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What Is Critical Thinking?

What Is Critical Thinking?

From the perspective of critical thinking, the answer is no. Although people are legally entitled to their beliefs and opinions, it would be intellectually irresponsible of them to feel entitled to an opinion that is unsupported by logical reasoning and evidence; people making this claim are conflating freedom of speech with freedom of opinion. A simple example will illustrate this point. Suppose someone believes that the moon is composed of green cheese. Although he is legally entitled to his belief that the moon is made of green cheese, he is not rationally entitled to that belief, since there are many reasons to believe and much evidence to show that the moon is not composed of green cheese.

Good thinkers constantly question their beliefs and examine multiple sources of evidence to ensure their beliefs are true. Of course, people often hold beliefs that seem warranted but are later found not to be true, such as that the earth is flat, that it is acceptable to paint baby cribs with lead paint, and so on. However, a good thinker is one who is willing to change his or her views when those views are proved to be false. There are certain criteria that must be met for us to claim that someone is entitled to a specific opinion or position on an issue.

There are other examples where the distinction is not so clear. For instance, some people believe that women should be subservient to men. They hold this belief for many reasons, but the pre- dominant one is because specific religions claim this is the case. Does the fact that a religious text claims that women should serve men provide sufficient evidence for one to believe this claim? Many people believe it does not. However, many who interpret their religious texts in this man- ner would claim that these texts do provide sufficient evidence for such claims.

It is here that we see the danger and difficulty of providing hard-and-fast definitions of what constitutes sufficient evidence. If we believe that written words in books came directly from divine sources, then we would be prone to give those words the highest credibility in terms of the strength of their evidence. However, if we view written words as arguments presented by their authors, then we would analyze the text based on the evidence and reasoning presented. In the latter case we would find that these people are wrong and that they are merely making claims based on their cultural, male-dominated environments.

Of course, all people have the freedom to believe what they want. However, if we think of entitlement as justification, then we cannot say that all people are entitled to their opinions and beliefs. As you read this book, think about what you believe and why. If you do not have reasons or supporting evidence for your beliefs and opinions, you should attempt to find it. Try not to get sucked into arguments without having evidence. Most important, as a good thinker, you should be willing and able to admit the strengths and weaknesses of various posi- tions on issues, especially your own. At the same time, if in your search for evidence you find that the opposing position is the stronger one, you should be willing to change your position. It is also a sign of good thinking to suspend judgment when you suspect that the arguments of others are not supported by evidence or logical reasoning. Suspending judgment can protect you from error and making rash decisions that lead to negative outcomes.

Everyday Logic: Evidence, Beliefs, and Good Thinking (continued)

Becoming a Critical Thinker By now it should be clear that critical thinking is an important life skill, one that will have a decisive impact on our lives. It does not take luck or a genetic disposition to be a critical thinker. Anyone can master critical thinking skills. So how do you become a critical thinker? Earlier in

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Section 1.2 Three Misconceptions About Logic

the chapter, logical reasoning was described as the main tool for critical thinking. Thus, the most fundamental step in becoming a critical thinker is to recognize the importance of reason as the filter for your beliefs and actions. Once you have done this, you will be in the right frame of mind to start learning about logic and identify what tools of logic are at your disposal.

It is also important to note that becoming a critical thinker demands intellectual modesty. We can understand intellectual modesty as the willingness to put our egos in check because we see truth seeking as a far greater and more satisfying good than seeking to be right. Critical thinkers do not care about seeking approval by trying to show that they are right. They do not assume that disagreement reflects a lack of intelligence or insight. Being intellectually modest means recognizing not only that we can make mistakes, but also that we have much to learn. If we are (a) aware that we are bound to make mistakes and that we will benefit when we recognize them; (b) willing to break old habits and embrace change; and, perhaps most importantly, (c) genuinely willing to know what others think, then we can be truly free to experience life as richly and satisfactorily as a human being can.

1.2 Three Misconceptions About Logic If logic is so important to critical thinking, we must of course examine what logic is. This task is not as easy as it sounds, and before we tackle it we must first dismantle some common misconceptions about the subject.

Logic Is for Robots The first misconception is that it is not normal for humans to display a command of logic. (In fact, some suggest that humans created, rather than discovered, these patterns of thought; see A Closer Look: Logic: A Human Invention?) Think of how popular culture and media often depict characters endowed with logical reasoning. In American slang they are the eggheads, the geeks, the nerds, the ones who can use their minds but have trouble relating to other people. Such people often lack compassion or social charisma, or they are emotionally unex- pressive. They are only logical and lack the blend of attributes that people actually have.

Consider the logically endowed characters on the Star Trek series. Vulcans, for example, are beings who suppress all emotions in favor of logic because they believe that emotions are dangerous. What appear to be heartless decisions by the Vulcans no doubt make logic seem quite unsavory to some viewers. The android Data—from The Next Generation series in the Star Trek franchise—is another example. Data’s positronic brain is devoid of any emotional capacity and thus processes all information exclusively by means of a logical calculus. Logic is thus presented as a source of alienation, as Data yearns for the affective depth that his human colleagues experience, such as humor and love.

