Sunday, May 31, 2015

Critical Thinking

1.  Discuss what constitutes a good argument, how arguments work and what makes some arguments better than others. (minimum 600 words)
To be able to discuss what makes a good argument, we first need to explain what an argument is in general.  An argument is defined as “a group of statements either within one larger sentence or within a group of grammatically distinct sentences, such that one or more of the statements are said to ‘support,’ ‘prove,’ or ‘provide evidence for’ one other statement” (Capaldi 18).   An argument is made up of two primary pieces, the premises and a conclusion. The premises “provide reasons for believing something” (Kahane and Cavender 4).  In other words, premises are the statements in an argument that provide support for the conclusion.  The conclusion is the section of the statement that the argument is trying to prove.  For example:
Premise 1:  All owls have feathers.
Premise 2:  All birds have feathers.
Conclusion:  All owls are birds.
Defining a “good” or “cogent” argument is a lot more complicated because a good argument must meet several criteria.  First, the premises in the argument must be true, or at least believable, based on the knowledge that we already have.   The premises contained in the argument should also imply that the conclusion is also true.  In the example above, the premises both seem to be factual and support the final conclusion.  The validity of the premises is important because the premises of an argument are intended to prove the conclusion, and beginning with false statements makes the argument less believable overall.  In the example above, if I changed the second premise from “All birds have feathers” to “Only birds have feathers” there are some people who would point out that dinosaurs may have had feathers as well, making one of the premises untrue and leading to the possibility of doubt in the conclusion.  The second aspect of a good argument is including all of the important and relevant information.  It is important to not neglect information that may be contrary to the conclusion of the argument. 
In addition to the aspects above, the reasoning in the argument should also be “valid”.  Validity is defined as “well-grounded or justifiable; logically correct” (Merriam Webster).   In the case of an argument, the premises should “provide good grounds for accepting the conclusion” (Kahane and Cavender 6).  Being valid means that there isn’t a logical situation where the premises are true but the conclusion is false.  The argument can be considered valid if it follows all the rules of form that are expected of an argument (Capaldi 21). 
A good argument is one that is also said to be “sound”.  Soundness is defined as “free from error, fallacy, or misapprehension; exhibiting or based on thorough knowledge and experience” (Merriam Webster).  An argument is considered “sound” if it is formally valid and has premises that are also all true (Capaldi 21).  The premises should all be examined, both for factual information and soundness.   Soundness is important to a good argument because, while a valid argument may have false premises, a sound argument does not. In the example above, we have already determined that the premises are plausible, and the argument is valid, so the example can also be considered to be sound. 
One aspect of an argument that isn’t based around the facts alone is presentation.  Presentation can easily make one argument appear to be more effective than another.  The goal of an argument is to persuade those who see it to believe the conclusion.  An argument needs to successfully express the message it is trying to communicate.  Any argument that is not well presented may appear false or invalid, even if the argument itself contains sound logic and premises.  Contrarily, an argument can have an excellent presentation, but still be invalid, so a good presentation is compelling, but will not add to the validity or soundness of an argument. 
            An argument is intended to convince participants of a specific conclusion.  The goal of a good argument should be to provide sound and valid premises in an effective presentation in order to allow the participants to arrive at the proposed conclusion. 

2.  What is the difference between inference and deduction? (minimum 100 words)
Inference and deduction are both ways of processing logic.  Inference is defined as “the act or process of reaching a conclusion about something from known facts or evidence” while deduction is defined as “the act or process of using logic or reason to form a conclusion or opinion about something” (Merriam Webster).  These two definitions are very similar, but the two terms mean slightly different things.  Inference is when you have specific information about something, and make a generalized conclusion based upon that information. These conclusions can be proved or disproven based on observations or the introduction of new facts.  Deduction, however, is when you have general data and use it to make a specific conclusion based on that information.   

