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Phil 253 - the Language of Argumentation

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PHIL 252 - Unit 1 - PHIL 252 - Unit 1

Critical Thinking (Athabasca University)

Unit 1 - The Language of Argumentation


  • Reasoning is a kind of thinking; specifically, it is thinking about what follows from what.
  • Most of us can improve our reasoning with practice.
  • This course can help you improve your critical abilities so that you can present your own ideas more clearly and persuasively, evaluate theories and arguments presented by others, and draw the best possible conclusions from the given facts.
  • Progress in any field of thought requires both creative thought and critical thought.

Argument and Criticism

  • In the logician’s sense, an argument is a group of statements that consists of reasons put forward in support of an opinion.
  • The reasons given in support of the opinion are called premises, and the position thus supported is called the conclusion of the argument.
  • Remember that in this course we think of argumentation as a cooperative search for truth.
  • One worry some people have is that reasoning is simply rationalization. In other words, reason is just a tool or instrument for justifying whatever it is that someone wants to do.
  • This is the fear that people who put forward arguments to try to get other people to believe certain things are simply trying to force, coerce, indoctrinate, or brainwash them.
  • This line of reasoning neglects the important difference between persuasion on the one hand, and force, coercion, indoctrination, and brainwashing on the other.
  • Finally, the word “criticism” itself might be misleading because it suggests something negative, such as fault-finding and rejection.
  • In the philosopher’s sense, however, approaching an idea or explanation critically does not mean simply looking for things to criticize or refusing to be persuaded no matter what evidence is presented.
  • Socrates believed that logic was a tool for learning how to lead the best possible life.

Reading Assignment: Critical Reasoning pp. 1-18

  • Critical reasoning is not a procedure for judging beliefs or generating beliefs.
  • Critical reasoning is both active and open to alternative points of view. Described through contrasting two types of activities: (1) passive reading or listening, and

(2) mere disagreement

Critical Reasoning vs. Passive Reading/Listening

  • It is passive if one doesn’t evaluate which statements to accept and which to doubt or reject, and they don’t consider a pattern of reasoning within the statements. .
  • Critical reasoning demands a more fully active approach. You must listen for structure: Are some statements presented as conclusions? Are some presented as explanations?
  • You must examine the reasoning critically, you must evaluate and assess it: Has the conclusion adequately supported? Do I have a reason to doubt the supporting statements? Is this explanation adequate?

Critical Reasoning vs. Mere Disagreement

  • Mere disagreement both critical and active, but it lacks some essential features of critical reasoning.
  • In mere disagreement, we are predisposed to reject that with which we disagree. It is applied to separate, individual statements, and they are judged solely against the background of the reader’s/listener’s own beliefs.
  • Critical reasoning requires us to examine the argumentative structure of a entire commentary. It requires that we be open to having our minds changed.
  • Critical reasoning opens us up to changing our beliefs.
  • In a disagreement, the object of the discussion becomes winning the argument by making the opposition look or sound bad. Critical reasoning seeks to take reasoning out of the context.
  • We distinguish between the tasks of (1) interpreting and clarifying the arguer’s thinking with the aim of helping the arguer see any mistakes that might have occurred and (2) using the presentation of an argument as an occasion for deciding what to believe.

Critical Reasoning as a Cooperative Enterprise

  • The procedure of working cooperatively calls for one of the participants to lay out a position and supporting reasons, and for both participants to work together at this point to refine the argument in order to make it as strongs as possible.
  • The tradition of active, critical, and open discourse with others is associated with the philosopher Socrates. The Socratic method/dialogue involved constantly scrutinizing beliefs and asking whether they are justified by the reasons they put forward in their support.

Some Common Misconceptions about Critical Reasoning

  • Critical reasoning locks us into rigidly structured patterns of thought: a mechanical almost inhuman way. In reality: it involves looking at the pattern of the statements in the process of assessing and editing your beliefs.
  • Critical reasoning supposes there is only a right and a wrong point of view. It doesn’t force you to assume that there is always an single correct position on an issue. Instead to assume that one point of view will be more reasonable than the other.

Benefits of Critical Reasoning

  • Not all disputes in which you engage are with other people. The most important dialogues that occur in your mental development are the one's you have with yourself.
  • From a broader perspective, the practice of critical reasoning can promote substantial social views. We can migrate our status as amateurs and avoid being seduced by the claims of ideologues by honouring and strengthening our reasoning skills.

Main Techniques of Critical Reasoning

  • In applying critical reasoning to any form you will need to:

○ Restate each argument clearly

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