Introduction to Critical Thinking

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					Introduction to Critical Thinking                                                                                             “What luck for rulers that men do not think.”
Timothy L. Pagaard                                                                                                                                          —Adolf Hitler

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO THINK CRITICALLY?                                                           to the problems that have plagued their predecessors.
                                                                                                 But we can be sure that whatever “it” may be, it is
You may remember that we started the semester by defining critical
                                                                                                 never simple.
thinking like this:                                                                                     H.L. Mencken quipped that the only honest political
     In daily conversation we often use the term “criticism”                                     platform would be something like this: The country faces
     to suggest something like verbal abuse—as in, “Hey,                                         immensely difficult problems, and I do not know the solu-
     don’t be so critical!” Its essential negativity in this con-                                tions. But I am a smart guy, and I will do my best.
     text is mitigated only slightly when we add “construc-
     tive” as a qualifier.
                                                                                          Mencken was wise enough to assure us that anybody who campaigned
            In this course, however, when we say “criticism,”                             on such a platform would lose by a landslide. Why? Because we demand
     we will mean something entirely positive: clear under-                               oversimplification. We prefer to live comfortably unchallenged, under
     standing and intelli-                                                                                                         the illusion that “it is just that
     gent judgment arrived        CONTENTS                                                                                         simple.”
     at by rational analy-
     sis. The skills neces-         What does it mean                                     Types of critical thinking . . . . 5              Habits of the
     sary for conducting             to think critically? . . . . . . . . . 1
     such an analysis will
                                                                                          Inductive reasoning . . . . . . . . . . 5         Critical Mind
     be the subject of our          Conditions for                                        Fallacies of induction . . . . . . . . . 5        ■ We must analyze any issue
     course.                         critical thinking . . . . . . . . . . . 1              Oversimplified cause . . . . . . . . 5           from multiple perspectives.
                                          Insight, the goal . . . . . . . . . . . . 1       Post hoc ergo propter hoc . . . . . 5
Thinking critically means using                                                                                                             Consider the parable of
                                          Objectivity, the prerequisite . . . 1             False analogy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5     the three blind men and
logic to interpret the world
                                          Reality is complex . . . . . . . . . . 1          Slippery slope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6    the elephant: The first
around us, the interactions of
human beings, and the ideas              Habits of the critical mind . . . . 1            Deductive reasoning . . . . . . . . . . 6         feels its leg and announ-
                                          Multiple perspectives . . . . . . . . 1                                                           ces that the elephant is
we encounter. Critical thinking                                                           Fallacies of deduction . . . . . . . . . 6        like a tree; the second
is a process. We hear frequently          Empathy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1     Sweeping generalization . . . . . 6             feels its side and argues
that some folks are exclusively           Legitimacy of others’ ideas . . . . 2             Sweeping generalization                         that, no, the elephant is
“logically minded” and that              Barriers to critical thinking . . 2                  in enthymemes . . . . . . . . . . . 6         like a wall; the third, feel-
others are exclusively “crea-            Cultural conditioning . . . . . . . . 2            Begging the question . . . . . . . . 7          ing its trunk, insists that
                                                                                            Equivocation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7      the elephant is like a
tive”—a distinction sometimes             Hasty moral judgment . . . . . . 2                                                                snake.
expressed in terms of “left-              Stereotyping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2    Toulmin logic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
brain” v. “right-brain” orienta-          Either/or thinking . . . . . . . . . . 2        Fallacies of Relevance . . . . . . . . . 8        Of course all three are correct,
tion. But this is not accurate.           Historical bigotry . . . . . . . . . . 3          Ad hominem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8        but without each other they are
Anyone can learn to think                 Imposition of modern                              Tu quoque . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8     all equally wrong. We must
critically.                                 values onto the past . . . . . . . . 3              Motivation . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8      recognize the limitations of our
                                         Resistance to change . . . . . . . . . . 3             Behavior . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8    own perspective and do all we
Conditions for                            Xenophobia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3            Bulverism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8     can to broaden that
Critical Thinking                         Mother-hen syndrome . . . . . . . 4               Appeal to authority . . . . . . . . . 8         perspective.
■ Insight must be our goal. We            Prejudice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4     Common practice . . . . . . . . . . 8           ■ We also must be empathetic.
must be committed to discov-             Empty abstractions . . . . . . . . . . . 4         Ad ignorantiam . . . . . . . . . . . 8          We must attempt to feel what it
ering the truth. If our goal is           Appeal to the “sacred”/                           Red herring . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8     is like to hold opinions other
merely to justify or support our            demonization . . . . . . . . . . . . 4                                                          than ours; we must place
                                                                                          Why bother
existing ideas, we will have              Euphemism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4                                                         ourselves in the position of
                                                                                            thinking critically? . . . . . . . . 9
gained nothing. We must be                                                                                                                  people with differing opinions.
prepared to discover new truth.                                                                                                  Harvard Law School
■ Objectivity is the prerequisite. We must open our minds, accepting                             professor Harlon Dalton explains that a key source of
                                                                                                 misunderstanding between African- and other Americans
whatever truth we may find, wherever we may find it, regardless of how
                                                                                                 is that others generally find their identity in national
pleasant or unpleasant it may be or whether or not it conforms to our                            origin—as Italian-, Irish-, or Mexican-Americans, say—
preconceptions.                                                                                  while African-Americans are more likely to find their
■ We must be prepared to recognize that reality is complex. The closer                           identity in race. Thus African-Americans tend to
we look at a subject—especially one involving humans—the more com-                               perceive others as evasive when they ignore race, and
                                                                                                 others tend to perceive them as hypersensitive when
plex it will seem, the more work will be required to understand it.                              they don’t.
     The most common lie politicians tell—and all of them
     tell it, right, left, and center—is that “it is just that sim-                       True racial understanding thus, for Dalton, must be founded upon
     ple.” Vote for them, and they will supply simple answers                             mutual empathy.
