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With Good Reason: A Guide to Critical Thinking

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An Introduction to Critical
Thinking and Logic 1

Hemera Technologies/Ablestock.com/Thinkstock

Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
1. Explain the importance of critical thinking and logic.
2. Describe the relationship between critical thinking and logic.
3. Explain why logical reasoning is a natural human attribute that we all have to develop as a skill.
4. Identify logic as a subject matter applicable to many other disciplines and everyday life.
5. Distinguish the various uses of the word argument that do not pertain to logic.
6. Articulate the importance of language in logical reasoning.
7. Describe the connection between logic and philosophy.

1
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What Is Critical Thinking? Section 1.1 

This book will introduce you to the tools and practices of critical thinking. Since the main tool
for critical thinking is logical reasoning, the better part of this book will be devoted to discuss-
ing logic and how to use it effectively to become a critical thinker.

We will start by examining the practical importance of critical thinking and the virtues it
requires us to nurture. Then we will explore what logic is and how the tools of logic can help
us lead easier and happier lives. We will also briefly review a critical concept in logic—the
argument—and discuss the importance of language in making good judgments. We will con-
clude with a snapshot of the historical roots of logic in philosophy.

1.1  What Is Critical Thinking?


What is critical thinking? What is a critical thinker? Why do you need a guide to think criti-
cally? These are good questions, but ones that are seldom asked. Sometimes people are afraid
to ask questions because they think that doing so will make them seem ignorant to others. But
admitting you do not know something is actually the only way to learn new things and better
understand what others are trying to tell you.

There are differing views about what critical thinking is. For the most part, people take bits and
pieces of these views and carry on with their often imprecise—and sometimes conflicting—
assumptions of what critical thinking may be. However, one of the ideas we will discuss in this
book is the fundamental importance of seeking truth. To this end, let us unpack the term critical
thinking to better understand its meaning.

First, the word thinking can describe any number of cognitive activities, and there is certainly
more than one way to think. We can think analytically, creatively, strategically, and so on (Sousa,
2011). When we think analytically, we take the whole that we are examining—this could be a
term, a situation, a scientific phenomenon—and attempt to identify its components. The next
step is to examine each component individually and understand how it fits with the other com-
ponents. For example, we are currently examining the meaning of each of the words in the term
critical thinking so we can have a better understanding of what they mean together as a whole.

Analytical thinking is the kind of thinking mostly used in academia, science, and law (includ-
ing crime scene investigation). In ordinary life, however, you engage in analytical thinking
more often than you imagine. For example, think of a time when you felt puzzled by some-
one else’s comment. You might have tried to recall the original situation and then parsed out
the language employed, the context, the mood of the speaker, and the subject of the com-
ment. Identifying the different parts and looking at how each is related to the other, and how
together they contribute to the whole, is an act of analytical thinking.

When we think creatively, we are not focused on relationships between parts and their wholes,
as we are when we think analytically. Rather, we try to free our minds from any boundaries
such as rules or conventions. Instead, our tools are imagination and innovation. Suppose you
are cooking, and you do not have all the ingredients called for in your recipe. If you start
thinking creatively, you will begin to look for things in your refrigerator and pantry that can
substitute for the missing ingredients. But in order to do this, you must let go of the recipe’s
expected outcome and conceive of a new direction.

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What Is Critical Thinking? Section 1.1 

When we think strategically, our focus


is to first lay out a master plan of action
and then break it down into smaller
goals that are organized in such a way
as to support our outcomes. For exam-
ple, undertaking a job search involves
strategic planning. You must identify
due dates for applications, request let-
ters of recommendations, prepare your
résumé and cover letters, and so on.
Thinking strategically likely extends to
many activities in your life, whether you
are going grocery shopping or planning
a wedding.
Ferlistockphoto/iStock/Thinkstock
Critical thinking involves carefully assessing What, then, does it mean to think criti-
information and its sources. cally? In this case the word critical has
nothing to do with criticizing others in
a negative way or being surly or cynical.
Rather, it refers to the habit of carefully evaluating ideas and beliefs, both those we hear from
others and those we formulate on our own, and only accepting those that meet certain stan-
dards. While critical thinking can be viewed from a number of different perspectives, we will
define critical thinking as the activity of careful assessment and self-assessment in the process
of forming judgments. This means that when we think critically, we become the vigilant guard-
ians of the quality of our thinking.

