AS Level Critical Thinking (3) WHAT ARE ARGUMENTS AND WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT? WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING ARE ARGUMENTS AND WHY? (1) ‘For heaven’s sake go and clear up that mess in your room.’ ‘Why should I?’ (2) ‘For heaven’s sake go and clear up that mess in your room.’ Why should I? We pay the cleaner to do that and besides, my sister never cleans her room.’ Do this conversation illustrate different types of argument? …1 1. ‘For heaven’s sake go and clear up that mess in your room.’ ‘Why should I?’ ANALYSIS: This is an argument in the sense that people disagree about something. Does this conversation illustrate different types of argument? … 2 2. ‘For heaven’s sake go and clear up that mess in your room.’ ‘Why should I? We pay the cleaner to do that and besides, my sister never cleans her room.’ ANALYSIS: In the second conversation people are still disagreeing but there is an argument being used in another sense - reasons are being given for not tidying the room. There is an attempt to persuade not just to refuse to cooperate. ARGUMENT IN CRITICAL THINKING It is the second sense of the word ‘argument’ that it is central to Critical Thinking: KEY DEFINITION: ‘An argument is an attempt to persuade by giving reasons which lead to a conclusion.’ EXAMPLES: (1) ‘The film is really challenging and interesting. You would benefit from seeing it.’ (2) ‘Drinking alcohol before you drive your car can impair your judgment. It’s better to have nothing to drink if you intend to drive.’ WHY ARE ARGUMENTS IMPORTANT? WHY ARE ARGUMENTS IMPORTANT? Arguments play a central part in any communication, written or verbal, where we are trying to persuade or convince someone to think about a problem in a particular way or to get them to choose a particular course of action This is why the quality of the arguments we construct and our ability to challenge arguments put by others are fundamentally important skills in a range of situations and contexts ARGUMENTS AND EXPLANATIONS Explanations for something are often expressed in language similar to that of an argument. C F Ennis has devised a test to help distinguish between an argument and an explanation: ‘If the author seems to assume that the consequence is true then you probably have a causal explanation; on the other hand, if the author is trying to prove the consequence, then it is probably an argument.’ EXAMPLES: (1) ‘Charles 1 died because his head was cut off.’ is an explanation. (2) ‘Fewer cars and we will have less damage to the ozone layer’ is an argument. EVALUATING ARGUMENTS AND EXPLANATIONS Sometimes an explanation can look like an argument and telling the difference is important because we would want to evaluate them in different ways. The question to ask about an argument is whether or not it has succeeded in persuading. In an explanation the part which might look like a conclusion is assumed to be true. This might need to be challenged. In evaluating an explanation we need to ask: have all the alternatives been considered and is there evidence to rule out other possibilities or support the one that is offered?
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