Free teaching resource: the basics of critical thinking: Argument structure and fallacies

Preamble

It is with great pleasure I am able to announce that anyone may use this document to teach privately or in any classroom environment, worldwide free of charge. One may reproduce this document electronically as many times as needed. Consider it a teaching resource free of charge.

I have included some exercises I hope you will use and share to hone the skills I have imparted in this document.
This article is for the young generation. We are now entering a world where the media, government, marketing firms and religious groups will to have power to influence our lives and convince us in ways never before seen, and a large portion of what they will try to tell us will be 100% bunk.
That’s why critical thinking is important.

Critical thinking, among other things is the ability to decide for yourself if the stuff someone else is telling you is a lie, misinformation or just maybe the truth. If we don’t get these skills universally acknowledged as a crucial component of basic education, and get them into as many education systems worldwide the future looks grim for our media crazy, information hungry, brave new world.

I'm very interested to know if you do use this information, and what the demand is, so please do take a moment to contact me if you found this resource useful.

What is an argument?

Good question. wikipedia defines an argument as "an attempt to persuade someone of something, by giving reasons for accepting a particular conclusion as evident."

let's go with that.

Arguments are the bread and butter of basic persuasion, but to fully understand what an argument is you have to understand what makes an argument. An argument has three parts:

1) The premise(s),

2) The inference indicator

3) The conclusion

The premise of an argument is the supporting information/evidence that backs up the conclusion.

The conclusion is the idea/point the argument is making and the inference links the two.

How does one explain the job of the inference indicator? I guess you could say the inference indicator shows the relevance of the premise and the conclusion being in the same sentence. Inference indicators commonly take the form of words such as “therefore, thus, hence, because, as and so”.

An argument does not always have to have an inference indicator.

For example in this following argument the premise will be underlined, the conclusion will be in italics the inference indicator will be in bold.

You should not eat the meat because the meat is poisoned and might kill you.

An argument should have these parts. Some statements may seem like arguments but are not really, here are some examples.

My iPod is white.” This is a description, not an argument. It argues nothing.

“The rolling stones are the better then Bieber.”

This may be correct but it cannot be called as an argument by itself, at best it can be called a statement of opinion, unless you have more to support it, For example: “The rolling stones are better than Bieber because they are older and have more experience.”

In this last example “the rolling stones are better than Bieber” becomes the conclusion because the fact that the stones have had more experience than Bieber supports the conclusion that they are “better.”

To use this statement as a premise of an argument you might say, “The rolling stones are better than Bieber so you should skip the Bieber concert and go to the rolling stones concert instead.”

As you can probably tell by now in this case the conclusion of the argument is “you should skip the Bieber concert and go to the rolling stones concert instead.”

In this case the fact that the stones are better than Bieber supports the conclusion that you should skip the Bieber concert in favour of the stones. This in itself may be an argument but not at all a very strong one. Just because the stones are better than Bieber does not you should choose their concert, the rolling stones concert tickets might cost you more money; you may need to pay the rent and by choosing the stones over Bieber you might just end up being evicted, or losing your beautiful girlfriend who won’t date a poor guy.

Exercise 1.0

Look through the examples below:

Highlight the premises

Underline the conclusion

Circle the inference indicators.

a) House prices are rising; therefore you should sell your house.

b) If I lived here I would be home by now. I do live here, it follows then that I am at home.

c) That thing you saw can’t have been a ghost because ghosts do not exists.

d) Hot dogs are made of meat. I stick to a vegan diet which forbids meat. I will not be eating the hotdog


Fallacies

How to define a fallacy? oxford defines it as "a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound arguments."

There are thousands of types of fallacies, i've only included a few here.

False dichotomy

When the person claims only two alternatives are possible when in fact at least a third is at least plausible.

You are either with us or the terrorists.”

Straw man argument

Accusing someone of holding a position they do not actually hold.

"Obama said he wants to ban all guns"

Definist fallacy

Defining a term incorrectly for the sake of an argument.

"lets us call anyone who supports this legislation a just righteous patriot".

Begging the question

An argument in which the premise relies on the truth of the conclusion.