Simply put, the “critical” in critical thinking refers to a healthy dose of suspicion. This means
that critical thinkers do not simply accept what they read or hear from others—even if the
information comes from loved ones or is accompanied by plausible-sounding statistics.
Instead, critical thinkers check the sources of information. If none are given or the sources are
weak or unreliable, they research the information for themselves. Perhaps most importantly,
critical thinkers are guided by logical reasoning.

As a critical thinker, always ask yourself what is unclear, not understood, or unknown. This is
the first step in critical thinking because you cannot make good judgments about things that
you do not understand or know.

The Importance of Critical Thinking


Why should you care about critical thinking? What can it offer you? Suppose you must make
an important decision—about your future career, the person with whom you might want to
spend the rest of your life, your financial investments, or some other critical matter. What
considerations might come to mind? Perhaps you would wonder whether you need to think
about it at all or whether you should just, as the old saying goes, “follow your heart.” In doing
so, you are already clarifying the nature of your decision: purely rational, purely emotional,
or a combination of both.

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What Is Critical Thinking? Section 1.1 

In following this process you are


already starting to think critically. First
you started by asking questions. Once
you examine the answers, you would
then assess whether this information
is sufficient, and perhaps proceed to
research further information from reli-
able sources. Note that in all of these
steps, you are making distinctions: You
would distinguish between relevant
and irrelevant questions, and from the
relevant questions, you would distin-
guish the clear and precise ones from
the others. You also would distinguish
the answers that are helpful from those shironosov/iStock/Thinkstock
that are not. And finally, you would Can you recall a time when you acted or made
separate out the good sources for your a decision while you were experiencing strong
research, leaving aside the weak and emotions? Relying on our emotions to make decisions
biased ones. undermines our ability to develop confidence in our
rational judgments. Moreover, emotional decisions
Making distinctions also determines the cannot typically be justified and often lead to regret.
path that your examination will follow,
and herein lies the connection between
critical thinking and logic. If you decide you should examine the best reasons that support each
of the possible options available, then this choice takes you in the direction of logic. One part
of logical reasoning is the weighing of evidence. When making an important decision, you will
need to identify which factors you consider favorable and which you consider unfavorable. You
can then see which option has the strongest evidence in its favor (see Everyday Logic: Evidence,
Beliefs, and Good Thinking for a discussion of the importance of evidence).

Consider the following scenario. You are 1 year away from graduating with a degree in busi-
ness. However, you have a nagging feeling that you are not cut out for business. Based on
your research, a business major is practical and can lead to many possibilities for well-paid
employment. But you have discovered that you do not enjoy the application or the analysis
of quantitative methods—something that seems to be central to most jobs in business. What
should you do?

Many would seek advice from trusted people in their lives—people who know them well
and thus theoretically might suggest the best option for them. But even those closest to us
can offer conflicting advice. A practical parent may point out that it would be wasteful and
possibly risky to switch to another major with only 1 more year to go. A reflective friend may
point out that the years spent studying business could be considered simply part of a journey
of self-discovery, an investment of time that warded off years of unhappiness after gradua-
tion. In these types of situations, critical thinking and logical reasoning can help you sort out
competing considerations and avoid making a haphazard decision.

We all find ourselves at a crossroads at various times in our lives, and whatever path we
choose will determine the direction our lives will take. Some rely on their emotions to help
them make their decisions. Granted, it is difficult to deny the power of emotions. We recall
more vividly those moments or things in our lives that have had the strongest emotional

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What Is Critical Thinking? Section 1.1 

impact: a favorite toy, a first love, a painful loss. Many interpret gut feelings as revelations
of what they need to do. It is thus easy to assume that emotions can lead us to truth. Indeed,
emotions can reveal phenomena that may be otherwise inaccessible. Empathy, for example,
permits us to share or recognize the emotions that others are experiencing (Stein, 1989).

The problem is that, on their own, emotions are not reliable sources of information. Emotions
can lead you only toward what feels right or what feels wrong—but cannot guarantee that
what feels right or wrong is indeed the right or wrong thing to do. For example, acting self-
ishly, stealing, and lying are all actions that can bring about good feelings because they satisfy
our self-serving interests. By contrast, asking for forgiveness or forgiving someone can feel
wrong because these actions can unleash feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, and vulner-
ability. Sometimes emotions can work against our best interests. For example, we are often
fooled by false displays of goodwill and even affection, and we often fall for the emotional
appeal of a politician’s rhetoric.