Such presentations of logic as the polar opposite of emotion are false dichotomies because all human beings are naturally endowed with both logical and emotional faculties—not just one or the other. In other words, we have a broader range of abilities than that for which we give

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Section 1.2 Three Misconceptions About Logic

ourselves credit. So if you think that you are mostly emotional, then you simply have yet to discover your logical side.

Nonetheless, some believe emotions are the fundamental mark of human beings. It is quite likely that emotion has played a significant role in our survival as a species. Neuroscientists, for example, have discovered that our emotions have a faster pathway to the action centers of the brain than the methodical decision-making approach of our logical faculties (LeDoux, 1986, 1992). It pays, for example, to give no thought to running if we fear we are being hunted by a predator.

In most human civilizations today, however, dodging predators is not a main necessity. In fact, methodical reasoning is more advantageous in most of today’s situations. Thinking things through logically assists learning at all levels, produces better results in the job market (in seeking jobs, obtaining promotions, and procuring raises), and helps us make better choices. As noted in the previous section, we are more likely to be satisfied and experience fewer regrets if we reason carefully about our most critical choices in life. Indeed, logical reasoning can prove to be a better strategy for attaining the individual quest for personal fulfillment than any available alternative such as random choice, emotional impulse, waiting and seeing, and so on.

Moral of the Story: Emotions Versus Logic Embracing logical reasoning does not mean disregarding our emotions altogether. Instead, we should recognize that emotions and logic are both essential components of what it is to be human.

A Closer Look: Logic: A Human Invention? One objection to the use of logic—often from what is known as a postmodern perspective—is that logic is a human invention and thus inferior to emotions or intuitions. In other words, what some call the “rules of logic” cannot be seen as univer- sally applicable because logic originated in the Western world; thus, logic is relative and only a matter of perspective.

For example, the invention of chairs seems indispensable to those of us who live where chairs have become part of our cultural background. But those from different cultural back- grounds or those who lived during different time periods may not use chairs at all, or may employ alternative seating devices, such as the traditional Japanese tatami mats. To broadly apply the concept of chair as an appropriate place to sit would be ethnocentric, or applying the standards of one’s own culture to all other cultures.

In response to the foregoing objection, the authors of this text argue that logic is not a human invention, nor a conven- tion that spread in certain parts of the world. Rather, logic was

Fine Art Images/SuperStock

Aristotle’s Organon is a compilation of six treatises in which Aristotle formulated principles that laid the foundation for the field of logic.


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Section 1.2 Three Misconceptions About Logic

discovered in people’s ordinary encounters with reality, as early as antiquity. Based on avail- able historical records, the first study of the principles at work in good reasoning emerged in ancient Greece. Aristotle was the first to formulate principles of logic, and he did so in six treatises that ancient commentators grouped together under the title Organon, which means “instrument” (reflecting the view that logic is the fundamental instrument for philosophy, which will be discussed later in the chapter).

Importantly, other civilizations have developed logic independently of the Greek tradition. For example, Dignaga was an important thinker in India who lived a few hundred years after Aristotle. Dignaga’s work begins with certain practices of debate within the Nyaya school of Hinduism and transitions to a more formal approach to reasoning. Although the result of Dig- naga’s studies is not identical to Aristotle’s, there is enough similarity to strongly suggest that basic logical principles are not merely cultural artifacts.

In the Middle Ages, Aristotelian logic was brought to the West by Islamic philosophers and thus became part of the scholarship of Christian philosophers until the 14th or 15th century. The emergence of modern logic did not take place until the 19th and 20th centuries, during which new ways of analyzing propositions gave rise to new discoveries concerning the foun- dations of mathematics, as well as a new system of logical notation and a new system of logical principles that replaced the Aristotelian system.

Thus, the examination of good reasoning was fundamental in the development of human civi- lization. Logical reasoning has helped us to identify the laws that guide physical phenomena, which brought us to the state of technological advancement that we experience today. How else could we have erected pyramids and other marvels in the ancient world without having discovered a principle for checking the accuracy of the geometry employed to design them?

Logic Does Not Need to Be Learned A second misconception is that logic does not need to be learned. After all, humankind’s unique distinction among other animals is the faculty of rationality and abstract thought. Although many nonhuman animals have very high levels of intelligence, to the best of our knowledge, abstract thought seems to be the mark of humankind’s particular brand of rationality. Today the applications of logical reasoning are all around us. We are able to experience air travel and marvel at rockets in space. We are also able to enjoy cars, sky- scrapers, computers, cell phones, air-conditioning, home insulation, and even smart homes that allow users to regulate light, temperature, and other functions remotely via smart- phones and other devices. Logical reasoning has afforded us an increasingly better picture of reality, and as a result, our lives have become more comfortable.

However, if logical reasoning is a natural human trait, then why should anyone have to learn it? We certainly experience emotions without any need to be trained, so why would the case be different with our rational capacities? Consider the difference between natural capacities that are nonvoluntary or automatic, on the one hand, and natural capacities that involve our will, on the other. Swallowing, digesting, and breathing are nonvoluntary natural capacities, as are emotions. We usually do not will ourselves to feel happy, angry, or excited. Rather, we usually just find ourselves feeling happy, angry, or excited.

A Closer Look: Logic: A Human Invention? (continued)

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Section 1.2 Three Misconceptions About Logic

Now contrast these with voluntary natural capacities such as walking, running, or sitting. We usually need to will these actions in order for them to take place. We do not just find ourselves running without intending to run, as is the case with swallowing, breathing, or feeling excited or angry. If logic were akin to breathing, the world would likely look like a different place.

