Instructional Systems Handout #LPA1; "Free Resources for Students and Teachers";; User may copy this handout for educational purposes. Commercial use is prohibited. All rights reserved.





A premise is a proposition, supposition, or hypothesis upon which one bases a conclusion. It is, therefore, the first step in a deductive process (a process which moves from general truth to particular conclusions).


A premise is a promise in that both ideas hold the author to the truth of an as-yet-unproven statement. As a matter of fact both words develop from the same Latin root (mittere, 'to send') and both mean roughly 'to send ahead.' A premise, then, is a "truth" that you send ahead to prepare the way for another "truth" that will follow. The first "truth" is generally accepted by all people; the second depends on the first for its credibility.

There are two ways that you can use the premise device to develop middle paragraphs. First, you can use it "is a format for presenting previously gathered material, and second, you can use it as a means of generating new ideas as you write. As a conscious means of invention, the second of these is probably the more useful to the student writer.

The premise developmental device consists of two parts-the premise and its conclusion. The first is a statement of "truth" which the writer and his audience presumably agree upon, either for the sake of argument or as a matter of common understanding or as a matter of "universal truth." The second part, the conclusion, becomes "true" because of its unique relationship to the premise.

Consider the following premise-conclusion examples:

PREMISE: All Americans love apple pie.

This statement we could agree upon for the sake of argument.

CONCLUSION: Apple pie is an American dish.


This conclusion is not an example of sound logic, but it is an accepted "truth" because of its harmless popularity.

PREMISE: All Americans are entitled to equal justice under the law.

This statement we could agree upon as a matter of common understanding.

CONCLUSION: The Paiute Indians of Northern Nevada deserve equal employment opportunities.



This concluding statement is true if the premise is true (which it is) AND if Paiute Indians are American citizens (which they are) AND if it is the law of the land that all American citizens are entitled to equal employment opportunities (which it is). This conclusion is about three logical steps away from its premise, but all informed readers would know that all of the implicit conditions are met which make the conclusion true. This example is representative of t he actual use of premise-conclusion relationships in speech and writing because we do not always include the obvious steps in our logical processes.


PREMISE: Sound waves cannot travel in a vacuum.

This statement we could accept as true to the universal laws of physics.

CONCLUSION: Space walkers on the moon could not hear a rock slide and would, therefore, have to be particularly careful because of the loss of the sense of hearing in relation to their environment.


This statement is true because of universally understood laws of physics. However, in this example we have two conclusions: (1) that moon walkers could not "hear" dangers from their environment such as rock slides and (2) that extra care needs to be taken for their safety. The first conclusion serves as a premise to the second which in turn could serve as a premise for even another conclusion: "Space suits should be equipped with devices to amplify shock waves caused by lunar disturbances such as rockslides and transmit these disturbances to the wearer in much the same way as we could hear such phenomena on earth." This example serves to illustrate the "chain" effect of premise-conclusion relationships. The "truth" of a premise establishes the "truth" of a conclusion which in turn provides the "truth" of another premise to establish yet another conclusion and so forth until the ideas are as fully developed as need be.







I. Planned use of Premise


In order to use the premise device as a structure for developing Ideas that you have previously gathered for your paper, identify the broadest, most fundamental "truth" that supports your topic sentence. Then determine the "true" statement established as a conclusion by that premise. If this conclusion can become a premise for yet another conclusion, and so on, then determine the extent of your deductive chain, that is the concluding true statement that is its goal, and develop your paragraph by writing the most general "truth" first and gradually working your way toward the particular goal that you had established. Consider the following paragraph written from the notes below:

Hectic pressures of today's lifestyle.

Fantasy literature as an "escape valve."


The Hobbit as escapist literature.


.Note that these items progress from general to particular. A paragraph developed by the premise device, generated from these notes will progress from a general "truism" to a specific concluding goal:


Today's fast pace and unclear moral choices make all of us long for simpler times. Many of us turn to fantasy literature as a temporary means of escaping the pressures and complexity of day-to-day living. Very often fantasy literature offers heroes with patience and integrity who face clear-cut moral alternatives. Many readers have enjoyed The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien because its hero, Bilbo Baggins, is an ordinary person with extraordinary patience and integrity. The Hobbit is a book that should appeal to many students whose hectic life and daily pressures cause them to long for a brief escape to clear choices and more heroic decisions.


Note the implicit therefore at the end of each sentence except the last. Sentence # I is a premise; sentence


#2 is its conclusion and serves as a premise for #3. Sentence #3 is the conclusion to #2 and the premise


for 4 which is a conclusion to #3 and a premise for #5. Admittedly, the paragraph is a little artificial, id but it does illustrate the chain effect of premise-conclusion relationships. You should let your material generate its own premise-conclusion chains, taking care to extend them only as far as you need to without forcing them.



2. Spontaneous Use of Premise


Other than the planned use of the premise developmental device, one may also use it spontaneously. It is this use that is most helpful to students with in-class writing assignments such as themes or essay tests. The spontaneous use of premise relies on the generative nature of language, and in particular, the generative nature of a few special words.

The special generative words that work well for the premise developmental device are if, provided, provided that, if' only, only, then, therefore, consequently, and thus. Some of these words generate premises; others generate conclusions. In fact, a premise formula could be established with the two generative words if and then. For example:


If all men are mortal, then Socrates is mortal.

If the Paiute Indian is an American citizen, then he is entitled to equal employment opportunities.

Although this formula may help you generate premises and conclusions, you need not write the


actual formula in your final draft, or you may edit it out as you write. You can use the "if . then . . . formula mentally or in your notes to help you generate premises and conclusions and then write the sentences in the way that is most natural to you. For instance another writer might write the example' above in this way:


The Paiute Indian is an American citizen and as such is entitled to equal employment opportunities.



A good stock of these kinds of generative words will help you to impose logical order on your thought processes and will help you to generate more sentences, more premises, and more conclusions. In fact, if you are ever stuck in the middle of a difficult paragraph and have drawn a mental blank, write the word if . . . and then see what follows.



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