■ We must acknowledge that good, honest, intelligent people might                               “If you abort your baby, you are nothing but a murder-
think differently than we do. Our society teaches us to regard our oppo-                        er, no matter what circumstances may have led to the
nents as evil, as liars, as fools. As long as we cling to this habit, we will
get no closer to understanding an issue fully.                                                  Or “The man is a ‘terrorist,’ so he is simply a genocidal
                                                                                                criminal. What is the point of looking into his motives?”
      Sometime try substituting the Jim Lehrer News Hour on
      PBS for the network news. The networks tend to show-               No, we must look closely at such motives and circumstances. Whether or
      case extreme and dramatic (ratings-garnering) propo-               not we end up changing our position on these issues, or even on the
      nents of most issues. Lehrer instead presents a panel of           application of our principles to these particular cases, we may be
      respectable, intelligent folks                                                                   confident that we have arrived at our judg-
      from all sides. With the net-
      works our prejudices are crude-
                                           USES OF CRITICAL THINKING                                   ments honestly.
      ly reinforced, but with Lehrer        ■ We can analyze input, making sure that when              ■ We must avoid stereotyping. When we
      we are encouraged to reconsider         we encounter a new idea, we accept it or                 indulge a stereotype, we apply a range of
      issues in light of cool, sound                                                                   traits common to a large group of individu-
                                              reject it for logically sound reasons.
                                                           ■ We can analyze our internal processing, our
                                                                                                                            als to a single member of that group,
Watching Lehrer we may or may not be                         own thinking, making sure that our opinions                    assuming that this is all there is to say about
moved to change our minds, but we just                       are logically sound.                                           the individual. Racial, regional, ethnic, and
might begin to be cured of judging differ-                                                                                  religious stereotypes abound, and there are
ing opinions superficially.                                 ■ We can analyze our output, making sure that                    many others. If these are immoral, worse,
                                                             arguments we construct are logically sound.                    they are illogical, mainly because they are
BARRIERS TO CRITICAL THINKING                                                                                               grossly incomplete.
Cultural Conditioning                                                                           Think of a group of which you are a member; think of
Because we live in a particular part of the world, are of a particular age            the traits usually attributed to your group. Even if you
and class, are the product of a particular educational system, have a par-            must acknowledge that these stereotypes are sometimes
ticular religious background, we possess                                                                                    accurate, nevertheless, it is obvi-
                                                                                                                            ous that they account for less
a battery of attitudes and values the          LIMITATIONS OF CRITICAL THINKING                                             than one percent of all that can
accuracy or truth of which we never                                                                                         be said about you.
question.                                        Humans are not entirely logical. Thinking well is cru-
                                                 cial, but we think best when we take our whole being into                  I am a white, middle-aged professional
       “Capitalism is desirable                                                                                             of Scandinavian descent, and I
       because it encourages free
       enterprise.”                              ■ Sartre told us that when passion enters, logic leaves.
                                                                                                                            acknowledge the truth of most stereo-
                                                 We may be required to overrule our passions with logic,                    types about my group: We are often
Many of us regard this statement as a                                                                                       workaholic, materialistic, emotionally
truism, along the lines of “The sky is           but logic can neither eliminate nor create them.
                                                                                                                            reticent, insensitive, etc. But this list
blue.” But an assertion is implied here—               I am not saying that loving my wife is
                                                       illogical, but logic is not why I love her.
                                                                                                                            does not come even close to account-
that free enterprise is to be valued in and                                                                                 ing for who I am.
for itself. Well more than half of the           ■ There is no disputing taste.
                                                                                                                            ■ We must avoid either/or thinking.
humans alive today do not accept this as               I am a rabid partisan of Béla Bartók,
unquestionably true, nor have nine-                                                                                         Our culture teaches us to be intolerant
                                                       Frank Zappa, and Steely Dan. No amount
tenths of all humans ever to have lived.               of logic could convince me that I am
                                                                                                                            of ambiguity: We are far more com-
                                                       wrong. Nor, I suppose, can I influence                                fortable living with certainty. But
       “Homosexuality is wrong
                                                       your admiration of Britney Spears, Garth                             absolute certainty is rarely possible.
       because it is condemned in
       the Bible.”
                                                       Brooks, or the Wu Tang Clan.                                         Either/or thinking, mutual exclusivity,
                                                                                                                            makes sense when we are dealing with
The authority of the Bible is by no              ■ The interaction of faith and logic can be tricky.
                                                                                                                            objects. Ray Kytle explains:
means universally accepted, and even             Notwithstanding the oceans of ink spilled arguing for
                                                                                                                            “A bird is not a bee, and a bee is
among Jews and Christians only a                 and against religion, people tend to believe what they
                                                                                                                            not a blimp.”
minority regards it as literally true.           want to believe, almost always what they were brought
         To think logically we must dis-         up believing*.                                                             To be one thing an object cannot be
cover and question all such culturally                                                                                      another, and two objects cannot occu-
conditioned assumptions.                                                                                                    py the same space at the same time.
                                                                               But this is not true of concepts, states of mind, issues, and behaviors.
■ We must avoid hasty moral judgment. This does not mean that we
must avoid making any moral judgments. Such judgments are often, of            * Apologetics is the art of devising logical support for beliefs one already holds. Whether
course, the goal of critical thinking. But we must withhold judgment           or not this is a useful activity, it does not involve critical thinking, strictly speaking. For a
until we have considered evidence and analyzed an issue critically. We         fascinating example of the odd relationship between faith and logic, see my Adventures
must avoid substituting labels—or anything else—for analysis.                  in Critical Thinking sheet following the present one in our Materials page listing.