Logic is practiced with intention and must be learned, just like we learn to walk, sit, and run. True, almost everyone learns to run to some degree as part of the normal process of growing up. Similarly, almost everyone learns a certain amount of logical reasoning as they move from infant to adult. However, to be a good runner, you need to learn and practice specific skills. Similarly, although everyone has some ability in logic, becoming a good critical thinker requires learning and practicing a range of logical skills.

Logic Is Too Hard The final misconception is that logic is too hard or difficult to learn. If you have survived all these years without studying logic, you might wonder why you should learn it now. It is true that learning logic can be challenging and that it takes time and effort before it feels like second nature. But consider that we face the same challenge whenever we learn anything new, whether it is baking, automotive repair, or astrophysics. These are all areas of human knowledge that have a specific terminology and methodology, and you cannot expect to know how to bake a soufflé, fix a valve cap leak, or explain black holes without any investment in learning the subject matter.

Let us return to our running analogy. Just as we must intend to run in order to do it, we must intend to think methodically in order to do it. When we become adept at running, we do not have to put in as much effort or thought. A fit body can perform physical tasks more easily than an unfit one. The mind is no different. A mind accustomed to logical reasoning will find activities of the intellect easier than an unfit one. The best part is that if you wish to achieve logical fitness, all you need to do is learn and practice the necessary tools for it. The purpose of this book is to guide you toward this goal.

Without a doubt, learning logic will be challenging. But keep in mind that starting a logical fitness program is very much like starting a physical fitness program: There will be a little pain in the beginning. When out-of-shape muscles are exercised, they hurt. You might find that some lessons or concepts might give you a bit of trouble. When this happens, don’t give up! In a physical fitness program, we know that if we keep going, over time the pain goes

Moral of the Story: Logic as a Skill Having a natural capacity for something does not amount to being good at it. Even as emotions seem to come so naturally, some people have to work at being less sensitive or more empa- thetic. The same is true for logical reasoning.

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Section 1.3 What Is Logic?

away, the muscles get in shape, and movement becomes joyful. Likewise, as you keep working diligently on learning and developing your natural logical abilities, you will discover that you understand new things more easily, reading is less of a struggle for you, and logical reasoning is actually fun and rewarding. Eventually, you will begin to recognize logical connections (or the lack thereof) that you did not previously notice, make decisions that you are less likely to regret, and develop the confidence to defend the positions you hold in a way that is less emotionally taxing.

1.3 What Is Logic? Having dispelled some common misconceptions, we can now occupy ourselves with a funda- mental question for this book: What is logic? A first attempt to define logic might be to say that it is the study of the methods and principles of good reasoning. This definition implies that there are certain principles at work in good reasoning and that certain methods have been developed to encourage it. It is important to clarify that these principles and methods are not a matter of opinion. They apply to someone in your hometown as much as to someone in the smallest village on the other side of the world. Furthermore, they are as suitable today as they were 200 or 2,000 years ago.

This definition is a good place to start, but it leaves open the questions of what we mean by “good reasoning” and what makes some reasoning good relative to others. Although it is admittedly difficult to cram answers to all possible questions into a pithy statement, defini- tions should attempt to be more specific. In this book, we shall employ the following defini- tion: Logic is the study of arguments that serve as tools for arriving at warranted judgments. Notice that this definition states how logic can be of service to you now, in your daily routine, and in whatever occupation you hold. To understand how this is the case, let us unpack this definition a bit.

The Study of Arguments This definition of logic does not explain that there are principles at work in good reasoning or that these princi- ples are not necessarily informed by experience: The meaning of the word argument in logic does the job. Argu- ment has a very technical meaning in logic, and for this reason, Chapter 2 is dedicated entirely to the definition of arguments—what they are, what they are not, what they consist of, and what makes them good. Later in this chap- ter, we will survey other meanings for the word argument outside of logic. Purestock/Thinkstock

In logic, an argument is the methodical presentation of one’s position on a topic, not a heated fight with another person.

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Section 1.3 What Is Logic?

For now, let us refer to an argument as a methodical defense of a position. Suppose that Diana is against a proposed increase in the tax rate. She decides to write a letter to the editor to pres- ent her reasons why a tax increase would be detrimental to all. She researches the subject, including what economists have to say about tax increases and the position of the opposition. She then writes an informed defense of her position. By advancing a methodical defense of a position, Diana has prepared an argument.

A Tool for Arriving at Warranted Judgments For our purposes, the word judgment refers simply to an informed evaluation. You examine the evidence with the goal of verifying that if it is not factual, it is at least probable or theo- retically conceivable. When you make a judgment, you are determining whether you think something is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, real or fake, delicious or disgusting, fun or boring, and so on. It is by means of judgments that we furnish our world of beliefs. The richer our world of beliefs, the clearer we can be about what makes us happy. Judgments are thus very important, so we need to make sure they are sound.

