The Aristotelian Foundations of Critical Thinking

Dialectic and rhetoric have acquired negative connotations in the last several decades. This presentation suggests that a return to the Aristotelian notions of dialectic and rhetoric can recover the valid senses of those terms, and provide a standpoint from which contemporary contributions to rhetoric and argumentation theory (e.g., Perelman, Grootendorst/van Eemeren) can be viewed in a positive way. An overview of fallacies rounds out how logic, argumentation theory and rhetoric intersect to comprise the subject matter of modern critical thinking as a locus of interdisciplinary study.

Here is the link to the SlideShare:
Aristotelian Foundations of Critical Thinking from William Minto.

Argumentum Ad Hominem: Bias and the Case Against Industry-Funded Research

Here are some contentious questions guaranteed to start an argument:

  • Do oil companies fund research that is more likely to minimize the threat of climate change or downplay the risks of fracking?
  • Do tobacco companies fund research that is more likely to minimize the health risks of smoking?
  • Do pharmaceutical companies fund research that is more likely to minimize the health risks of a novel drug?

For some people, these are rhetorical questions. Their intuition in such cases cries “yes!” Do maxims like “follow the money” and “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” spring to mind as relevant under these circumstances? For others, these questions are tantamount to ad hominem fallacies driven by a knee-jerk anti-corporatist mentality. Who is right?

Argumentum Ad Hominem

For many years, any ad… Continue reading

Climate Change Skepticism and Argumentum Ad Baculum

Consider this recent blog post by Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker (Jan. 6, 2014), “Polar Vortex Causes Hundreds of Injuries as People Making Snide Remarks About Climate Change Are Punched in Face.” Ask yourself whether it is an example of argumentum ad baculum.

MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—The so-called polar vortex caused hundreds of injuries across the Midwest today, as people who said “so much for global warming” and similar comments were punched in the face.

Authorities in several states said that residents who had made ignorant comments erroneously citing the brutally cold temperatures as proof that climate change did not exist were reporting a sharp increase in injuries to the face and head regions.

In an emergency room in St. Paul, Harland Dorrinson, forty-one, was waiting to be treated… Continue reading

Dispensing With Facts

“If your faith is big enough, facts don’t count.”

It is tempting to dismiss this sort of claim as nonsense. But suppose it isn’t nonsense, i.e., that there was some attempt at thought involved in making this claim. What could that be?

One answer is suggested by a post earlier this month on where the author proposes a “critical thinking framework” for evaluating truth claims called the ASK framework.

The basic assumption of this framework is that there are no uninterpreted facts.

You may have heard the saying “the facts speak for themselves.” But stop and think for a moment: do they really? If you walk along a creek and notice some fossils in the rocks, do the fossils tell you how old they are or how… Continue reading

Formally Valid Non Sequiturs?

One common conception identifies logical fallacies with arguments “that seem valid, but are not.” This definition is difficult to sustain however, because there are arguments so obviously fallacious that they would probably would not trick anyone with their “seeming validity.” While there are fallacious arguments that are invalid, there are examples of fallacious arguments that are valid, while others are even sound. In order to notice these examples, and identify their logical shortcomings, we need to use the tools of informal logic, not being content to let formal validity or formal fallaciousness decide the ultimate logical disposition of a given argument.

Formal Fallacies – Fallacies of Relevance?

What is wrong with this argument?

(P1) All collies are animals.
(P2) All dogs are animals.
(C)  Therefore, all collies are… Continue reading

OSSA Conference: Virtues of Argumentation

The Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA) is holding its annual conference at the University of Windsor (Ontario, Canada) on May 22-25, 2013. This year, the theme of the conference is “Virtues of Argumentation.”

Keynote speakers include Daniel H. Cohen, Marianne Doury and G. Thomas Goodnight. Other speakers include Anthony Blair, Frans van Eemeren, Robert Ennis, James Freeman, Trudy Govier, Leo Groarke, Donald Hatcher, Ralph Johnson, Robert Pinto, Robert Rowland, Harvey Siegel, Jean Wagemans, Douglas Walton, and many other thought leaders in the field from around the globe.

I have been invited to provide commentary on a paper by Dmitri Bokmelder on the subject of “Cognitive biases and logical fallacies.” Here is the abstract of his paper:

Cognitive biases identified in psychology are indications of imperfect reasonableness of… Continue reading

Employers’ Demand for Critical Thinking Skills Triples

According to the Website, the proportion of posted job descriptions calling for “critical thinking” has increased 300% over the past seven years. This is consistent with other observations that critical thinking in the workplace continues to increase in significance.

An Argumentative Theory of Reasoning

In October, I had the pleasure of attending a symposium on the “Argumentative Theory of Reasoning” at which the keynote speaker was psychologist Hugo Mercier, co-author with Dan Sperber of a landmark paper published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 2011 entitled “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory.” Mercier’s presentation was organized by the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and Rhetoric at the University of Windsor (Ontario). In this post, I’ll summarize in my own words the key points and lines of argument in Mercier’s presentation. (More details can be found in the original Sperber-Mercier paper, available online).

What is Reasoning?

According to Mercier, reasoning is the cognitive process in which reasons are used to weigh decisions and justify beliefs. As such, reasoning is not… Continue reading

Libertarian Paternalism?

Human beings have the capacity to reason. But we often don’t do it nearly as well as we could. We all make choices in our lives that add up to socially suboptimal outcomes. Could the government do better making some choices for us? Should it?

Consider the libertarian argument for the claim that a just society is one in which individual rights are rigorously and consistently protected by law. The key premise in this argument is that these rights — i.e., to life, liberty and property — are of paramount importance because each individual person requires these as conditions for the exercise of rationality. But if human beings don’t in fact exercise this capacity as they might (and perhaps as they should) would this ensure that the case for… Continue reading

“Islamophobia” and Other Illegitimate Neologisms

In common usage, “phobia” connotes fear. Nevertheless, the term “Islamophobe” can legitimately be applied to people with a prejudicial hatred of Muslims, too. On the other hand, when the term is used to characterize someone with informed critical objections to the substance of Islamic doctrine, it is a smear. The proper term to describe the informed critic is “anti-Islamist.”

Phobias as Psychiatric Disorders

A perceived danger will provoke a “flight or fight” response in any animal, human beings included. When a person’s perception routinely misrepresents the actual severity of a type of threat, this might indicate the presence of a “phobia.” A fear of spiders, for example, is arachnophobia; a fear of heights is acrophobia.  In the most common psychiatric sense of the term, a phobia is an… Continue reading