3.  What is a fallacy? (minimum 100 words)
A fallacy is defined as “a wrong belief: a false or mistaken idea” (Merriam Webster).  However, in the case of and argument, fallacy takes on a slightly different connotation.  Within arguments, fallacies are described as errors in reasoning or logic that will undermine the legitimacy of an argument (Purdue University).   These fallacies can be caused by a lack of evidence or because irrelevant information was presented as part of the argument.  Fallacies can be presented in several different forms including: generalizations, false causes, appeals to pity, and others (UNC College of Arts & Sciences).  
Making generalizations in an argument uses stereotypes as premises to prove the argument.  For example: “My mom’s car was a Ford and broke down, and my Ford broke down, so all Fords break down.”  This argument works on the generalized idea of Ford vehicles that may not accurately portray the facts, which leaves a possible fallacy in the argument.
False cause is when an assumption is made about the relationship between two items that does not exist. This type of fallacy looks at item 2 and assumes that, because it happened after item 1, item 1 caused it to happen.  For example: “The moon was full and then my basement flooded.  Therefore, the full moon caused my basement to flood.”  While these two events may have happened sequentially, there is no direct evidence that the moon had any influence on the state of the basement. 
Appealing to pity is something that I frequently witness as a parent.  In this type of argument, the arguer tries to convince the listener to accept their conclusion because they feel pity toward the arguer.  For example, “I didn’t clean my room because I stubbed my toe and it hurt a lot, and then it was cold in my bedroom, and I had a stomach ache.  So I shouldn’t be in trouble.”  
There are many other types of fallacies that can be presented in an argument.  However, all of them are based on the fact that the premises of the argument have failed to be based upon solid facts. 

4.  What is the difference between an inference and a premise? (minimum 100 words)
As I stated in a previous question, inference is when you have specific information about something, and make a generalized conclusion based upon that information. These conclusions can be proved or disproven based on observations or the introduction of new facts.  However, a premise is defined as “a statement or idea that is accepted as being true and that is used as the basis of an argument” (Merriam Webster).  The premises of an argument “provide reasons for believing something” (Kahane and Cavender 4).  In other words, premises are the statements in an argument that provide support for the conclusion, while inferences are the reasoning parts of the argument.
5.  Discuss the effect of bias on thought and moral reasoning. (minimum 100 words)
Bias is defined as “a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others that usually results in treating some people unfairly” (Merriam Webster).  No matter how open-minded we try to be, as humans we all carry a certain level of bias in our thoughts and reasoning.  We see things from a different perspective than everyone else, and notice or emphasize some things over others based upon our past experiences, desires, and opinions.  This is a natural part of our thought process and moral reasoning.  However, biases become a problem when they lead to irrational favoritism or resistance to a specific argument, despite factual premises. 

6.  Take an Indo-European topic essay of a minimum of five pages in length and analyze it for soundness, validity, fallacies, rhetorical devices and overall quality of composition. (minimum 600 words)
            The essay that I have chosen to analyze is “Warriors and Their Weapons” written by Deborah Kest and posted on the ADF website.  The direct link can be found in the bibliography below. 
            This article is subtitled “an argument for continuing to permit carry weapons at festivals” and focuses on explaining why the author believes this to be true.  I will begin by stating that this article is obviously quite biased toward the author’s conclusion, and the writing style is defensive and occasionally snarky because of her stance on the situation. 
The author begins this essay by disproving several arguments against their opinion as proof for their conclusion.  There are five separate arguments presented against the overall conclusion of this essay. They are:  sheathed weapons are dangerous in the presence of children, visible weaponry gives ADF a bad image, weapons are a tool of war and killing has no place in ADF, warriors should be considerate of those who do not wish to deal with weapons, and if the community has concerns about the warrior’s carrying weapons and the warrior has no obvious reason for doing so then it should be restricted.  I’ll address these arguments individually. 
Argument 1:  Weapons are Dangerous to Children
            The first argument against weapons at ADF festivals is the idea that weapons are dangerous, especially when children are around.  The author uses the premises below to disprove this argument: 
Premise 1:  The SCA have had events for 15 years without an incident.  
Premise 2: A child can’t get into a weapon carried by a responsible adult.
Premise 3:  Parents ought to better watch their children if they are worried.
Conclusion:  Weapons are not inherently unsafe as long as sensible roles are in place