What about the word warrant? Why are warranted judgments preferable to unwarranted ones? What is a warrant? If you are familiar with the criminal justice system or television crime dramas, you may know that a warrant is an authoritative document that permits the search and seizure of potential evidence or the arrest of a person believed to have commit- ted a crime. Without a warrant, such search and seizure, as well as coercing an individual to submit to interrogation or imprisonment, is a violation of the protections and rights that individuals in free societies enjoy. The warrant certifies that the search or arrest of a person is justified—that there is sufficient reason or evidence to show that the search or arrest does not unduly violate the person’s rights. More generally, we say that an action is warranted if it is based on adequate reason or evidence.

Accordingly, our judgments are warranted when there is adequate reason or evidence for making them. In contrast, when we speak of something being unwarranted, we mean that it lacks adequate reason or evidence. For example, unwarranted fears are fears we have without good reason. Children may have unwarranted fears of monsters under their beds. They are afraid of the monsters, but they do not have any real evidence that the monsters are there. Our judgments are unwarranted when, like a child’s belief in lurking monsters under the bed, there is little evidence that they are actually true.

In the criminal justice system, the move from suspicion to arrest must be warranted. Simi- larly, in logic, the move from grounds to judgment must be warranted (see A Closer Look: War- rants for the Belief in God for an example). We want our judgments to be more like a properly executed search warrant than a child’s fear of monsters. If we fail to consider the grounds for our judgments, then we are risking our lives by means of blind decisions; our judgments are no more likely to give us true beliefs than false ones. It is thus essential to master the tools for arriving at warranted judgments.

It is important to recognize the urgency for obtaining such mastery. It is not merely another nice thing to add to the bucket list—something we will get around to doing, right after we trek to the Himalayas. Rather, mastering the argument—the fundamental tool for arriving at

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Section 1.3 What Is Logic?

A Closer Look: Warrants for the Belief in God Striving for warranted judgments might seem difficult when it comes to beliefs that we have accepted on faith. Note that not all that we accept on faith is necessarily related to God or religion. For example, we likely have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, that our spouses are honest with us, and that the car we parked at the mall will still be there when we return from shopping. Many American children have faith that the tooth fairy will exchange money for baby teeth and that Santa Claus will bring toys come Christmas. Are we reasoning correctly by judging such beliefs as warranted? Whatever your answer in regard to these other issues, questions of religious belief are more likely to be held up as beyond the reach of logic. It is important to recognize this idea is far from being obviously true. Many deeply religious people have nonetheless found it advisable to offer arguments in support of their beliefs.

One such individual was Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century Roman Catholic Dominican priest and philosopher. In his Summa Theo- logica (Aquinas, 1947), he advanced five logical arguments for God’s existence that do not depend on faith.

The 20th-century Oxford scholar and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, perhaps best known for the popular children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia, did not embrace his Anglican religion until he was in his thirties. In his books Mere Christianity and Miracles: A Preliminary Study, he employs reason to defend Christian beliefs and the logical possibility of miracles.

There are, of course, many more examples. The important point to draw from this is that all of our judgments of faith—from the faith in the sun rising tomorrow to the faith in the exis- tence of God—should be warranted beliefs and not just beliefs that we readily accept without question. In other words, even faith should make sense in order to be able to communicate such beliefs to those who do not share those beliefs. Note that philosophers who have pre- sented arguments in defense of their religious views have helped transform the nature of reli- gious disagreement to one in which the differences are generally debated in an intellectually enlightening way.

We have not yet reached the point in which differences in religious views are no longer the cause of wars or killing. Nonetheless, the power of argument in the formation of our beliefs is that it supports social harmony despite diversity and disagreement in views, and we all gain from presenting our unique positions in debated issues.

In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas advanced the idea that belief in the existence of God can be grounded in logical argument.

warranted judgments—is as essential as learning to read and write. Knowledge of logic is a relatively tiny morsel of information compared to all that you know thus far, but it has the capacity to change your life for the better.

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Section 1.4 Arguments Outside of Logic

Formal Versus Informal Logic Logic is a rich and complex field. Our focus here will be how logic contributes to the develop- ment and honing of critical thinking in everyday life. Primarily, the concepts we will discuss will reflect principles of informal logic. The principal aim in informal logic is to examine the reasoning we employ in the ordinary and everyday claims we make.

In contrast, formal logic is far more abstract, often involving the use of symbols and math- ematics to analyze arguments. Although this text will touch on a few formal concepts of logic in its discussions of deduction (see Chapter 3 and Chapter 4), the purpose in doing so is to develop methodology for good reasoning that is directly applicable to ordinary life.

1.4 Arguments Outside of Logic Although Chapter 2 will explore the term argument in more detail, it is important to clarify that the word is not exclusive to logic. Its meaning varies widely, and you may find that one of the descriptions in this section fits your own understanding of what is an argument. Knowing there is more than one meaning of this word, depending on context or application, will help you correctly understand what is meant in a given situation.

Arguments in Ordinary Language Often, we apply the word argument to an exchange of diverging views, sometimes in a heated, angry, or hostile setting. Suppose you have a friend named Lola, and she tells you, “I had an argument with a colleague at work.” In an ordinary setting you might be correct in under- standing Lola’s meaning of the term argument as equivalent to a verbal dispute. In logic, how- ever, an argument does not refer to a fight or an angry dispute. Moreover, in logic an argument does not involve an exchange between two people, and it does not necessarily have an emo- tional context.

