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York University
Modes Of Reasoning
MODR 1760

Lecture Notes, J.C. Robinson Week Two—Identifying Arguments Objectives  By the end of this class you should have a general idea of what constitutes an argument, i.e., premises and conclusions.  You should have an idea of how the parts relate, what they do, and how we can more easily identify them.  Finally, you should recognize the basis for critical thinking and rationale for knowing how to identify and construct arguments. Part I Introduction; Why Critical Thinking?; How to do Critical Thinking Part II The Guts of Arguments; Statements and Claims; Part III Determining if it is an Argument; Arguments, Descriptions, and Explanations Part IV Indicator Words ... Those Tricky Little Things Part I Introduction Why Critical Thinking? How to do Critical Thinking Introduction Two quick points about what this course is “not”: (1) When we talk about “critical” we mean “discerning” not antagonistic, negatively critical for the sake of being a jerk, making people look bad, etc. (2) Critical reasoning “is not a war” to demean and belittle the position of others. The Universality of Critical Thinking Critical thinking is made possible because there are universal parts of thinking, parts that we may identify and work with “critically” whether you are talking with someone here in class or orbiting the planet in the space-station. Human thought has widely shared elements. Knowing these parts is desirable, for without them we would undermine the very purpose of thought itself. *** Thinking about human thinking makes our thinking better thinking.  If there were no “universal” sense to critical reasoning we would be forced to think only relatively, i.e., in accordance with the current climate and context, without any “standard” or “foundation” with which to judge and critique ideas and actions (for the standard would be only temporary, limited to “now”).  We need a standard (even vague a standard) of what constitutes “good” or “bad” thinking, especially (a) if we are going to be rational and 1 Lecture Notes, J.C. Robinson (b) if we want to justify our own beliefs and opinions—thereby giving our ideas credibility and merit.  A practical reason to think about critical thinking: Why should people listen to you? Why should people care about your ideas? Your reason for “why” is your justification. To answer the questions you need critical thinking. To substantiate your “why” you need reasonable justification. The goal of critical thinking is to discern the substance of a position. Does it stand up to scrutiny? Does it have depth? Merit? Precision? Relevance? Etc.  How often have you heard “Everyone has a right to his or her opinion”? Legally, perhaps, this is true, for we do not have our thoughts forced to conform by law.  However, as far as we are concerned, different opinions have different degrees of substance, and therefore rational worth. E.g., arguments/conclusions without supporting evidence or reasons are not generally wise choices to invest your time and energy into, especially if another contradictory conclusion has strong evidence. Why Critical Thinking? (1) We want clarity. Clarity of thought is an important part of thought. Clarity refers to what is understandable. Can you elaborate further; offer an illustration, an analogy? If so, you are achieving greater clarity. Giving an example is perhaps the most obvious way of making thought concrete and real. (2) We want precision. Precision, closely related to clarity, makes what is understood more specific, definite, refined. Are you able to add more detail? What exactly are the specifics? Context will determine what degree of precision is relevant, but generally speaking, the more precision the better. (3) We want to be accurate. It is possible to clear (understandable), precision (detailed), and yet inaccurate—false. If information is presented clearly and precisely and yet is manipulated (e.g., statistics), the truth is absent. E.g., 91% of all males over 6 feet tall are at three times the risk for heart disease than males under 6 feet tall. This is clear and precise but ask yourself, “Is this true?” How might I find out if the above is true? 2 Lecture Notes, J.C. Robinson (4) Relevance We want to know if something pertains or relates to the issue, idea, action at hand. Relevance considers only those factors that are bearing on the question/issue. If you are able to ignore facts, details, questions that merely detract, confuse, or mislead then you are excelling at critical thinking. Relevance is about focussing on the important and relevant matters. (5) We want depth. Superficial questions require superficial answers. However, complex questions require deep answers. The more complex the matter, the more depth we must be prepared to find. Complex issues cannot be address by superficial treatments. Ask yourself how well, how thoroughly your response to a problem is being delivered. “Every complex question has a simple answer.” (Unknown author) That statement is dangerous! (6) Humility Critical thinking leads to intellectual humility—the recognition of our own limitations (we don’t know it all, and often our own sincere beliefs are wrong). (7) Self-Ownership An important component in determining how you live your life is the set of beliefs that you hold. In order to be in control of your own life you should determine what beliefs you accept and what you don’t – thereby making them your beliefs. It is better to be in control of your own life than to have it determined by other people; or to live your life in a blind fashion, hoping for the best result. How To Do Critical Thinking? In order to be a good critical thinker you need to be able to judge if someone is making a good argument. To do this you must decide: If the premises of the argument are acceptable? How well do the premises support the conclusion? In order to be a good critical thinker you need to be able to make a good argument, and you do this by: Providing premises that support the conclusion Providing premises that are acceptable Two final points: (1) As critical thinkers we are not focussed on what causes a belief so much as whether it is worth believing. (2) A critical thinker is one who uses specific criteria to form positions, make decisions, and evaluate reasoning. 