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Evaluating Argument

Evaluating arguments
Goodness of argument is not necessarily the same thing as agreement
Goodness of argument is not necessarily the same thing as persuasion
Goodness of argument is not necessarily the same thing as felicity of
language

Goodness of argument is
True premises
Premises provide good reasons to necessarily or probably accept the conclusion
Deductively valid
Inductively strong
A good argument is either deductively sound or inductively cogent
Evaluating arguments
Goodness also incorporates other standards
In order for an argument to be good, relevant critical
thinking standards have to be satisfied
Accuracy and logical correctness
Completeness, relevance, fairness, consistency, clarity,
precision
When to Accept a Premise
General Suggestions
Principle of rational acceptance for claims not arguments
Claim does not conflicts with personal experience that we have no
good reason to doubt
Claim does not conflicts with background beliefs that we have no good
reason to doubt
Provenance of the claim is reliable
The Need for Evidence
A communicator would mostly want us to
accept as facts, beliefs about the way the
world is, was or is going to be
Some factual claims can be counted on more
than the others based on the context
Questions to ask
What is your proof?
How do you know that's true?
Where's the evidence?
Why do you believe that?
Are you sure that's true?
Can you prove it?
Intuition as Evidence
Using gut feeling or hunches
A major problem is that its private
Sometimes intuition may rely on some other kind of
evidence such as extensive relevant personal
experiences which can be helpful
But there are dangers of appealing to personal
experience as evidence
Dangers of Appealing to Personal
Experience
"I cross the street all the time without looking, and I
have never been hit by a car. Therefore I do not see the
need to look both ways before crossing."
"I always feel better after having a big slice of chocolate
cake, so I think that anyone who is depressed just needs
to eat more chocolate cake."
Personal Testimonials as Evidence
I saw a note on a service station wall stating:
Cherry did a wonderful job fixing the oil leak my car
had. You should always take your car to Cherry to fix
that engine problem you have.
This book looks great. On the back cover comments
from readers say, "I could not put this book down.
How helpful is such evidence?
Personal Testimonials as Evidence ...
Selectivity
Personal interest
Omitted information
The human factor
Appeals to Authority as Evidence
"According to my doctor, recent studies have shown
that eating a couple of teaspoons of sugar a day can
help fight the common cold.
Movie reviewers: "One of the ten best movies of the
year." Valerie Viewer, Toledo Gazette.
Organizations: "The Pakistan Medical Association
supports this position."
Researchers: "Studies show..."
Relatives: "My grandfather says . . ."
Appeals to Authority as Evidence...
Magazines: "According to Newsweek . . ."
College professors: "The appropriate interpretation of
Plato is . . ."
Expert witnesses: "It is my belief that the defendant..."
Authorities Can be Wrong
"It is once and for all clear. . . that the earth is in the middle of the
world and all weights move towards it." Ptolemy, The Almagest,
second century A.D., p. 5.

"Nature intended women to be our slaves . . . They are our


property . . . They belong to us, just as a tree that bears fruit belongs
to a gardener. What a mad idea to demand equality for women! . . .
Women are nothing but machines for producing children." Napoleon
Bonaparte (1769-1821), p. 32.

"Video won't be able to hold onto any market it captures after the
first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box
every night." Darryl F. Zanuck (Head of Twentieth Century Fox
Studios), ca. 1946, p. 41.

"If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung


cancer, it seems to be a minor one." Dr. W. C. Heuper (National
Cancer Institute), quoted in The New York Times, April 14, 1954, p.
228.
Questions to Ask about Authorities
How much expertise or training does the authority have
about the subject about which he is communicating?
Was the authority in a position to have especially good
access to pertinent facts?
Is there good reason to believe that the authority is
relatively free of distorting influences?
Has the authority developed a reputation for frequently
making dependable claims? Have we been able to rely
on this authority in the past?