Although in ordinary language an argument requires that at least two or more people be involved in an exchange, this is not the case in logic. A logical argument is typically advanced by only one person, either on his or her behalf or as the representative of a group. No exchange is required. Although an argument may be presented as an objection to another person’s point of view, there need not be an actual exchange of opposing ideas as a result.

Now, if two persons coordinate a presentation of their defenses of what can be identified as opposing points of view, then we have a debate. A debate may contain several arguments but is not itself an argument. Accordingly, only debates are exchanges of diverging views.

Even if a logical argument is both well supported and heartfelt, its emotional context is not its driving force. Rather, any emotion that may be inevitably tied in with the defense of the argu- ment’s principal claim is secondary to the reasons advanced. But let us add a little contextual reference to the matter of debates. If the arguments on each side of the debate are presented

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Section 1.4 Arguments Outside of Logic

well, then the debate may lead to the discovery of perspectives that each party had not pre- viously considered. As such, debates can be quite enlightening because every time our own perspective is broadened with ideas not previously considered and that are well supported and defended, it is very difficult for the experience to be negative. Instead, a good debate is an intellectually exhilarating experience, regardless of how attached one may be to the side one is defending.

Not even debates need to be carried out with an angry or hostile demeanor, or as a means to vent one’s frustration or other emotions toward the opposition. To surrender to one’s emo- tions in the midst of a debate can cause one to lose track of the opposition’s objections and, consequently, be able to muster only weak rebuttals.

Rhetorical Arguments Think about how politicians might try to persuade you to vote for them. They may appeal to your patriotism. They may suggest that if the other candidate wins, things will go badly. They may choose words and examples that help specific audiences feel like the politician empathizes with their situation. All of these techniques can be effective, and all are part of what someone who studies rhetoric—the art of persuasion—might include under the term argument.

Rhetoric is a field that uses the word argument almost as much as logic does. You are likely to encounter this use in English, communication, composition, or argumentation classes. From the point of view of rhetoric, an argument is an attempt to persuade—to change someone’s opinion or behavior. Because the goal of a rhetorical argument is persuasion, good arguments are those that are persuasive. In fact, any time someone attempts to persuade you to do some- thing, they can be seen as advancing an argument in this sense.

Moral of the Story: Defining the Word Argument To avoid conflating the two widely different uses of the word argument (that is, as a dis- pute in ordinary language and as a defense of a point of view in logic) is to use the word only in its classical sense. In its classical meaning, an argument does not refer to a vehicle to express emotions, complaints, insults, or provocations. For these and all other related meanings, there are a wide variety of terms that would do a better job, such as disagree- ment, quarrel, bicker, squabble, fight, brawl, altercation, having words, insult match, word combat, and so on. The more precise we are in our selection of words, the more efficient our communications.

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Section 1.4 Arguments Outside of Logic

Think about how you might have persuaded a sibling to do something for you when you were young. You might have offered money, tried to manipulate with guilt-inducing tactics, appealed to his or her sense of pride or duty, or just attempted to reason with him or her. All of these things can be motivating, and all may be part of a rhetorical approach to argu- ments. However, while getting someone to do something out of greed, guilt, pride, or pity can indeed get you what you want, this does not mean you have succeeded in achieving a justified defense of your position.

Some of the most impressive orators in history—Demosthenes, Cicero, Winston Churchill— were most likely born with a natural talent for rhetoric, yet they groomed their talent by becom- ing well educated and studying the speeches of previous great orators. Rhetoric depends not only on the mastery of a language and broad knowledge, but also on the fine-tuning of the use of phrases, metaphors, pauses, crescendos, humor, and other devices. However, a talent for rheto- ric can be easily employed by unscrupulous people to manipulate others. This characteristic is precisely what distinguishes rhetorical arguments from arguments in logic.

Whereas rhetorical arguments aim to persuade (often with the intent to manipulate), logical arguments aim to demonstrate. The distinction between persuading and demonstrating is crucial. Persuading requires only the appearance of a strong position, perhaps camouflaged by a strong dose of emotional appeal. But demonstrating requires presenting a position in a way that may be conceivable even by opponents of the position. To achieve this, the argument must be well informed, supported by facts, and free from flawed reasoning. Of course, an argument can be persuasive (meaning, emotionally appealing) in addition to being logically strong. The important thing to remember is that the fundamental end of logical arguments is not to persuade but to employ good reasoning in order to demonstrate truths.

Revisiting Arguments in Logic Suppose you and your friend watch a political debate, and she tells you that she thought one of the candidates gave a good argument about taxes. You respond that you thought the can- didate’s argument was not good. Have you disagreed with each other? You might think that you had, but you may just be speaking past each other, using the term argument in different senses. Your friend may mean that she found the argument persuasive, while you mean that the argument did not establish that the candidate’s position was true. It may turn out that you both agree on these points. Perhaps the candidate gave a rousing call to action regarding tax reform but did not spend much time spelling out the details of his position or how it would work to solve any problems. In this sort of case, the candidate may have given a good argu- ment in the rhetorical sense but a bad argument in the logical sense.

Moral of the Story: Persuasion Versus Demonstration Purely persuasive arguments are undoubtedly easier to advance, which makes them the per- fect tool for manipulation and deceit. However, only arguments that demonstrate with logic serve the end of pursuing truth; thus, they are the preferable ones to master.