3 Lecture Notes, J.C. Robinson Part II The Guts of Arguments Key Terms Arguments: A group of statements in which some of them (the premises) are meant to support another of them (conclusion). Conclusion: In an argument, the statement that the premises are intended to support. Explanation: A statement or statements intended to tell why or how something is the case. Indicator words: Words that frequently accompany arguments and signal that a premise or conclusion is present. Premise: In an argument, a statement, or reason, given in support of the conclusion. Statement (claim): An assertion that something is or is not the case. What is an argument? An argument consists of two things: One or more (1) PREMISES which are intended to support a (2) CONCLUSION. The argument may be only a couple of sentences or a whole book in length. Purpose The purpose of an argument is to rationally justify a claim (the conclusion) by giving reasons (premises).  The reasons we give as premises are claims. It is by virtue of the truth of a premise or set of premises (the claims) that we come to believe that the conclusion is true.  If premises were neither true nor false (as with questions or commands) they could not provide reasons for conclusions.  What’s the point? The idea is that an argument is a set of claims where some of the claims—the premises— function as reasons for some further claim—the conclusion. The cash value is that premises are reasons for a conclusion. This is why we say that using arguments is a rational means of persuasion: we persuade by giving reasons (premises) for our view (our conclusion). So, bottom-line, being rational means “giving reasons.” Statements and Claims Statements or Claims (I prefer “claims”) • The parts of arguments (premises and conclusion) are statements or claims (LeBlanc “propositions”). We recognize a statement because it is a claim/assertion that something is either true or false.  A claim is an assertion that something is or is not the case—something is true or something is false. If the claim cannot be either true or false, it’s not really a claim. 4 Lecture Notes, J.C. Robinson • A claim may be a premise of an argument or it may be the conclusion of an argument. Just because something is a sentence doesn’t make it a claim. It may be a question, a command, or an expression of emotion. The main point of thinking about statements, more specifically, claims, is to begin to identify and separate the simple statements within larger logical relations. Examples of statements:  A triangle has three sides.  I am cold.  You are a liar.  I see dead people.  Your momma ...  There are black holes in space. Examples of non-statements:  Does a triangle have three sides?  Is God all-powerful?  Turn that music off!  Stop telling lies.  Hey, dude, where’s my car? No seriously dude, where is my car?  Questions, requests, greetings, and exclamations are not statements. Claims and Non-claims Two initial questions to ask of any sentence: Does it look like a claim? Does it look like an objective or subjective claim, or perhaps just too vague to be a claim? The central question to ask is this: “Does it make sense to say of this sentence that it is either true or false (even if we don’t know which)?”  If the answer is “Yes” then it is a claim. There are just two truth values, “true” or “false.”  If the standard by which we judge a claim is impersonal, then the claim is objective, if personal, then subjective (both objective and subjective claims are, indeed, claims). Sample #1 Dogs are nicer than cats. Is this a claim? If so, is it objective or subjective ... or perhaps too vague? If too vague, then is it a claim? Response: The word "nice" is too vague - we don't know what is meant, so we have no idea what would make it true or false. 5 Lecture Notes, J.C. Robinson Sample #2 Brock University is smaller in population than the Moscow State University. Is this a claim? If yes, objective, subjective, vague? Response: This is an objective claim, since we appeal to an impersonal standard, a catalogue of facts about universities, for instance, to determine its truth-value. MSU has over 40,000 students. Sample #3 Shut the door on your way out! Is this a claim? If yes, objective, subjective, vague? Response: This is not a claim, it is neither true nor false. It is a command. Sample #4 Why don’t we all recycle? Is this a claim? If yes, objective, subjective, vague? Response: This is not a claim, but a question. (Strictly speaking, we may apply the principle of charity here and see the hidden claim—that recycling is good. We’ll discuss this principle more later on). 6 Lecture Notes, J.C. Robinson Part III Determining if it is an Argument Definitions Before we talk about arguments, it is important to know the following. Definitions are not claims. Definitions are not true or false though they can be good, bad, too narrow, too broad, appropriate, inappropriate. A definition is not about the world in the way that a claim is. It concerns how language is used. Consider the following video: Monty Python’s Argument Clinic 6:07 minutes Which parts are argument parts, i.e., which are premises and conclusions? 1 “I’m not allowed to argue if you don’t pay me” 2 “But if you’re arguing, I must have paid you.” 3 “Not at all; I could be arguing in my spare time” Claim 1: If you don’t pay then I won’t argue Claim 2: You are arguing, therefore, (Conclusion) I must have paid you Claim 3 Retort: I could be arguing in my spare time An initial/beginning analysis C1 + C2 make a valid argument (you are arguing, and you claim that is only possible when paid, so I have clearly paid) C3 denies the conclusion of C2 and contradicts C1 (retort, but maybe I’m making an exception and arguing in my spare time, therefore I’m not being paid, but I am arguing). Bottom-line: This is how we might begin to think about analyzing the parts
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