Arguing Using Critical Thinking
Jim Marteney, Los Angeles Valley College
Copyright Year: 2020
Publisher: Academic Senate for California Community Colleges
Conditions of Use
There are separate sections on how to formulate an argument, how to evaluate an argument, the burdens adopted by those engaging in critical discourse, rhetorical strategies for effectively convincing an interlocutor, and errors in reasoning. In... read more
There are separate sections on how to formulate an argument, how to evaluate an argument, the burdens adopted by those engaging in critical discourse, rhetorical strategies for effectively convincing an interlocutor, and errors in reasoning. In terms of the breadth of topics one generally wants covered in a critical thinking class, the book does a fine job at hitting them all.
It is an admirable attempt to develop a post-modern, post-truth approach to critical discourse. "Truth is a word best avoided entirely in argumentation," the book tells students, "except when placed in quotes or with careful qualification." Invoking Wittgenstein and Sapir-Whorf in the introductory sections, the book seeks to develop a relational, psychological, rhetorical approach instead of one focused on informal logic. In doing so, it entirely removes the point of argumentation -- rational belief. Some things are true -- smoking DOES cause cancer, human activity is causing global warming, the Founders of the U.S. did want a separation between Church and State. These are true. There is a series of TED talks cited for inspirational rhetorical value, but in a world in which conspiracy theories are endangering democracy, we need to understand that replacing truth with the truthiness that emerges from this sort of post-modernism is playing directly into those who are undermining our discourse. It exacerbates the problem, it does not solve it.
Since the book hinges less on logic and more on social science, there are elements that will be altered over time. Sapir-Whorf, as mentioned above, has not taken seriously by linguists for decades, yet is used as a foundation. The book seeks to speak to students using, in places, contemporary references that will become dated over time, but these are easily updated.
There are some very good sections in the book. The distinction it draws between matters of fact, value, and policy is very well done. As is the catalogue it gives of different sorts of evidence. The clarity with which it sets out the difference in burdens between the pro and anti sides of a debate is wonderful.
In terms of accessibility, the book is written engagingly in a way that first year students should not be lost. It intentionally uses a new set of technical terms modeled on standard usage -- claim, evidence, issues, contentions, cases,... and does well to define them in accessible (at times loosey-goosey) ways.
However, there are problems for those trying to teach critical thinking as informal logic. You will not find the words "conclusion" or "premise" anywhere in the book. This is clearly intentional as it seeks to eliminate the idea of arguments as providing good reason to believe something is true. Again, truth is not to be discussed. Instead, it sort of tries to use a sort of sliding scale, but it is never at all clear what the scale is actually measuring. The book uses the term validity (much more on that below), but that term is used in a stunningly ambiguous way.
The central notion in the book is validity. This is not unexpected as that is a standard term in logic. As logicians use the word, an argument is valid if and only, assuming the truth of the premises for the sake of argument, the conclusion is at least likely true, that is, the truth of the conclusion is imp;lied by the truth of the premises. Validity is a matter relating to the internal structure of an argument, connecting the posited truth of the premises to the consequential necessary or probable truth of the conclusion. Yet the book says something quite different, "Critical thinkers need to remember that there is no necessary or inherent connection between Truth and validity." Ummmmm? Validity is DEFINED in terms of a relation between premises and conclusion and how that relation determines or does not determine truth. There could not be a MORE inherent connection between truth and validity.
It is clear that by "capital T Truth," the book is looking to encourage students not to be absolutists, to be able to question deeply held convictions and this is, indeed, a necessary function of any critical thinking class, but with its post-truth orientation, the book uses the term "validity" as a replacement for it in several completely different and inconsistent ways. At times, it is uses validity as a replacement for the truth concept. In this way, sentences are more or less valid, that is, truer or less true. This is the "sliding bead" model that is repeatedly alluded to throughout the text.
At other times, however, the usual meaning of validity is used, where it is not sentences, but arguments that can be valid or invalid according to whether or not the conclusion (claim) is properly connected to the premises (evidence). There is a loose, hand-waving section on what this sense of validity means. In most texts, this is the HEART of critical thinking. How to tell valid from invalid arguments.
At yet other times, there is a third use of the term validity. A viewpoint is more or less valid based upon the support it receives from arguments in favor of it. Unlike the traditional sense of validity, this is not a particular argument that is evaluated as successful in terms of its inner-structure, and it is not the likely truth or falsity of the conclusion of a particular argument, but a more general sense of the degree to which a perspective has arguments to bolster it.
This sort of slipperiness in the central notion of the entire course is problematic. The point of good reasoning is clarity and rigor. But that is exactly what this book tries to eliminate.
There are parts of this text that are fantastic and which I could absolutely see wanting to use in my critical thinking class. However, because of the intentional avoidance of standard logical terminology and the unusual reinterpretations of the standard terms it does use, it would be difficult to use sections of this book in conjunctions with sections of other critical thinking texts.