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Section 1.5 The Importance of Language in Logic

To summarize:

• In contrast to ordinary arguments, logical arguments do not involve an exchange of any kind.

• In contrast to ordinary arguments and rhetorical arguments, logical arguments are not driven by emotions. In logic, only the reasons provided in defense of the conclu- sion make up the force of the argument.

• In contrast to rhetorical arguments, logical arguments are not primarily attempts to persuade, because there is no attempt to appeal to emotions. Rather, logical argu- ments attempt only to demonstrate with reasons. Of course, good logical arguments may indeed be persuasive, but persuasion is not the primary goal.

The goal of an argument in logic is to demonstrate that a position is likely to be true.

So before you go on to have a quarrel with your friend, make sure you are both using the word in the same way. Only then can you examine which sense of argument is the most crucial to the problem raised. Should we vote for a candidate who can get us excited about important issues but does not tell us how he or she proposes to solve them? Or shall we vote for a can- didate who may not get us very excited but who clearly outlines how he or she is planning to solve the nation’s problems?

In the rest of this book, you should read the word argument in the logical sense and no other. If the word is ever used in other ways, the meaning will be clearly indicated. Furthermore, outside of discussions of logic, you must clarify how the word is being used.

1.5 The Importance of Language in Logic The foregoing distinction of the different uses and meanings of the word argument show the importance of employing language precisely. In addition to creating misunderstandings, mis- used words or the lack of knowledge of distinctions in meaning also prevent us from formulat- ing clear positions about matters that pertain to our personal goals and happiness. Language affects how we think, what we experience, how we experience it, and the kind of lives we lead.

Language is our most efficient means of communicating what is in our minds. However, it is not the only means by which humans communicate. We also communicate via facial expres- sions, gestures, and emotions. However, these nonverbal cues often need clarifying words so we can clearly grasp what someone else is expressing or feeling, especially people we don’t know very well. If we see a stranger crying, for example, we might not be able to distinguish at first glance if the tears are from happiness or sadness. If we are visiting a foreign land and hear a man speaking in a loud voice and gesturing wildly, we might not know if he is quarrel- ling or just very enthusiastic unless we understand his language.

This suggests that words matter very much because they are the universal means for making ourselves clear to others. This may seem obvious, since we all use language to communi- cate and, generally speaking, seem to manage satisfactorily. What we do not often recognize,

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Section 1.5 The Importance of Language in Logic

however, is the difference we could experience if we took full advantage of clear and precise language in its optimal form. One result could be that many will no longer ignore what we say. Another could be that as our vocabulary expands, we will no longer be limited to what we can express to others or in what we can grasp from our experiences.

Suppose, for example, that you are invited to a dinner that unbeknownst to you introduces you to a spice you have never tasted before. As you savor the food on your plate, you may taste something unfamiliar, but the new flavor may be too faint for you, amidst the otherwise famil- iar flavors of the dish you are consuming. In fact, you may be cognitively unaware of the char- acter of this new flavor because you are unable to identify it by name and, thus, as a new flavor category in your experience.

According to philosopher David Hume (1757), many of us do not have a sensitive enough palate to actually recognize new or unfamiliar flavors in familiar taste experiences. For those who do, it would seem that the test of a sensitive palate lies not with strong flavors but with faint ones. However, recent neurobiological research suggests that our responses to taste are not entirely dependent on the refinement of our sensory properties but, rather, on higher levels of linguistic processing (Grabenhorst, Rolls, & Bilderbeck, 2008). In other words, if you cannot describe it, it may be quite possible you are unable to taste it; our ability to skillfully use language thus improves our experience.

Logicians and philosophers in general take lan- guage very seriously because it is the best means for expressing our thoughts, to be understood by others, and to clarify ideas that are in need of clarification. Communicating in a language, however, is more com- plex than we recognize. As renowned philosopher John Searle observed, “Speaking a language is engag- ing in a rule-governed form of behavior” (Searle, 1969, p. 22). This means that whenever we talk or write, we are performing according to specific rules. Pauses in speech are represented by punctuation marks such as commas or periods. If we do not pause, the meaning of the same string of words could change its meaning completely. The same prin- ciple applies in writing. But although we are more conscious of making such pauses in speech, sometimes we overlook their importance in writing. A clever saying on a T-shirt illustrates this point, and it reads as follows:

Let’s eat Grandma.

Let’s eat, Grandma.

Commas save lives.

Georgios Kollidas/iStock/Thinkstock

Hume’s essay Of the Standard of Taste stated that taste depends on the refinement of sensory properties, but recent neurobiological research suggests that taste may actually be dependent on language.

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Section 1.6 Logic and Philosophy

Indeed, even what may seem like a meaningless little comma can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. If we want to make sure others understand our written meaning, we need to be mindful of relevant punctuation, grammatical correctness, and proper spelling. If something is difficult to read because the grammar is faulty, punctuation is missing, or the words are misspelled, these obstacles will betray the writer’s meaning.

1.6 Logic and Philosophy By this point, you may have noticed that logic and philosophy are often mentioned together. There is good reason for this. Logic is not only an area of philosophy but also its bread and butter. It is important to understand the connection between these two fields because understanding the pursuit of philosophy will help clarify in your mind the value of logic in your life.

