How to Evaluate Reasoning

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  • 0:07 Evaluating Reason
  • 0:35 Reason in Everyday Life
  • 1:18 Steps to Evaluating Reason
  • 7:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Doresa Jennings

Doresa holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies.

Evaluating reasoning in an essay or article is an important step in critical analysis. Being able to judge if something is reasonable whether or not you agree with the argument will be our learning focus for this video.

Evaluating Reason

There are quite a few books, movies and television programs where children see their parents as either being completely naive or possibly a space alien from another planet. Today we will grapple with this question as we examine the concept of evaluating reasoning. Join me as we pull off the covers of typical parental advice to evaluate the reasoning behind some of their biggest and most universal quotes!

Reason in Everyday Life

Let's say our fictional parents like to extend their advice by placing notes in the lunchboxes of their two children. Little Johnny pulls out the note in his lunchbox today and it's from his mom. His note reads 'Always wear clean underwear; you might be in an accident and the doctors will think you are a dirty person.' Little Johnny looks at this note in horror - that's it; his mom must be from Mars (or more likely Pluto) with this type of advice. Hold on, Little Johnny; before we can label Mom a space alien, let's use an evaluation of reason to determine whether or not this is good advice.

Steps to Evaluating Reason

So what are the steps Little Johnny can use to see if Mom is being reasonable with her advice? Or has she confused this world with the one she left on Neptune?

The first thing Little Johnny must do is break down the claim. A claim has two parts, the conclusion and the premise. The conclusion is the claim that is given as a reason for believing. The premise is the argument given to support the claim. For Little Johnny, his mother's conclusion is that you should always wear clean underwear. The premise, or reason, for wearing clean underwear is that you might be in an accident and the doctors will think you are a dirty person. So we have our first two steps laid out for us: number one, identify the conclusion, and step two, identify the stated premise.

When checking the premise, be aware that there can be more than one premise for a conclusion. You will want to evaluate each premise when deciding if the conclusion is true or false. Well, this one seems a bit straightforward for our character. Little Johnny understands that when looking for underwear in the morning, he should pull it out of his drawer where everything has been washed and folded rather than pull a pair out of the dirty clothes hamper. But why the fuss about clean underwear?

However, there might be something amiss in this letter. Little Johnny has to stop and think just a little bit more before moving forward. Is there something else hidden between the lines of this claim? Little Johnny needs to also look for any unstated premise. For instance, is there anything not stated that needs to be true in order for the premise to lead to the conclusion?

Little Johnny needs to proceed to the next step: number three, identify any implied or unstated premise. An implied or unstated premise is a premise that isn't specifically written out but can be reasonably implied to make the stated principle viable. Our implied or unstated premise in the letter from Johnny's mom might be that clean underwear actually stays clean following an accident. Hmmm. We will let Little Johnny come to his own conclusion on this one!

Now Little Johnny is ready to move on to the meat of evaluating reason - step four: evaluate whether the premise provides reasonable support for the conclusion. There are two routes normally taken in this evaluation, inductive and deductive validity. Inductive validity asks us to come up with a reasonable answer from the premise given and evaluate if this is in line with our conclusion. Put another way, it is improbable for a premise to be true and the conclusion to be false. However, it is possible, just unlikely, that with the true premise, the conclusion is false. So inductive validity requires our best guess as to what is likely the outcome from our premise, leading to our conclusion.

Here is an example. Premise: the Earth has been revolving around the sun for millions of years. Conclusion: the Earth will revolve around the sun tomorrow.

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