Charlotte Vardy. Deconstruction of Arguments AKA Critical Thinking… Day 2 (9.15am – 12.00pm). The Critical Path: Deconstruction. The elements of an argument…. What is an argument?.
Deconstruction of Arguments AKA Critical Thinking…
Day 2 (9.15am – 12.00pm)
An argument, in Critical Thinking, is not just a conversation in which two people hurl abuse at each other. Neither is it the same thing as straightforward disagreement.
There’s a difference between arguing with someone and merely contradicting them.
As Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch puts it, an argument is “a collected series of statements to establish a definite proposition”, an attempt to persuade by offering reasons.
Any statement that attempts to persuade you that something is true by offering at least one reason for thinking that it is so counts as an argument.
The main elements of Arguments are reasons and a conclusion.
The ability to read a passage and pick out its conclusion and the reasons offered in support of it is perhaps the most basic skill required for Critical Thinking.
As you progress to more complicated arguments, you’ll also need to be able to spot intermediate conclusions
The conclusion of an argument is the main point that it is trying to get you to accept. You’ll often (but not always) find this statement either at the beginning or the end of a passage. It may be indicated by a word such as “therefore”, “thus”, or even “in conclusion”.
A test that can help you to identify the conclusion of a passage is the ‘therefore test’. Simply insert the word “therefore” into the passage directly before the phrase that you think is the conclusion. If the passage makes sense, then you’ve probably got the right section. If it doesn’t, then you haven’t.
There are certain words that often indicate the presence of a particular element of an argument.
Conclusions are often indicated by one of the following words or phrases: “therefore”; “thus”; “hence”; “so”; “in conclusion”; “consequently”; “showing that”; “demonstrating that”; “proving that”; “establishing that”; “meaning that”; “entails that”; “implies that”; “as a result”. “Should”, “must”, and “ought to” may also be treated as indicator words, albeit cautiously.
Indicator words for reasons include the following: “because”; “as”; “since”; “in order to”; “otherwise”. Sometimes authors enumerate their reasons, writing “First, …”, “Second, …”, “Third, …” etc., which can also help in their identification.
Parents should control how children use mobile phones. (CONCLUSION)
Firstly, in many cases children use the devices during the night, causing them to lose sleep and be distracted from study. (REASON 1)
Secondly, since children tend to use phones more frequently than adults (with studies showing that they may send up to 80 SMS messages per day) there are often significant cost implications. (REASON 2)
Finally, the health risks associated with prolonged usage are still unknown, particularly in relation to developing bodies. (REASON 3)
Parents should control how children use mobile phones. Firstly, in many cases children use the devices during the night, causing them to lose sleep and be distracted from study. Secondly, children tend to use phones more frequently than adults, with studies showing that they may send up to 80 SMS messages per day. This has significant cost implications. Finally, the health risks associated with prolonged usage are still unknown, particularly in relation to developing bodies.
An assumption is an unstated reason. It is something that must be true for an argument to work, but which is not explicitly stated in the argument.
For example, the argument “The college address is the same street as I’m standing on; therefore, the college must be nearby” assumes that the street isn’t very long. If the street is long, then the college could be on it but still miles away.
A counter-argument is an argument that goes against the author’s main conclusion. Typically, counter-arguments are considered and rejected in an attempt to strengthen the author’s case.
For example, “If Superman and Spiderman had a fight, then Superman would win as his ability to fly would mean he could attack from any angle. You might think that Spiderman’s ability to hurl webs (a ranged weapon) would give him the edge, but Superman would be manoeuvrable enough to dodge them.”
In groups of 3, read the article on Bob Geldof and try to identify the arguments within it…
Conclusions and Intermediate Conclusions
Briefly weigh up the arguments made, considering their strengths and weaknesses and how you might respond to the article.
Deductive or Inductive?
The first step in evaluating an argument is to identify the evidence or reasons upon which the conclusion relies and to ask whether they are credible, appropriate & complete/sufficient
Latin for “against the man”.
The ad hominem fallacy is the fallacy of attacking the person offering an argument rather than the argument itself.
Ad hominems can simply take the form of abuse (e.g. “don’t listen to him, he’s a jerk”) but any attack on irrelevant biographical details of the arguer rather than on his argument counts as an ad hominem, e.g.
“that article must be rubbish as it wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal”;
“his claim must be false as he has no relevant expertise”;
“he says that we should get more exercise but he could stand to lose a few pounds himself”.
an argument that attempts to establish its conclusion by citing a perceived authority who claims that the conclusion is true.
In all cases, appeals to authority are fallacious; no matter how well-respected someone is, it is possible for them to make a mistake.
The worst kinds of appeal to authority are those where the alleged authority isn’t an authority on the subject matter in question.
Take, for example “Darwin’s theory of evolution is false; my pastor says so.” A pastor saying that a complex scientific theory is false doesn’t prove that it’s so, particularly if the pastor lacks a background in science.
The first type of appeal to history is committed by arguments that use past cases as a guide to the future. This is the predictive appeal to history fallacy…
Just because something has been the case to date, doesn’t mean that it will continue to be the case. This is not to say that we can’t use the past as a guide to the future, merely that predictions of the future based on the past need to be treated with caution.
This is, of course, the first step in beginning the process of reconstruction.
Establishing the nature and features of the perspective presented enables student(s) to construct an alternative perspective, which may be a foil for the partiality and weaknesses of the argument presented.