Our language features many antithetical dichotomies: love/hate, intelli-              1603 for being undemocratic, Twain in 1885 for being
gent/stupid, work/play, good/bad. But in real experience these are                    racist, or Hemingway in 1926 for being homophobic?
rarely entirely mutually exclusive.                                              If these writers had somehow tumbled onto the values of the twenty-first
     I love no human on this planet more than my eldest                          century, we might attribute this either to coincidence or to divine grace.
     son, but there is no one with whom I have come closer                       (Ironically each of these men actually pioneered advances in the moral
     to homicide.                                                                standards against which we now judge them so harshly.) But how can we
     Or this: For work I spent a recent summer rereading                         hold them to a standard of clairvoyance to which we do not hold our-
     most of Ernest Hemingway’s novels so I could talk to                        selves?
     you intelligently in class. But I would have read them                       Imagine a world ninety years in the future when
     even if I were working as a pipe-fitter. This is what I do                    giraffes have been granted the vote and people the right
     for fun.                                                                                              to marry trees. How will that
Love or hate? Work or play? These           CONCRETIZATION                                                 generation judge our closed-
questions simply do not make sense                                                                         minded “anti-arborialism” or
                                             A fundamental tool for thinking critically is concretization, “giraphobia”?
when we are discussing human affairs.         the removal of abstractions and the consideration of any issue
        What I like best about literature                                                                           No class of people is discriminated
                                              in terms of actual details, evidence, or experience.
is that authors reveal ambiguity and                                                                                against more grievously than the
                                                    “The French are ingrates since they                             dead. We must judge thinkers of the
complexity without offering simplistic,
                                                    obstructed George Bush’s invation of Iraq,
black-and-white solutions.                          even after America saved them in two world
                                                                                                                    past in context, “according to their
     Flannery O’Connor shows us                     wars.”                                                          lights,” according to the wisdom and
     in Ruby Turpin that racial                                                                                     virtue of their respective historical
     bigotry is bad, but with
                                              To concretize we ask, specifically why did the French oppose           moments.
     Julian in “Everything That               Bush’s invasion, and how ungrateful were they? We will dis-
     Rises Must Converge” she                 cover that (1) the French objected to “preemtive war” on              Resistance to Change
     suggests that Ruby’s sin                 the same grounds that America has for most of its history,             To think logically we must overcome
     must be understood in a                  and (2) they were not convinced by Bush’s “evidence”                   the natural tendency to cling to what
     larger moral context.                    that Iraq had weapons of mass distruction. It turns out                is comfortable; we must overcome the
■ We must reject historical bigotry,          they were right about the weapons. Thus we discover, by                reluctance to change or even to ques-
bias against the past. Our culture has        concretizing, that there was no senseless obstruction at all.          tion familiar ways of thinking.
ingrained in us an illogical, uncritical      Further, (3) we could equally be charged with ingratitude,
                                                                                                                     ■ We must avoid xenophobia. It is
bias in favor of so-called “progress”;        since we could never have won our Revolutionary War
                                                                                                                     healthy to be proud of one’s back-
we automatically regard as best what is       without massive French support. Oops!
                                                                                                                     ground, family, culture, nation, lan-
newest—and as bad what is old. While                                                                                 guage, etc., to value them as good. It
this judgment is often accurate in such                                          is unhealthy when good becomes best. The implication then is that other
fields as technology (the computer I am writing this on is vastly more            cultures, etc. are not as good. Whether or not this is a moral problem,
powerful than last year’s model), it is not necessarily—or even usually—         xenophobia, the fear of the other, tends to impede logical thinking, to
accurate with regard to ideas. Ideas cannot be up-to-date or outdated,           impair our ability to consider ideas coming from outside our own limit-
only true or false. Fashion has nothing at all to do with truth. What is         ed perspective.
new is not necessarily good, and what is good is not necessarily new.
                                                                                      “My friends Yuji and Kemal, international students from
     Many “up-to-date” Americans in the nineteenth century                            Japan and Turkey, are nice guys, but their ideas about
     and many “cutting-edge” Germans and Russians in the                              family responsibility are simply weird, unlike anything I
     twentieth were convinced that slavery, fascism, and Stal-                        have ever heard. Kemal’s traditionalism is just plain
     inism had supplanted the “outdated foolishness” of the                           ridiculous, and Yuji’s sense of honor is goofy.”
     past. But in 1864, 1945, and 1991 respectively, these
                                                                                      Or this: A xenophobe might condemn the Peruvian gov-
     folks had to start over, intellectually “regressing” in
                                                                                      ernment, arguing that many of its institutions, while
     order to undo the devastation their “progress” had
                                                                                      democratic in essence, are significantly different from
                                                                                      their analogues in the U.S. system.
We must be receptive to all ideas, old or new, examining each for what-
                                                                                        One subset of xenophobia is comprised of various “-centrisms.”
ever truth it might hold for us.
                                                                                 Ethnocentrism, for example, is the belief that one’s ethnicity is superior
■ One species of historical bigotry is our utterly illogical imposition of       to others. There are more:
modern values onto the past. No one will deny that real moral progress                History was once taught from a “Eurocentric” perspec-
has been made through the ages—advances in representative govern-                     tive; that is, teachers began with Europe, discussed Asia
ment, for example, or the gradual elimination of social inequalities and a            only as a place Europeans went to trade, were interest-
growing tolerance of diversity. But we are bigots when we demand that                 ed in Africa only as a location of European colonies, and
past thinkers live up to our hard-won standards.                                      shifted focus to the Western Hemisphere only when the
                                                                                      Americas had begun to become Europeanized. Today a
     What is the sense in condemning St Paul, writing in
                                                                                      broader perspective prevails. Sadly, however, in some
     45 CE, for being insufficiently feminist, Shakespeare in
                                                                                      academic circles one evil has been replaced by a bevy of
                                                                                      others: Afrocentrism, Asia-centrism, etc.
Martin Luther likened humanity to a drunk struggling to mount a                     As you can see, hasty moral judgment is a subset of prejudice. Prejudice,
horse: When we find ourselves in error on one side of an issue, we flail              however, involves all kinds of judgments, not merely moral ones. The
away only to fall off on the opposite side.                                         above example of Internet pornography and the teenage birth rate is a
■ We must resist the mother-hen syndrome. Frequently we defend our                  practical, not a moral, argument (even though it involves a moral issue).
ideas, not because they are logically sound but merely because they are
ours. We feel irrationally that any challenge to our opinions is a threat to
                                                                                    Empty Abstractions
                                                                                 It is often useful—even crucial—to reduce an idea to its essential princi-
our value as humans.