First, however, let us confront the elephant in the room. Some people have no idea what phi- losophers do. Others think that philosophers simply spend time thinking about things that have little practical use. The stereotypical image of a philosopher, for instance, is a bearded man asking himself: “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one else to hear it, is there sound?” Your response to this may be: “Why should anyone care?” The fact is that many do, and not only bearded philosophers: Such a question is also critical to those who work at the boundaries of philosophy and science, as well as scientists who investigate the nature of sound, such as physicists, researchers in medicine and therapy, and those in the industry of sound technology.

Spatial views regarding sound, for example, have given rise to three theories: (a) sound is where there is a hearer, (b) sound is in the medium between the resonating sound and the hearer, and (c) sound is at the resonating object (Casati & Dokic, 2014). Accordingly, the tree in the forest question would have the following three corresponding answers: (a) no, if sound is where there is a hearer; (b) no, if sound is in the medium between the resonating sound and a hearer; and (c) yes, if sound is located in the resonating object such as a human ear. This seemingly impractical question, as it turns out, is not only quite interesting but also bears tangible results that lead to our better understanding of acoustics, hearing impairments, and sound technology. The best part is that the results affect us all. Many modern technologies arose from a “tree in the forest” examination.

Moral of the Story: The Importance of Language in Logic Clarity, precision, and correctness in language are not only important to the practical quest of communicating your ideas to others; they are fundamental to the practice of logical reasoning.

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Section 1.6 Logic and Philosophy

The Goal of Philosophy Now that the practical nature of philo- sophical inquiry has been demonstrated, we can move to a more fruitful exami- nation of what exactly philosophy is. In one view, philosophy is the activity of clarifying ideas. It is an activity because philosophy is not fundamentally a body of knowledge (as is history or biology, for example) but rather an activity. The goal of philosophical activity is to clarify ideas in the quest for truth.

How does one clarify ideas? By asking questions—especially “why?,” “what does that mean?,” and “what do you mean?” Philosophers have observed that asking such questions may be a natural human inclination. Consider any 2-year-old. As he or she begins to com-

mand the use of language, the child’s quest seems to be an attempt to understand the world by identifying what things are called. This may be annoying to some adults, but if we understand this activity as philosophical, the child’s goal is clear: Names are associated with meanings, and this process of making distinctions and comparisons of similarity is essentially the philosophical mechanism for learning (Sokolowski, 1998).

Once we name things, we can distinguish things that are similar because names help us sepa- rate things that appear alike. To a 2-year-old, a toy car and a toy truck may appear similar—both are vehicles, for example, and have four tires—but their different names reflect that there are also differences between them. So a 2-year-old will most likely go on to ask questions such as why a car is not the same as a truck until she grasps the fundamental differences between these two things. This is the truth-seeking nature of philosophy.

Philosophy and Logical Reasoning Since children’s natural learning state is a philosophical attitude, by the time we start elemen- tary school, we already have a few years of philosophical thinking under our belt. Unfortu- nately, the philosophical attitude is not always sustained beyond this point. Over time, we stop clarifying ideas because we might get discouraged from asking or we just get tired or complacent. We then begin to accept everything that we are told or shown by those around us, including what we watch on television or learn through social media. Once we stop filter- ing what we accept by means of questions, as we did when we were very small children, we become vulnerable to manipulation and deceit.

When we stop using questions to rationally discern among alternatives or to make judgments concerning disputed social problems, we begin to rely entirely on emotions or on past experi- ence as the basis for our decisions and judgments. As discussed earlier in the chapter, although


Children’s inquisitive nature personifies the act of being philosophical. Asking questions to clarify ideas or seek the truth is fundamental to engaging in philosophy.

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Summary and Resources

emotions are valid and worthwhile, they can also be unreliable or lead us to make rash deci- sions. This may be somewhat inconsequential if we are simply buying something on impulse at the mall. But if we make judgments based purely on fear or anger, then emotions have much more dire consequences, perhaps causing us to mistreat or discriminate against others.

Past experience can also be misleading. Consider Jay, a university student, who has done very well in his first four university courses. He has found the courses relatively easy and not very demanding, so he assumes that all university courses are easy. He is then surprised when he discovers that Introduction to Physics is a challenging course, when he should have rationally recognized that undertaking a university education is a challenging task. Asking himself questions about the past courses—subject matter, professor, and so on—may help Jay adjust his expectations.

Let us review two important points that we have discussed so far. First, philosophy is an activity of clarifying ideas. Second, the goal of philosophy is to seek truth about all phenom- ena in our experience. Logic provides us with an effective method for undertaking the task of philosophy and discovering truths. This view has thus remained mainstream in Western philosophy. When we think philosophically with regard to our mundane practical purposes, logic offers us the tools to break the habit of relying on our emotions, feelings, or our past experiences exclusively for making our decisions. Arriving at this recognition alone in your own case will be part and parcel of your journey, with this book as your guide.

