To be a good critical thinker a key skill required centres on being able to analyse and present in the form of arguments. If we consider Critical Thinking as an equation:
And then consider that:
Critical reading = argument analysis
Critical writing = argument building
We can see the importance of being able to work with arguments in an academic or workplace environment.
When analysing an argument you are actually evaluating it to determine whether it is logical and persuasive. In other words, is the argument strong and is the conclusion fully supported? We will cover this as we proceed through this discussion about arguments. Firstly, let us stop for a moment and understand what an argument consists of.
Quite simply, an argument is a claim that is supported by reasons or evidence. This means that when presenting an argument, an author is trying to persuade the reader that something is true or correct by presenting supporting reasons or evidence. It does this by presenting logical reasons and evidence to support the claim or viewpoint.
The constituent parts of an argument are:
• THE ISSUE – the problem or controversy about which people disagree
• THE CLAIM - the position on the issue and the point of the argument
• THE SUPPORT - reasons and evidence that the claim is reasonable and should be accepted. A reason being a general statement supporting the claim, an evidence being facts, statistics, experiences, comparisons and/or examples
• THE REFUTATION - opposing viewpoints
• THE CONCLUSION – a statement that confirms the claim has been supported.
An issue may have several associated arguments and each of these should have one claim and one conclusion, but several reasons and pieces of supporting evidence. The supporting statements or evidence are called premises and there re key words that indicate that a premise is about to b presented. For example:
- Supporting that
- Accounting that
- Given that
- For example
- For the reason that
- In that
- Given that
- As indicated by
- Due to
- Owing to
- This can be seen from
- We know this by
- In addition
- What’s more
Similarly indicator words that signal that a conclusion is about to be stated will include:
The premises should provide a logical link between the claim and the conclusion, and a key question when evaluating an argument is,” Do the premises provide enough logical support to support the conclusion?” Below are some common errors made in logical reasoning, more often called logical fallacies.
1. Red Herring Fallacy: where the writer tries to side-track the reader by raising an irrelevant issue.
2. Hasty Generalisation – where a conclusion derived from insufficient or biased evidence
3. Non Sequitur - “It Does Not Follow”
4. Faulty Analogies – where the conclusion depends on a comparison between two dissimilar things
5. Appeal to Authority – relying on the view of apparent authorities to settle the truth.
There are many more such fallacies and if you are interested some simple research will easily surface more.
The process for analysing/evaluating an argument quite simple and the steps are laid out below:
- Identify the claim.
- Outline the reasons/premises to support the claim.
- Identify the types of evidence being used.
- Identify the conclusion.
- Identify any assumptions.
- Evaluate the adequacy and sufficiency of the evidence i.e. do the premises logically support the conclusion.
- Does the author recognise or refute counter arguments?
Assumptions have been introduced here and they consist of things the author takes for granted without presenting any proof (in other words, what the author believes or accepts as true and bases the argument on). Hidden assumptions, or ones the reader has not identified, can be used to justify an argument, in effect, “by jumping to conclusions”. To avoid this the reader should:
· Look for gaps in the argument
· Work out what the missing link is in the chain of reasoning
· Check to see whether the conclusion would still be supported without those hidden assumptions
Finally, you may think that this discussion does not align with my PEE acronym discussed in previous blog. But to compare the two:
CLAIM = Position or Point of the Argument
PREMISE = Explanation and Evidence
The only difference is we have now discussed bringing your PEE to a Conclusion!
I hope this has been useful in helping you analyse, evaluate and write better arguments.