                                                                                 ples—that is, to state it in the form of an abstraction. But in an argu-
       “I am looking for a new job. My colleagues voted down                     ment, unless abstractions are concretized, made specific, they can be
       my Web-site design proposal, so they obviously hate me.
                                                                                 deceptive. That is why politicians favor them. If one’s goal is to get
       How can I work in a place where
       no one respects me?”
                                                                                                          elected, then one must convince the largest possi-
                                                       TEST YOUR OBJECTIVITY                              ble number of people that they agree with one,
It is crucial that we dissociate ourselves from our                                                       even when they really don’t. Who could disagree
ideas. They are not us. (It might even be argued         Devise reasonable arguments for the
                                                         side of each of these issues opposite the        with abstractions such as these:
that our value as humans goes up the more
                                                         one you are naturally inclined to take:                    freedom, democracy, justice,
clearly we think, the more open we are to                                                                                responsibility, honor
testing the soundness of our opinions.)                  ■ Students should have the
                                                         right to drop out of school when
                                                                                                          But when these are concretized, disagreements
■ We must avoid prejudice. What is the oppo-                                                              emerge.
                                                         they are thirteen years old.
site of opinion? Most people answer fact, and
                                                                                                          When George W. Bush talks about “free-
that is a good answer, but here is a more useful         ■ Men and women who have
                                                                                                          dom,” I may think I agree with him. But
one (moving in the other direction): prejudice.          helped pay for a spouse’s edu-
                                                                                                          while I am thinking about civil liberties,
                                                         cation should have a legal claim
Pure fact is hard to come by outside of hard                                                              he is thinking about laissez-faire econom-
                                                         on the spouse’s future income
science and simple arithmetic, and even when             after a divorce.
                                                                                                          ic policies benefitting big business. We do
facts are available, they are always subject to                                                           not agree at all.
interpretation—that is, to opinion. An opinion           ■ Children who believe their
                                                         parents are incompetent to
                                                                                                          Never accept an argument unless all abstractions
is a judgment based upon careful rational                raise them should be able to                     are thoroughly concretized. Never advance an
analysis of such facts as are available. Prejudice,      sue for divorce.                                 argument unless you have thoroughly concretized
however, is judgment (the -judice part of the                                                             all abstractions.
                                                         ■ Students who are graduated
word) arrived at before (pre-) analysis has been         from high school without basic                   ■ Appeal to the “sacred”/ demonization. Some
undertaken.                                              skills should be able to sue for                 abstractions are positive, appealing to values our
          Fact / Opinion / Prejudice                     malpractice.                                     society holds with quasi-religious reverence. Oth-
Students often ask me if they are allowed to use         ■ Each American family should                    ers evoke a negative response by characterizing a
opinion in their essays. My answer is that they          be restricted to the ownership                   position or idea as the negation of these values.
are not allowed to use anything else. That is,           of one car.
                                                                                                          “In the name of democracy and freedom
their goal is to interpret available facts judi-                                                          we must oppose trade agreements with
ciously and thus to form sound opinions. Prejudice is off limits.                      the tyrannous and oppressive regime in China.”
         Primary certitude is a symptom of prejudice. Relying entirely           With which policies of the Chinese government do we disagree? Why?
upon emotions, we are sometimes sure (certain) that a position is sound Unless these points are specified, the argument is a non-argument.
before (primarily, or at first) we think critically about it. We are usually
                                                                                 ■ A euphemism is a pleasant word used to mask an unpleasant reality.
                                                                                         Every society, language, and culture on earth has
     “There is no need to provide evidence that the easy
                                                                                         euphemisms for death and bodily elimination. I prefer
     availability of pornography on the Internet has led to the
                                                                                         students to excuse themselves from class asking “to go
     upturn in the teenage birthrate. It is simply obvious.”
                                                                                         to the restroom” rather than “to defecate.”
No, we do need to analyze all issues rationally, to interpret all evidence as       I simply do not care to know what they are going to do in “the
wisely as we can.                                                                   restroom”—where “resting” is of course not even the issue.
        When we suspect that we have adopted a position by relying
upon prejudice rather than upon logic, we must do these things:                          We feel crass saying that Grandma “died,” preferring to
                                                                                         intimate that she “passed on,” “went to her reward,”
• Recognize and admit our ignorance, our lack of information. Igno-                      “met her maker,” “shuffled off this mortal coil,” etc.
  rance is not shameful as long as we are not committed to it.
                                                                                    Such euphemisms are necessary in civilized discourse. Others become
• Keep our minds open. We must reject hasty moral judgments and be                  dangerous, however, when they conceal the nature of a policy or posi-
  willing to accept the truth whatever it may be.                                   tion which might be rejected if the euphemism were concretized.
• Doubt preconceptions. We must acknowledge the possibility that we
                                                                                         The 2003 invasion of Iraq, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,”
  may be culturally conditioned or biased in any number of other ways.                   was our country’s first, hopefully last, “preemptive war.”
• Inform ourselves. We must find whatever facts are available and inter-                  The President argued that America would be protected
  pret them as logically as we can.

     from aggressors by becoming an aggressor ourselves,                             tion is often illogically oversimplified, a single cause being alleged when
     liberating the Iraqis by killing many of them.                                  actually there are many.
