First we make the argument for why Bob Dylan’s art qualifies as literature:

Then we use the conclusion of that argument as a premise in our original argument:

Step 2 is now supported by a sub-argument for why it’s true, and our original argument is much stronger.

Why should I care about sub-arguments?

Sub-arguments are a transformative improvement for Sequiturs, because they allow arguments to build on each other.

Whereas previously every argument existed by itself, now every argument on Sequiturs is one that every other argument can take advantage of. All the work that goes into discussing and improving an argument is, in effect, leveraged by all the other arguments that use it as a sub-argument.

If you’re wondering whether a sub-argument can itself have sub-arguments, the answer is yes. This means that arguments can grow arbitrarily complex. Arguments can accommodate whatever complexity the topic demands.

The guiding vision for Sequiturs is to be a platform that enables people to understand each other better, through the use of a discussion format that creates clarity and coherence. Users write arguments that are a series of premises and conclusions. Users can comment on these arguments, pose arguments as challenges to other arguments, and revise arguments. The ability to re-use arguments inside other arguments, which the sub-arguments feature introduces, is essential to this vision, because it allows for rich, complex ideas to be organized and expressed in a way that is simple to understand.

How do I use a sub-argument?

To use a sub-argument in an argument, click the button in the argument editor, for the premise you want to have a sub-argument.

In the panel that appears, search for the argument you want to use as a sub-argument, and select it. Then select the conclusion of that argument which you want to use as the premise in your argument.

That’s it!

When you click to Publish your argument, the editor will automatically validate your argument and inform you if there are any problems with your sub-argument(s). (For instance, public arguments can only use other public arguments as sub-arguments. Private arguments can only use private arguments that belong to the same group as sub-arguments.) If something was invalid, you can fix the problem and re-submit.

What’s next?

At present, an argument must already exist on Sequiturs for it to be able to be used as a sub-argument. In future, we’ll add the ability to create sub-arguments from scratch, right in the argument editor.

More big improvements to Sequiturs are in the pipeline. Stay tuned for new ways to explore and interact with propositions :)

–Ian


P.S. Congratulations to Bob Dylan and thanks for all the music.