If one were to use this text as the centerpiece of a course on critical thinking, there is a clear and logical flow to the way the pieces build on themselves. There is motivation up front, tools in the middle, applications and concerns about misusing the tools in the end. The structural is well-thought out and well-executed. The one complaint in terms of organization is that it is two-thirds the way through the text before certain central notions are defined.
It is a clean and effective design with images that brighten up the text without distracting. Easy to read and aesthetically well-laid out. There are a couple of line breaks that add a couple of blank lines where they don't need to be here and there, but that is nitpicky stuff. Overall, it looks great.
It is a clean and effective design with images that brighten up the text without distracting. Easy to read and aesthetically well-laid out. There are a couple of line breaks that add a couple of blank lines where they don't need to be here and there, but that is nitpicky stuff. Overall, it reads and looks great.
The text is not culturally insensitive, indeed, the problem with it is exactly the opposite. It is clear that part of the goal of this text is to change how we think about critical thinking, moving from a logical model in which we strive for truth, to a rhetorical model in which we engage in open dialogue across varied perspectives. This is a noble goal. However, in trying to create discourse communities where voices that are often underrepresented or silenced have a place, the book does away with the point of that discourse. We want multiple perspectives because they provide insights that lead to truths we may have otherwise missed. They are correctives that undermine problematic presuppositions we did not even realize we were making that leads us away from truth. They allow us to see other ways of valuing things that we would not have values under our initial set of meanings. Eliminating the centrality of truth as a goal in discourse does not create room for other voices, it eliminates the point of needing those other voices. Indeed, the unintentional consequence of this approach to critical thinking is the devaluing of rationality, of truth, of scientific findings. We need to take action to reverse climate change. This can only be done if we have a robust notion of truth and its importance.
Logic is an activity you learn by doing. The lack of exercises or active engagement projects in the text is something that would place a load on the instructor to develop if this were to be an effective book in use.
The book does name, identify and define key terms of argument and the basis for effective argument. read more
The book does name, identify and define key terms of argument and the basis for effective argument.
This text has no grammatical errors and is unbiased in the definitions and the various contexts in which arguments occur.
Relevance and longevity do not really apply to the subject and context of this text. The book is very general and the time and place do not play a role.
The definitions and graphs/charts (only 2 or 3 have been added) are very basic, almost to the point of being counter productive. The Inductive and deductive chart has no value in the design or in the side notes accompanying the graph. No enough detail or design features were added to this one graph.
Consistency is not a feature to discuss because every chapter has a different main idea from types of arguments to resolving arguments to types of behavior commonly seen during arguments. There is no sequencing of material from beginning to end in term of moving from basic through intermediate and advanced level of thinking.
The book clearly defines the title of each section, but again, all taken together, no advancement in theory is developed throughout.
The chapters do not appear in any type of order. The book moves from arguing to argument and behaviors commonly found during arguments. The last chapters talk about reasoning skills such as inductive and deductive thinking.
The graphic and pictures do nothing to promote thinking or understanding and are therefore superfluous.
This critique here is not so much grammar but but point of view. The book really reads like a self help book or guide for a very basic reader. But the point of view shifts from 'you" as is what "you" should do to the the third person "they". This is very poor writing and leads to the next point which is its lack of value as a high school or college text. It is difficult to understand what student and in what circumstances would benefit or be inspired to read it.
There is no politically incorrect content.
As briefly mentioned, the causal, offhand, self help nature of this book is not designed in any way to be used as a text. Because each chapter is separate with no sequencing, it would be impossible to develop any in depth assignments, No exercises are added so nothing would materialize in the way of theory, practice, analysis or discussion.
Table of Contents
- 1: Standing Up For Your Point Of View
- 2: Communicating An Argument
- 3: Clash
- 4: Claims
- 5: Building Your Case With Issues, Analysis And Contentions
- 6: Evidence
- 7: Reasoning
- 8: Validity Or Truth
- 9: Changing Beliefs, Attitudes and Behavior
- 10: Decision Making - Judging an Argument
- 11: Discovering, Examining and Improving Our Reality
- 12: The Foundations of Critical Thinking
About the Book
There is a quote that has been passed down many years and is most recently accounted to P.T. Barnum, “There is a sucker born every minute.” Are you that sucker? If you were, would you like to be “reborn?” The goal of this book is to help you through that “birthing” process. Critical thinking and standing up for your ideas and making decisions are important in both your personal and professional life. How good are we at making the decision to marry? According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is one divorce in America every 36 seconds. That is nearly 2,400 every day. And professionally, the Wall Street Journal predicts the average person will have 7 careers in their lifetime. Critical thinking skills are crucial.
Critical thinking is a series learned skills. In each chapter of this book you will find a variety of skills that will help you improve your thinking and argumentative ability. As you improve, you will grow into a more confident person being more in charge of your world and the decisions you make.
About the Contributors
Jim Marteney, Professor Emeritus (Communication Studies) at Los Angeles Valley College