The euphemisms sound benign, even positive, playing to America’s love                     Take something simple: You were late for class because
of freedom. But as we have seen, the intentions of the Bush administra-                   you had a flat tire. But why did the tire go flat? Perhaps
tion had little to do with stated intentions.                                             your heavy load of classes caused you to limit your
     Or this: A few years ago at Southwestern College, an                                 work hours and, your paycheck being smaller, you have
     attempt was made to resolve a labor dispute between the                              been unable to replace your worn tires. Perhaps your
     administration and the clerical staff by reclassifying the                           course-load is so heavy this semester because you are
     workers, granting them such titles as “admissions techni-                            anxious to transfer, to get your degree, and to find your
     cian” in place of their old designation, “clerk.” There was                          place in a profession. Perhaps this anxiety is the result
     no offer to improve salaries or benefits, but the workers                             of pressure from your family, or perhaps it is the result
     were expected to be satisfied with their new titles.                                  of dissatisfaction with 7-Eleven, your present place of
Needless to say, they weren’t. Remember: Demand concretization.
                                                                                     The flat tire is only one small strand of the causal web.
TYPES OF CRITICAL THINKING                                                                 An oversimplified causal argument might sound like this:
There are two basic types of reasoning: inductive and deductive. We use                   “The reason gang violence has become such a problem
them to develop logical arguments and to detect logical flaws in argu-                     today is that the educational system has failed the
ments directed at us. A third type, Toulmin logic, enables us better to
understand and to employ the first two.                                             This statement is partially true, of course; its fallacy lies in the singular
                                                                                   article, the. Poor education is indeed a cause, but it is one among many:
Inductive Reasoning                                                                How about the lack of economic opportunity, the failure of the American
In inductive reasoning we move from the specific to the general. We begin family, the pervasiveness of the drug-culture, and on and on?
by considering specific cases, facts, or examples. Based on these specifics,                  To rebut an argument in which the fallacy of oversimplified cause
we make a generalization. This is the kind of reasoning required by “the is detected, all we need to do is to point out an alternative cause. This
scientific method.” The conclusion we draw is called an assertion. The              strategy also is useful for rebutting the following fallacy:
inductive argument might be formulated like this:
                                                                                   ■ Post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for “after this; therefore, because of this”).
                         Evidence A                                                Just because two events occur sequentially, one after the other, this does
                         Evidence B ➝ Assertion                                    not mean that the first event caused the second. A causal argument is
                         Evidence C
                                                                                                              unsound unless causation actually is established.
★ With induction, while the evidence is factual,            WHAT HAVE WE PROVEN?                              Another name for this fallacy is “crediting the
the assertion is an opinion, an interpretation of                                                             rooster with the dawn”: Every day a bird makes a
                                                              Remember that arguments and the
the facts.                                                                                                    noise, and then the sun comes up; therefore, the
                                                              positions they are intended to support
Here is an example of an inductive line of                    are two different things. When we               bird must cause the sun to come up.
reasoning:                                                    determine that an argument is                   In the 1992 presidential debates the
    Specific fact: SUV’s are less than half                    unsound, this does not discredit the            senior George Bush claimed credit for
       as fuel-efficient as most other vehi-                                                                   bringing down the Soviet Union. Gover-
       cles on American roads;
                                                              position itself. We merely have shown
                                                                                                              nor Clinton rightly responded, “Mr Bush,
                                                              that one cannot legitimately arrive             you are crediting the rooster with the
    Another specific fact: One reason for
       our country’s involvement in Middle
                                                              at that position via this particular            dawn.”
       Eastern conflicts is our dependence                     argument.
                                                                                                              True, Bush became president, and then the
       on the fossil fuels found largely in
       that region;
                                                                                                              Berlin Wall fell, but this does not necessarily
    Yet another specific fact: People generally buy SUV’s
                                                                                   imply that he caused the demise of communism in Europe. Seventy years
       because of their perceived safety, but all statistics show                  of economic mismanagement, fifty years of Cold War, and many other
       that they are more dangerous than other vehicles.                           factors were responsible.
    Assertion: We may therefore assume that by restricting the                     ■ False analogy. Analogies are useful for explanation, but when one is
       production of SUV’s, we might improve our economy and                       the sole basis of an argument, that argument is almost always unsound. In
       contribute to world peace—without sacrificing safety.
                                                                                   an analogy a comparison is made in order to explain one term in light of
                                                                                   another. An analogy is sound as an argument only if all relevant points of
Fallacies of Induction
                                                                                   comparison between the two terms are alike.
Misuses of logical arguments are perhaps euphemistically known as fal-
lacies, suggesting that errors have been made. If this is sometimes the                  A commentator in May of 2004 suggested that the U.S.
                                                                                         should “pull out all the stops” in Iraq as we did in
case, at least as often such fallacies are the result of subterfuge—that is,
                                                                                         WWII. We didn’t care then about the hearts and minds
they are dirty tricks deliberately employed to deceive.                                  of the Germans or Japanese. We weren’t squeamish
         The first two of these involve the improper use of inductive rea-                about carpet-bombing cities, nor did we broadcast photos
soning to establish causation.                                                           of American atrocities.
■ Oversimplified cause. Causation is always complex. Human events,                  But are the two wars alike in every relevant respect? (By relevant I mean
human trends, are always the result of a complex web of causes. Causa-             with respect to motivation and rationale behind the hostilities, to who
invaded whom, and so on. It is not relevant, say, to point out that they             The syllogism might be formulated like this:
are unlike in that Saddam has a big mustache while Hitler and Hirohito-                                              A = B;
had a small ones.) No, the wars are not alike at all.                                                                C = A;
     Hitler and Hirohito invaded and occupied much of                                                           therefore, C = B.
     Europe and Asia and were explicit about their global                            Here is Plato’s famous example of a syllogism:
     territorial ambitions. George Bush invaded Iraq because
     he guessed wrongly that Saddam was in possession of                                Generalization (major premise): All humans are mortal
     dangerous weapons and intended to share them with                                    (A = B);
     (nonexistent) terrorist amigos.                                                    Individual instance (minor premise): Socrates is a human
                                                                                          (C = A);
To rebut an argument based upon a false analogy, we need merely to                      Conclusion: therefore, it necessarily follows that Socrates
point out any relevant point of dissimilarity between the two terms.                      is mortal (C = B).
