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Manual Argument: Critical Thinking, Logic, and the Fallacies, Second Canadian Edition

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Critical reasoning has many more applications in the classroom than merely the correcting of faulty arguments.

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Critical thinking concerns the nature of argumentation itself, and all branches of knowledge involve some form of argument. This section will describe a number of applications of critical reasoning in the classroom.


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Knowledge of logical structures improves a student's writing in a direct and dramatic fashion. When logical structures are understood, the construction of a sentence is understood as an application of a particular logical structure. The following is a brief example of this process. Simple sentences using categorical form. The structure of a categorical proposition, 'All A are B', mirrors the structure of a simple sentence.

The 'A' in question is the subject of the sentence, while the 'B' is the predicate. This is useful because it helps correct problems with noun-verb agreement. Clearly identifying the subject and the predicate reminds the student that they work as a pair. Another application of categorical form involves the use of subordinate clauses. The subject-predicate form clearly illustrates to the student the idea that subordinate clauses modify the subject or predicate they are attached to.

Showing the student a sentence of the form:. Complex sentences using logical operators. Complex sentences are formed out of simple sentences using logical operators. Consider, for example, how a complex sentence may be constructed from the simple sentences "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man". If all men are mortal then Socrates is a man. Either all men are mortal or Socrates is a man.

Argument: Critical Thinking, Logic and the Fallacies

All men are mortal and Socrates is a man. Even more complex sentences or paragraphs using indicator words. Using simple and complex sentences as described above, the structure of paragraphs can be detailed to students. We identify the premises and conclusion of an argument as a set of sentences. Then these sentences are assembled into a paragraph using indicator words. If all men are mortal then Socrates is a man, and all men are mortal, therefore Socrates is a man.

All men are mortal, and Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. More complex paragraphs are constructed from more complex arguments. Consider the following:.


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  8. Thus, Socrates is mortal. All things which are mortal eventually die. Therefore, Socrates will eventually die. Knowledge in many disciplines is abstract knowledge. For example, in geography, students may be taught that a river meanders in a particular way. This is abstract because we are not talking about any particular river. Or in music, students are taught to read sheet music. This is abstract because sheet music is not generally written for a particular music. Critical thinking forces a student to reason abstractly because sentences and arguments are thought of as abstract structures.

    The long paragraph just above should be recognized by the student as an instance of:. The benefits of abstract thought should be clear. Lessons learned in one domain are more easily applied in another domain when abstract features of the two domains are identified. How might this be applied in a classroom?

    In essence, it involves imparting to the student not merely knowledge of particular matters of fact, but also the abstract form of whatever knowledge is being taught. For example, the proposition that "Rome fell because of a lack of morality" is an instance of the more general "Civilizations fall because of immorality". Students may be shown this, and also shown that the same pattern occurs in "Sodom and Gomorrah fell because of immorality" and "This civilization will fall because of immorality". Students often misunderstand what they are reading. Often this is because they do not know what to look for in a piece of writing.

    This is understandable; there are many ways to go wrong when reading even a short paragraph. For example, students often misunderstand a particular sentence. One common mistake occurs, for example, when a student interprets "Not all men are mortal" as meaning "No men are mortal".

    Knowing that the contradictory of "All A are B" is "Some A are not B" would allow the student to understand that "Not all men are mortal" means "Some men are not mortal". Students often believe that information contained in a subordinate clause is the main point of a sentence. Making the structure of categorical propositions clear corrects this error. Students frequently miss the main point of a paragraph as a whole. Pointing to indicator words makes conclusions clear, and the conclusion is a main point of a paragraph.

    If a student learns to look for conclusions, misunderstandings of this sort can be reduced. Students should be reminded on a regular basis how to extract information from a text. From time to time, it is useful to identify a key paragraph in a piece of writing and to provide an analysis of it, showing the student how to identify what each sentence says and showing the student how to identify the author's main point. Consider, for example, the following paragraph:. A country, after all, is not something you build as the pharaohs built the pyramids, and then leave standing there to defy eternity.

    A country is something that is built every day out of certain basic shared values. And so it is in the hands of every Canadian to determine how well and wisely we shall build the country in the future. Pierre Trudeau, Memoirs, p. The use of the indicator word "so" clearly shows that the last sentence is the conclusion. There are no logical operators in the last sentence, hence, it is a simple sentence of the form "Every Canadian should determine The student should also note the use of an analogy in the first sentence.

    And notice the reasoning, in very abstract form: "A country cannot be left unattended, therefore, all people must attend to the country'. This is the clearest application of critical thinking in the classroom. Essentially, it involves questioning the truth of premises and the validity of arguments, in other words, not taking the written and spoken word as Gospel. Students and especially those coming straight from high school, where everything is Gospel find this difficult to do.

    A criticism of a point of view is, like everything else in academia, a form of argument. The conclusion is always that some argument has committed a logical error. The premises are the reasons for believing that the error occurred. The form of all critical evaluations is as follows:. The argument does such-and-such, and Such-and-such is a fallacy, Thus, the argument is a fallacy.

    Students need to be shown that all sources, including their textbooks and their instructors not to mention the media and their friends can commit errors of reasoning. The best means to show them this is to critically evaluate any materials used for instruction. My own experience is that this can be very confusing for a student one student commented, "I've never seen an instructor criticize the text before. It is important, therefore, to state the criticism and the reason for the criticism clearly. It is also important to state the intent of posing such criticisms, specifically, that the student should not accept everything as being true, and that the student is expected to perform a similar sort of evaluation on any material.

    It is especially useful to encourage students to criticize the instructor, and to occasionally concede some points. Even when there is a response to be made, much more progress is made when a good criticism is acknowledged as such. Finally, students should be required to stand the test of good reasoning.

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    Comments in papers or in class which commit logical errors should be identified as errors in reasoning. This requires some tact. The approach should not be that the student is wrong, but rather, that the student's reasoning is flawed. The Logic Book. Random House, Cedarblom, Jerry, and Paulsen, David.

    Critical Reasoning. Third Edition.


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