Summary and Resources

Chapter Summary We have covered a lot of ground in this chapter. First we introduced the ideas of critical thinking and logic as tools that help us identify warranted judgments. In other words, if we have a belief, then logic helps us find an argument that warrants either our acceptance or rejection of this belief. By means of arguments, logic thus helps us clarify when our judg- ments are warranted and our beliefs are likely true. Second, we have presented a prelimi- nary understanding of the argument as a methodical defense of a position advanced in relation to a disputed issue. Arguments provide us with a structure that will help us discern fact from purely emotional appeal and identify sober judgment from wishful thinking. Third, we have defined philosophy as an activity of clarifying ideas. As such, it can be applied to ideas in every activity—for example, raising children, learning, tasks at work, cooking, mak- ing decisions—and to every discipline—for example, physics, mathematics, economics, biol- ogy, information systems, engineering, sociology, and so on.

Chapter 2 will introduce you to the argument, the principal tool of logic. Chapters 3 through 8 will teach you the applications of logical reasoning, and Chapter 9 will show you how the knowledge that you gained can be applied in your everyday life. Approach these chapters methodically: Do a first reading to get a general idea, then go back and focus on the details of each section of the chapters, always taking notes. Keep in mind that what you are learning is a method for thinking, so you cannot adopt it simply by reading. Practice what you are learning by doing the indicated exercises and activities.

The goal of this chapter has been to show you why logic is an indispensable tool in your life. (For some thoughts on how critical thinking and logic might apply to your life as a student,

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Summary and Resources

see Everyday Logic: Thinking Critically About Your Studies.) Over the course of this book, you will see how logical reasoning can help you make wiser choices. You will also find that the benefits extend beyond yourself, since by developing the habit of good reasoning you will also become more enlightened parents, better spouses, wiser voters, and more productive community members. There is a fundamental humanity in logical reasoning that brings people together rather than alienating them from one another. To achieve the habit of logical reasoning, this book will lead you in a methodical process in which each chapter will pro- vide you with an important element. Each component of this book is not only important but also necessary in learning the tools of logical reasoning.

Everyday Logic: Thinking Critically About Your Studies

You will likely find that there are multiple opportunities to apply and develop critical thinking skills in your life, but one of the most obvious opportunities at this juncture should be in your academic career. As you move forward in your studies, the decisions you make about partici- pation and study habits will affect your ability to succeed, so it is important that you approach them thoughtfully, carefully, and even critically. The goal of this feature box is to provide some insight into how good thinkers approach their studies and to offer some concrete methods for developing your own vision of academic success.

How have you approached school and education throughout your life? From a theoretical standpoint, all students know that the goal of college is to leave with skills that will allow them to pursue certain careers or, at the very least, help them survive and pursue their conception of a good life. Recall how interested you were in the world around you as a child or perhaps how excited you became when you acquired a new skill or discovered a new interest. These feelings and experiences are the essence of learning. Unfortunately, many people’s experience in formal education is not one of wonder and enjoyment, but one of boredom and tedium. The experience of the young child who found wonder and joy in discovering new things is often crushed in formal educational experiences.

So what can we do? How can we learn to love learning again and improve our thinking and study skills to make the most of our education? First you must identify and address your weak- nesses and bad habits. Do you aim only to pass a class, cramming for tests or doing the bare minimum on assignments, instead of steadily studying, reading, and taking notes for retention and understanding? Do you tune out when you think material is boring? Do you avoid asking questions because you are afraid of looking foolish or because it is easier to just accept ideas at face value? Do you allow certain activities to interfere with your studies?

It is impossible to change all of our bad habits instantaneously, but starting with just one or two can make a great difference. Here are some methods you can use to begin the journey toward becoming a better student and thinker:

• Avoid trying to multitask while studying, and perhaps even consider “fasting” from any media that tend to distract you or occupy inordinate amounts of your time. Tell oth- ers to turn off the TV, Xbox, computer, and so forth when they see you zoning out while engaging in these activities.

• Keep a journal and record urges that you have to fall into bad habits as well as goals you have for your intellectual and academic future. Make note of your triumphs over those negative urges. Review the journal regularly and reflect on how you are changing through what you are learning.


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Summary and Resources

• Surround yourself with people who will push you to higher levels of thinking and social action.

• Read slowly and repeatedly. Having to read a text more than once does not mean you are a poor reader. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that to read well, a human must become a cow. What does that mean? It means we need to ruminate, to chew and chew until we can swallow the meal. The process continues until we swallow and the food stays down, becoming nourishment to our minds.

• Take notes and practice writing skills when you get some free time. Try to learn a new grammar or usage rule every week. For example, do you know exactly when you should use a semicolon? If not, look it up right now. It is a really simple rule.

• Teach what you are learning to others. One of the best ways to determine if you have knowledge of something is if you can explain it and teach it to someone else.

• Recognize that this will take years of practice and will probably be slow going at first. Remember that small positive changes will add up to a whole new way of thinking and approaching life over time.

Finally, always remember that we are privileged to have the opportunity to pursue education. There are billions of people that will never have the opportunity to go to school or to provide that opportunity to their loved ones. Reformatting our perspective from one of frustration to one of gratitude can do a lot to change the way we approach education and learning. As you move forward this week, think about the following questions and how you might make changes in your own life that will lead to positive intellectual change.

• What is my view of education, and what experiences led me to that view? • What are my greatest strengths as a student? • What are my greatest weaknesses as a student? • How do I waste my time, and what might I do to utilize that time more effectively? • What is something I can do today that will help me become a better student and thinker? • What am I learning, and how has what I have learned changed who I am?

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