       Another strategy is to employ a reductio ad absurdum* rebuttal,
                                                                                     Here is a more up-to-date example:
to reduce the argument to absurdity by applying it consistently across the
board—to the extent that it becomes ridiculous:                                         Major premise: All teachers are sadistic (A = B);
                                                                                        Minor premise: Mr Pagaard is a teacher (C = A);
     If Saddam is like Hitler because he invaded Kuwait, was
     Kennedy like Hitler because he invaded Cuba? Was                                   Conclusion: therefore, Mr Pagaard is sadistic (C = B).
     Reagan like Hitler when he invaded Granada and
     Panama? How ’bout Bush’s invasion? Ooooh….                                      Fallacies of Deduction
                                                                                     These arguments involve misuse of deductive reasoning:
There may have been sound reasons to stop Saddam, but the analogy
between him and Hitler is not one of them.                                           ■ When a major premise is not universally true, when it goes too far, it is
                                                                                     called a sweeping generalization.
■ In a slippery-slope argument it is asserted that a proposed action
inevitably will justify or cause an undesirable one, which in turn                        “The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaran-
                                                                                          tees our right to bear arms. The Brady Bill limits this
inevitably will cause an even worse one, then another, on and on, until                   right. Therefore, the Brady Bill is unconstitutional.”
everything goes to Hell in a handbasket.
                                                                                     When we consider the actual wording of the Second Amendment, we
     “If we legalize assisted suicide, involuntary euthanasia
     of the infirm will be next and then euthanasia of all
                                                                                     realize that the above major premise is a sweeping generalization.
     elderly. Before we know it, mass exterminations and                                  “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security
     genocide like those of Nazi Germany will be upon us.”                                of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear
                                                                                          Arms shall not be infringed.”
To rebut an argument founded upon the slip-
pery-slope fallacy, we simply break one link in the                                                        Clearly the constitution “guarantees our right to
causal chain. If we can show, say, that safeguards        THE SOUNDNESS OF SYLLOGISMS                      bear arms” only in a very limited context: the
are in place ensuring that assisted suicide is invi-     ■ For a syllogism to be sound all                 equipping of a national militia. So the major
olably voluntary, then we have shown the entire          premises must be absolutely true. If              premise goes too far. There may be valid
argument to be unsound.                                  any are not true, the argument is                 grounds for opposing gun control, but the Sec-
                                                         unsound.                                          ond Amendment simply is not one of them; in
Deductive Reasoning                                                                                        fact, the first half of the Amendment is gun con-
Deductive reasoning moves from the general to            ■ For the major premise to be true, it            trol, a radical limitation of the right to bear
the specific. We begin with a generalization, a           must apply universally, without excep-            arms.
statement that is unquestionably true. Then we           tion; that is, the generalization must                    You probably noticed that the syllogism
apply that generalization to a specific case or           be able to begin it with the word “All.”          above establishing my sadism is based upon a
cases, so that a conclusion can be inferred. We          ■ In a sound deductive argument, the              sweeping generalization. There just might be a
demonstrate that one truth necessarily leads to          irrefutable truth and applicability of            non-sadistic teacher somewhere….
another through a three-step process of rea-             the premises guarantees the truth of              ■ Sweeping generalization in an enthymeme.
soning called a syllogism. Here is the simplest,         the conclusion.                                   As you may have suspected already, syllogisms are
most common, form of syllogism (there are                                                                  rarely laid out systematically for us. Often the
hundreds):                                                                      major premise is implied in an argument, not stated explicitly. An argument
■ The major premise is a general statement about a large group.                 with an unstated major premise is called an enthymeme.
■ The minor premise is a statement about an individual case within that                 When we argue, we must be sure that our own unstated major
large group.                                                                    premises are true. We can sometimes detect the fallacy in someone else’s
                                                                                argument by discovering a false unstated major premise. This statement
■ The conclusion is a statement about the individual case based upon its        might at first sound reasonable:
logical relationship to the major premise.
                                                                                    “Prostitution is a fact of life, so it should be legalized.”
★ Deduction carries far more authority—assures far more certainty—
than induction. In a sound deductive argument—one in which the
                                                                                * For a more thoroughly developed example of reductio ad absurdum, see my Adven-
premises are irrefutably true and applied without fallacy—the truth of the tures in Critical Thinking sheet following the present one in our Materials page listing.
conclusion is guaranteed.
To analyze the argument we first frame it as a syllogism:                                 Did you notice that the above argument against women in the
   Major premise: [unstated];                                                     military also features equivocation? “Men” in the major premise is used
   Minor premise: Prostitution is a fact of life;                                 in the old sense of the word, meaning all humans (as in “all men are cre-
   Conclusion: Therefore, it should be legalized.                                 ated equal”). But later it is assumed to mean males exclusively.
Then we use our formula to find the missing major premise:                         Toulmin Logic
   (A) ? = (B) ? ;                                                                Whether an argument is inductive or deductive, it stands or falls on the
   (C) Prostitution is (A) a fact of life;                                        strength of the evidence cited. For an argument to be sound, the connec-
   therefore, (C) Prostitution should be (B) legalized.                           tion between its evidence and its assertion or conclusion must be valid.
Next we supply the missing A and B we have identified:                             Stephen Toulmin divides logical arguments into three parts:
   Major premise: (A) [All] fact[s] of life should be                             ■ Claim—the assertion or conclusion
    (B) legalized.
                                                                                  ■ Data—supporting evidence or premises
No one would accept this premise as true. Should grand theft auto, child
abuse, or mayhem—all admittedly facts of life—be legalized? So on the             ■ Warrant—the underlying assumptions that justify using particular
grounds of this argument alone, the conclusion should not be accepted.            data to support a claim—what an audience must believe in order to
Such august institutions as the State of Nevada and the Republic of France        accept that this data necessarily leads to the claim.
have legalized prostitution. We have to trust them that they have done so                 Here is an example of Toulmin logic applied to an inductive
on better grounds than these.                                                     argument:
                                                                                     Data 1 (evidence): Homosexuality is condemned as
■ Begging the question (petitio principii) is the fallacy of using the con-            “unnatural” in the Jewish Torah.
clusion of an argument as one of the premises offered in its support; that           Data 2: In the Christian New Testament, St Paul similarly
is, the conclusion is smuggled in, without debate, as a premise. This is               condemns homosexuality.
known as a circular argument.                                                        Data 3: Both Jewish and Christian traditions historically
     “Since soldiers must be strong men willing to risk their                          have condemned homosexuality on the grounds of these
     lives, it follows that no woman can be a soldier.”                                scriptures.