            Unfortunately, there are several issues with the premises of this argument.  First, the claim that the SCA hasn’t had an incident in 15 years is, admittedly, a non-verified claim.  Doing a quick google search results in numerous injury reports from several different SCA groups, including the Kingdom of Drachenwald, found here: http://www.drachenwald.sca.org/node/159.  This report shows several injuries, including broken bones, concussions, muscle strains, and other injuries.  While none of these injuries are life threatening, they do make it clear that the SCA hasn’t made it 15 years without any incidents, making this premise a fallacy.
            The second premise relies on the fact that the person carrying a weapon is “responsible” and there is no set standard for “responsibility,” so this is a fact that also cannot be verified as true.  The third premise is that parents should be more responsible for their children or perhaps not bring them at all.  This premise to me shows the bias of the writer, showing that they believe the attendance of a weapon at a festival as being more important than the family-friendly environment. These issues lead me to believe that this is definitely not a good argument because it is not sound or valid.
Argument 2:  Visible Weaponry Gives ADF a Bad Image
            The second argument that the author works to argue against is the idea that visible weaponry gives ADF a bad image from an outside perspective. 
Premise 1:  The SCA holds events with weapons and don’t receive bad
publicity.  
Premise 2: Reporters will focus on other negative aspects of participants
Conclusion:  Bad publicity shouldn’t be the basis of ADF policies

            The first premise for this argument once again turns to the SCA for comparison, and uses unverified information as the base.  Once again doing a quick search on the Internet, the official SCA site admits to having a negative image stating, “while we have a vaguely negative media image” (Nicolai) so comparing our reputation to theirs may not be in our best interest.  Also, the relevance of this comparison is something that I question because, while there is crossover between memberships, SCA is a hobby-type group, while ADF is a church.
            The second premise is based upon opinion and not a fact, stating that they think reporters will focus on other negative perceptions instead of the weapons.  There is no way to know that this is factual, so using it as a premise for the argument makes the entire argument appear to be unsound.
Argument 3:  Weapons are a Tool of War
            The third argument against weapons at ADF festivals is the idea that weapons are tools of war and don’t have a place in ADF. The author uses the premises below to disprove this argument: 
Premise 1:  ADF is not a pacifistic religion
Premise 2: Dumezil’s tripartition shows warriors as a structure of society.
Premise 3: ADF would support murder as self-defense. 
Premise 4:  Eating meat means we implicitly accept killing of animals.
Premise 5:  ADF accepts metaphorical killing, such as killing a relationship.
Premise 6:  Mythology about gods and heroes is full of conflict. 
Conclusion:  People are not justified in believing that killing is not part of ADF religion and don’t have the right to demand those who carry weapons to not do so.

            This argument is one that the author has many premises that are used to try to validate the belief of the author. The first is the idea that ADF is not a pacifistic religion.  However, ADF is not dogmatic, so there may be members that are pacifists, and others that are not, which makes this premise unsound.  However, the second premise is the first one in the article that I found to be accurate.  Dumezil’s idea of tripartition does show warriors as one of the three structures of society, and ADF emphasizes this idea as an important part of Indo-European societies.  This premise seems to be a valid and sound, although I would prefer to see cited information to show where the scholarly information comes from. 
            Premise three is the idea that ADF as an organization would accept murder in the case of self-defense.  This statement is generalized, and seems to reflect the opinion of the author with no support documentation, so I question the validity it.  Premises four through six seem to be stretching the necessity of weapons through the idea of eating meat, metaphorical killing, and combat in mythology. Overall, despite premise two being sound and valid, I feel that this argument is weak.

