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The Role of Argument in Critical Thinking

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  • 0:01 Learning from the Facts
  • 0:34 Texting and Driving
  • 1:08 An Argument without Evidence
  • 2:43 Opinions vs. Justified Claims
  • 4:17 Intuition
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll consider what makes a good argument that involves critical thinking. You'll also learn the shortcomings of using opinions to try to prove a claim is valid.

Learning from the Facts

Have you ever held an opinion about something and you turned out to be wrong? Somehow you discovered the facts and realized, 'Oops, I goofed,' and had to recognize the new information as valid.

In this lesson, you'll consider the value of a logical approach when aiming to prove something is valid and correct. You'll compare this approach to using subjective opinions rather than facts. You'll also spend some time considering the role of intuition in philosophical traditions.

Texting and Driving

There are people out on the roads as we speak who believe they can text and drive at the same time and stay effective at both tasks. They've done it before, and they've survived to do it again.

What evidence do they have that this behavior isn't really dangerous? Perhaps they know others who've done it and haven't yet had an accident. Or, they themselves do it and have had no close calls yet.

What if a person who thinks it's possible to text and drive at the same time were to construct an argument about their claim? Let's look at whether a person is using critical thinking skills if they make this argument.

An Argument without Evidence

Zoey often drives distracted, and she's willing to take a stab at explaining why she thinks it's not a problem. She starts off by saying, 'In my opinion, people are too worried about what may or may not happen.' Is Zoey's argument strong in this case? Not at all. She's using her general opinion to express a viewpoint that has no basis in any solid reasoning except that she thinks people worry too much overall.

What if she was pressed to give evidence as to why it's safe to drive and text at the same time? Zoey might respond by saying, 'I've never had an accident. My friends have never had accidents.' She is using a very minimal sample of people to prove her point, which is not effective evidence in this case given how many people drive on the road.

What if we presented Zoey with statistics that have been gathered by those that do have access to what causes great numbers of drivers to crash? According to the official website of the U.S. Government that deals with distracted driving, 'Engaging in visual-manual sub-tasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.' The research was released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which utilized official reports of real-life accidents as examples. This makes a much more compelling case. Zoey may have a harder time refuting this specific data that estimates that a person is three times more likely to get in a crash, a significant jump up from the usual level of risk.

Opinions vs. Justified Claims

What about in philosophy, where there may or may not be statistics and concrete data like the distracted driving information from Virginia Tech? Even when there is not a vast amount of data available, many philosophers still aim to make arguments using critical thinking.

A critical thinking approach avoids relying on subjective opinions. Subjective opinions are ones that are based on our interpretation of very limited information and making judgment calls before weighing the evidence. Often, opinions rely on emotional responses and assumptions we have made about an issue, rather than careful, conscious thought.

So, subjective opinions have their shortcomings. This doesn't make opinions worthless. We often have to make these types of judgments in life. Yet when you are making an argument in philosophy, a person will want to focus more heavily on justified claims, or conclusions that are valid and sound based on evidence.

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