                                                                                     Claim (assertion): We must oppose legislation establishing
This argument suggests that women are ineligible for combat duty on                    gay and lesbian rights.
the grounds that only men are eligible; in other words, women are ineli-             Warrant: The Bible—especially a strictly literalist inter-
gible because women are ineligible. Nothing has been proven.                          pretation of the Bible—should be regarded as absolutely
       Christian apologist Erick Nelson (who advances many logically                  authoritative in establishing modern social policy.
sound arguments in support of his religious convictions) reminds us of            Only a minority of Jews and Christians accepts this warrant, and obvi-
this common logical error:                                                        ously non-religious folks and those of other religions don’t. Thus the
     “Why believe Christianity is true? Because the Bible                         argument will be meaningless to a large chunk of a typical audience.
     says so. Why believe what the Bible says? You just have                             Here is an example of Toulmin logic applied to deduction:
     to have faith. But why this faith? Because the Bible                            Data (major premise): In an effective educational program
     says so…” and on and on in circles.                                               all students will be equipped equally to succeed in the
Circular reasoning is formally valid: Its premises are true. So why isn’t              real world after they have graduated.
the truth of the conclusion guaranteed? The problem is that the premis-              Data (minor premise): Bilingual education impedes future
es do not really provide support for the truth of the conclusion since the             success by inhibiting and delaying crucial English-lan-
conclusion itself is assumed from the beginning. Unless one already                    guage skill development.
assents to the truth of the Bible or the ineligibility of women for combat           Claim (conclusion): Bilingual education, therefore, is not
                                                                                       an effective educational practice.
duty, these arguments prove nothing.
                                                                                     Warrant: The ways in which bilingual education is effec-
        (Nowadays you will hear even television news anchors misuse the
                                                                                      tive (the sheltering of native cultures, for instance) do
term “begging the question” like this: “There are millions of guns in                 not outweigh its detrimental effects.
Iraq already. This begs the question: ‘Should we import more for the new
Iraqi army?’” They mean nothing more than “One is moved to ask the                Again, this is by no means a universally accepted assumption.
following question….” Stupid, stupid, stupid!)                                    When we argue, we must make sure that all our warrants are valid—
                                                                                  and valid to all members of our audience. If we doubt that they are, we
■ When a word or phrase has more than one meaning but an argument
                                                                                  must argue them explicitly. We must also examine the warrants underly-
deliberately ignores the difference, the arguer is said to equivocate.
                                                                                  ing any argument being used to convince us. We can use Toulmin logic to
     The media have a mandate to broadcast news in the                            expose flaws in an argument, looking for claims which are not supported by
     public interest. The public is interested in Madonna’s
     love life. Therefore, the media have an obligation to
                                                                                  valid warrants—that is, arguments without valid linkage between data
     broadcast all they can get ahold of on the subject.                          and claim.
In its first use here, “public interest” means for the good of the people;
in its second use it means lurid curiosity. The argument pretends not to
recognize these differences in usage.

Fallacies of Relevance                                                                 “You say that only because you are a woman.” Or “You
                                                                                       believe that only because of your socio-economic condi-
The soundness of any argument must be decided solely on the basis of
                                                                                       tion” or “your Freudian complexes,” etc.
its reasoning. But often irrelevant elements are introduced in order to
sway opinion dishonestly.                                                              In a recent argument a Buddhist colleague of mine
                                                                                       wrote my opinions off to my Judeo-Christian upbringing
■ Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”). Instead of addressing an issue               and my habitual Western linear thinking, assuming that
directly, arguers often impugn the character or intelligence of their                  by pointing out my alleged limitations in these areas she
opponents. Every second grader is familiar with this strategy:                         had settled the argument.
     “It is difficult to establish that it is my turn on the                       Again, the soundness of any argument depends upon its own merits, not
     swing, so I will call my opponent a ‘poop head.’ Every-                      upon the background, behavior, or motives of its proponents.
     body laughs. She cries. I win.”
                                                                                  ■ Appeal to authority is the converse of ad hominem. Ad hominem
Ad hominem, as you know, is a defining quality of our national political           attempts to discredit a position solely on the grounds of the bad charac-
dialogue. Why? Sadly, as is the case with oversimplification, we the peo-          ter of its supporters. An appeal to authority argues that one’s own posi-
ple demand it. It requires hard work to determine which candidate we              tion is correct solely on the grounds of the the status or the good
ought to support or whether we should support or oppose a proposi-                character of its supporters.
tion, especially when the issues are demanding ones, such as complex
                                                                                       Richard Nixon argued that the American people should
foreign and domestic policy, intricate budget nuances, and the like. They
                                                                                       accept his illegal bombing of Cambodia solely because
make our heads hurt. So we are thrilled when Al Gore points out that                   experts in the State Department and in the Air Force
George W. Bush is a stupid party animal and Bush retorts that Gore is a                had information we didn’t have and that these experts
boring liar. Like our second-grade friend, we can deal comfortably with                had used their special expertise to evaluate this
this kind of debate.                                                                   information. He refused to reveal his data or his
     “We do not need to take President Clinton’s Asia policy
     seriously because of his immoral liaison with Monica                         True, we should respect the expertise of specialists, but we never should
     Lewinsky and his subsequent denials.”                                        accept a position solely on the grounds of their prestige as experts. (Inci-
As reprehensible as Bill Clinton’s actions may have been, whatever the            dentally we discovered later that Nixon’s experts in actuality had
incident may reveal about his character, his lies and infidelity are irrelevant opposed the bombing. He lied.)
to the issue in question, his Asia policy, and thus must                                                ■ Appeal to common practice is similar to appeal to
be left out of the discussion.                                                                          authority, only this time the “authority” is everybody.