Argument 4:  Warriors Should be Considerate of Others
In my opinion, argument four is not really an argument.  Instead, the author seems to validate the concerns people have about weapons at festivals by proposing a “safe space” where no weapons would be allowed, while also proposing a specific area where warriors can practice. There are no premises or conclusions, but instead just this proposed resolution.  If this had been the conclusion of the essay, I believe the writing would feel a lot less biased. 
Argument 5:  If There are Concerns, Carrying Weapons Should be Restricted
The final argument against weapons at ADF festivals is the belief that if there are concerns about weapons at festivals, they should not be allowed.  The author debates this statement with the following argument:
Premise 1: Warriors shouldn’t have to prove necessity of carrying weapons
Premise 2: Community accepts “if it harm none, do as you will”
Premise 3:  Making people nervous is not causing harm. 
Conclusion:  Additional information is needed to prove that carrying weapons presents a threat.

The first premise of the argument says that the warriors should not have to prove the necessity of carrying a weapon, which once again shows us the bias of the author on this subject and gives us no factual information to support the conclusion.  The second premise states “The pagan community in general accepts the precept that if an action does not cause any harm, there is no reason why some one should not be allowed to do it” (Kest).  I believe this premise is referring to the final line of the Wiccan Rede “An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will” (The Wiccan Rede). Kest uses a generalization to draw a broad conclusion about the Pagan community that may not be accurate.  While many members of the community follow the Wiccan Rede, or some similar credo, this is a fallacy through generalization, called a “hasty generalization” (Purdue University).  In this type of fallacy the author makes a conclusion without having all of the necessary information to make the statement true.    
The third premise of this argument states that making someone nervous does not cause harm, but again this premise relies solely on the perspective of the author and does not take into account those people who are on the other side of this argument. It again shows the bias of the author.  Unfortunately, this argument again fails to provide any validity or soundness to the overall conclusion of this essay.
Article Conclusion
            The final portion of this article describes the purposes for a warrior to carry a weapon, ranging from kinetic meditation to the ability to defend them.  I think that these do present some explanations as to why a weapon may be desired by a warrior, but do not seem to ease the concerns presented by objectors above. The final conclusion states, like the freedom of clothing and activities in the festival environment, people should be able to carry their weapons “because this is one of the only contexts in which one can walk around carrying a spear” (Kest). 
Final Thoughts
            Throughout this article, I found the premises and conclusions to be invalid, unsound, biased, and occasionally false.  The author also rhetorical questions, such as “But how would a child get into a weapon being carried by a responsible adult?” and “Is possible bad publicity something on which we should be basing our policies?” (Kest) to criticize the opposing side and to emphasize the opinion of the author.  This type of writing adds to the perceived attitude of the article, making it seem less professional. Ultimately, while this article is clearly written by someone who is passionate about this subject, it is poorly researched, biased, invalid, and unsound.   



Works Cited

Capaldi, Nicholas. How to Win Every Argument. New York: MJF Books, 1987.

Kahane, Howard and Nancy Cavender. Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998.

Kest, Deborah. Warriors and Their Weapons. May 2015 <https://www.adf.org/articles/philosophy/warriors-and-their-weapons.html>.

Kingdom of Drachenwald of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. Injury report log. 2012. May 2015 <http://www.drachenwald.sca.org/node/159>.

Merriam Webster. Merriam Webster Dictionary . March 2015 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/>.

Nicolai, Tamara. Our Medieval World in the Media's Eye. August 2006. May 2015 <http://www.sca.org/officers/media/mediarecognition.html>.

Purdue University. Logical Fallacies. 11 March 2013. May 2015 <https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/659/03/>.

The Wiccan Rede. 1999. May 2015 <http://www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos312.htm>.

UNC College of Arts & Sciences. Fallacies. May 2015 <http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/fallacies/>.











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