"This new soft drink is so popular because everyone likes it".

Argument from Irrelevant authority

When an argument is supported by someone who has no credentials to be considered a relevant authority on a subject

"Bill Clinton's dietary advice is foolproof, because he's a former world leader".

Appeal to adverse consequences such as fear or scare tactics

In this case an argument is supported by fear or prospect of bad things happening over logic and reason.

"Nobody will want to be your friend if you fail to buy our product."

Argument ad populum

When it is assumed an argument or parts of one must be true or false because the majority think it so.

"Most kids buy our clothing so you should to".

Weasel words

Weasel words are a little different from fallacies. Weasel words are words, phrases, sentences or slogans that may appear to have meaning but when you analyse them they turn out to have no meaning or value. Politicians and advertisers use weasel words a lot. weasel words are usually quite vague.

The name “weasel word” is believed to come from the natural phenomena in which a weasel sucks the insides out of an egg but leaves the egg appearing whole and to still have substance, when in fact there is nothing of value inside, much like the weasel words which may appear to have value but in are in fact only superficially attractive.

Here are some examples of weasel words:

Logic would suggest you should shop at Wal-Mart.”

What logic? There are no facts provided to back this up.

“Our government’s parental paid scheme will cover all bases.”

What defines a “base” exactly? This seems intentionally vague.

“Experts recommend using mouth every night wash before bed.”

What experts? In what field are these experts? Marketing? Archaeology?

Exercise 2.0

Look through the list below, decide which passages are weasel worlds and which are fallacies. Identify which fallacies below correspond with the names given above.

a) If you don’t give us money and tell us every bad thing you ever did and live like we want you to live then you will go to hell, and suffer incredible pain for eternity

b) You’re a liar, because you lie

c) Hitler’s communist point of view led to the second world war

d) Everyone at this climate summit thinks climate change is man-made; therefore climate change must be man-made.

e) The bible is god’s word; we know this because it was written by god

f) Let us call all conservatives what they are: men who are afraid of moving forward

g) Experts see the value in buying Volvo

h) If you don’t buy our guns you endanger your family

i) You either love Ronald Reagan or you hate him

j) I stand against Obama’s Stalinist position

k) Everyone loves heath ledger, so he must be good

l) Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters

m) Jack is an expert physician; he’s perfect to tutor us about rain density

n) the liberals want everyone to get gay married

o) if you wear a high ponytail you can’t hang out with us

p) If you’re not early your late

q) Every true American will stand by our troops

r) The head of the Indian gaming confederation is perfectly suited to lecture at our college about space flight budget cuts

s) There are subversive undercurrents in our culture

t) America is either a democracy or a republic, it cannot and never will be both

u) If you don’t support the war in Vietnam, communists will have turned this country in to a parking lot by Christmas

v) Specialists are calling George bush the worst president in our history




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Comments 2 comments

OdysseusMakridis profile image

OdysseusMakridis 2 years ago from Netcong, NJ

Although each fallacy needs to be shown analytically to be such (the burden is carried by the "accuser"), it may not be the case really that the number of informal fallacy types is open-ended. Consider as basic types: Ambiguity, Relevance, Presumption and Suppression about Premises, Weak Induction. I also think that there is a Vagueness type and some people have a category of Wrongly Persuasive Non-Arguments. Then you should be able to fit each fallacy under at least one of those types. For instance, "begging the question" seems to go under Presumption - although some place it under Wrongly Persuasive Non-Arguments.

odysseusmakridis.hubpages.com


conrad macLean profile image

conrad macLean 2 years ago Author

g'day mate, thank you for your comment.

If i consider that all informal fallacies fit into the rather unspecific basic types "Ambiguity, Relevance, Presumption and Suppression about Premises and Weak Induction", i still see no reason why the number of informal fallacies should be open ended within those categories.

Also if my student claimed a fallacy was such, merely because of it's "presumption" i would ask them to be more specific. i could not award them marks for that.

We have names like "begging the question" because some fallacies within the categories you describe are structured differently and this needs to be specified for critical analysis.

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