        Sometimes, however, character is a relevant            Remember that an argument must In the immortal words of the Cranberries, “Every-
issue, as is the case when we evaluate Clinton’s presi-          stand or fall on its own merits.       body’s doing it. Why can’t we?”
dential legacy. Congress and the majority of the Amer- Anything else introduced into the “In Southern-California nobody makes com-
ican people may have forgiven him, but it is not                     discussion is irrelevant
                                                                                                        plete stops at stop-signs, signals turns, or
irrelevant for citizens to lament the effects of his dis-            and should be ignored.             observes speed limits. Why should I?”
honesty on the national ethos.                                                                          Or “One must expect to engage in bribery,
■ Tu quoque (Latin for “you too”). While ad hominem                                     extortion, and strong-arm tactics when doing business in
questions the character, intelligence, or other alleged limitations of an               Latin America. These are standard business practices
opponent, tu quoque impugns his or her motives, behavior, or background,                there.”
arguing that a position is held only for selfish reasons.                          Is it wrong to break the law, or isn’t it? Are these practices immoral, or
• Motivation                                                                      aren’t they?
      “The only reason Representative Teufelsdreck opposes                        ■ An ad ignorantiam (Latin for appeal “to ignorance”) argument asserts
      term limits is that she wants to keep her job.”                             that a position must be accepted merely because it cannot be disproved—
Even if this claim were true, it is irrelevant to the question of whether or or that it must be rejected because it cannot be proved.
not term limits are good public policy.                                                This argument is often made both in favor of and in
                                                                                       opposition to religion: “You must accept that God exists
• Behavior: Another form of tu quoque argues against a position on the                 because you can’t prove that She doesn’t.” Or “You must
grounds that one’s opponent’s actions contradict her or his words.                     accept that God doesn’t exist because you can’t prove
     “How can you advise me on the importance of earning a                             that He does.”
     college degree when you never went to college yourself?”                     Rule: The burden of proof is always on the person making an argument. An
• One variant of tu quoque is what C.S. Lewis calls Bulverism (named              argument should be accepted or rejected on its own strength, not
after its fictitious inventor). Lewis noticed that we frequently assume            because of the limitations of its opponents.
without argument or analysis that a person is wrong and then attempt to           ■ A red herring is a highly emotional element introduced into an argu-
distract attention from the real issue by explaining why he or she came to        ment to divert attention from the real issue, “a clamorous insistence
be wrong in the first place.                                                       upon an irrelevancy.” (Someone desiring to disrupt a fox hunt might
                                                                                  drag a decomposing fish—a red herring—across the path of the fox, the
                                                                                  scent sending the dogs in the wrong direction.)

     “How can you support abortion? What if your mother                           not easy tasks. But refusing to face reality, refusing to make the effort to
     had aborted you?”                                                            understand, is not a real option.
     Or “We should boycott the LA Opera: They are perform-                                 Lionel Trilling warned that we have a “moral obligation to be
     ing the Ring Cycle this year, and everyone knows that                        intelligent.” A moral obligation! That is, refusing to think is not merely
     Hitler was a big Wagner fan.”
                                                                                  foolish—it is wrong. A democracy is only as strong as its people. When
We can be fairly certain that any time Hitler is introduced into an argu-         the people—especially the educated minority—abdicate their responsibil-
ment about anything outside of racism, fascism, or the Third Reich, he is         ity to think, then who will protect us from those who seek to control us
being used as a red herring. (This was largely the case in our false analo-       by dishonest means? How will we even know that such means are dis-
gy comparing him with Saddam Hussein.)                                            honest? Indeed these forces will control us if we let them, and when we
                                                                                  refuse to engage them intellectually, we do let them. We have a deadly
WHY BOTHER THINKING CRITICALLY?                                                   serious obligation to commit ourselves to thinking as well as we can.
Genuine logical thinking requires work—hard work. Is it worth the                 This is our last and only defense.
effort? Would it not be more comfortable just to go with the flow, tak-                     Even more in our personal lives—family, educational, profession-
ing things as they come without trying to understand them? If an issue            al—considerable intellectual effort is required of us if we are to succeed.
fails to appeal to us, to entertain us, to “relate” to our perspective, our       Socrates told us that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” In
experience, why should we bother with it?                                         Stephen Erickson’s words, “You can fill up your time… or you can fulfill
         The Cuyamaca College Coyote Express interviewed students at              it.” As we have seen, the easier an answer comes to us, the more it
random, asking how they would vote in the 2000 general election. I was            should be suspected. If we are to make wise decisions, we must think
horrified to discover that all of the respondents—without exception—               logically and think hard.
admitted shamelessly that, since the candidates didn’t “relate to [their]                  It is my hope that the tools outlined here will provide at least
generation,” or that since the students were “not interested in the issues        the beginnings of a foundation for living intelligently. Try to see
candidates argue about,” they would not be voting at all. Could they pos-         beyond the academic trappings of this little lesson. I have done my best
sibly believe that the world is obliged to come to them on their terms?           to provide examples for you, shifting abstract principles into the practi-
Do they actually refuse to think on the grounds that the presidential             cal sphere. Concretizing. Now it is your turn. Commit yourself to
election—the struggle to become the most powerful human on earth—is               addressing the issues you encounter with all the brain power, all the
not sufficiently entertaining?                                                     critical acumen, you can muster.                                           ■
         I sympathize with the students’ frustration: Understanding poli-
tics, forming opinions on complex issues, and making good decisions are

                                               Thanks to Ray Kytle, Erick Nelson, LeRoy Wright, Randy Beach,
                                               and all my advanced-composition students at Cuyamaca College.