The best alternative is the route marked by logical reasoning, the principal tool for developing
critical thinking. The purpose of this book is to help you learn this valuable tool. You may be
wondering, “What’s in it for me?” For starters, you are bound to gain the peace of mind that
comes from knowing that your decisions are not based solely on a whim or a feeling but have
the support of the firmer ground of reason. Despite the compelling nature of your own emo-
tional barometer, you may always wonder whether you made the right choice, and you may
not find out until it is too late. Moreover, the emotional route for decision making will not help
you develop confidence in your own judgments in the face of uncertainty.

In contrast, armed with the skill of logical reasoning, you can lead a life that you choose and
not a life that just happens to you. This power alone can make the difference between a happy
and an unhappy life. Mastering critical thinking results in practical gains—such as the ability
to defend your views without feeling intimidated or inadequate and to protect yourself from
manipulation or deception. This is what’s in it for you, and this is only the beginning.

Everyday Logic: Evidence, Beliefs, and Good Thinking


It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.
—W. K. Clifford (1879, p. 186)
British philosopher and mathematician W. K. Clifford’s claim—that it is unethical to believe
anything if you do not have sufficient evidence for it—elicited a pronounced response from
the philosophical community. Many argued that Clifford’s claim was too strong and that it
is acceptable to believe things for which we lack the requisite evidence. Whether or not one
absolutely agrees with Clifford, he raises a good point. Every day, millions of people make deci-
sions based on insufficient evidence. They claim that things are true or false without putting in
the time, effort, and research necessary to make those claims with justification.
You have probably witnessed an argument in which people continue to make the same claims
until they either begin to become upset or merely continue to restate their positions without
adding anything new to the discussion. These situations often devolve and end with state-
ments such as, “Well, I guess we will just agree to disagree” or “You are entitled to your opin-
ion, and I am entitled to mine, and we will just have to leave it at that.” However, upon further
reflection we have to ask ourselves, “Are people really entitled to have any opinion they want?”
(continued)

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What Is Critical Thinking? Section 1.1 

Everyday Logic: Evidence, Beliefs, and Good Thinking


(continued)
From the perspective of critical thinking, the answer is no. Although people are legally entitled
to their beliefs and opinions, it would be intellectually irresponsible of them to feel entitled to
an opinion that is unsupported by logical reasoning and evidence; people making this claim
are conflating freedom of speech with freedom of opinion. A simple example will illustrate this
point. Suppose someone believes that the moon is composed of green cheese. Although he is
legally entitled to his belief that the moon is made of green cheese, he is not rationally entitled
to that belief, since there are many reasons to believe and much evidence to show that the
moon is not composed of green cheese.
Good thinkers constantly question their beliefs and examine multiple sources of evidence to
ensure their beliefs are true. Of course, people often hold beliefs that seem warranted but are
later found not to be true, such as that the earth is flat, that it is acceptable to paint baby cribs
with lead paint, and so on. However, a good thinker is one who is willing to change his or her
views when those views are proved to be false. There are certain criteria that must be met for
us to claim that someone is entitled to a specific opinion or position on an issue.
There are other examples where the distinction is not so clear. For instance, some people believe
that women should be subservient to men. They hold this belief for many reasons, but the pre-
dominant one is because specific religions claim this is the case. Does the fact that a religious text
claims that women should serve men provide sufficient evidence for one to believe this claim?
Many people believe it does not. However, many who interpret their religious texts in this man-
ner would claim that these texts do provide sufficient evidence for such claims.
It is here that we see the danger and difficulty of providing hard-and-fast definitions of what
constitutes sufficient evidence. If we believe that written words in books came directly from
divine sources, then we would be prone to give those words the highest credibility in terms of
the strength of their evidence. However, if we view written words as arguments presented by
their authors, then we would analyze the text based on the evidence and reasoning presented.
In the latter case we would find that these people are wrong and that they are merely making
claims based on their cultural, male-dominated environments.
Of course, all people have the freedom to believe what they want. However, if we think of
entitlement as justification, then we cannot say that all people are entitled to their opinions
and beliefs. As you read this book, think about what you believe and why. If you do not have
reasons or supporting evidence for your beliefs and opinions, you should attempt to find it.
Try not to get sucked into arguments without having evidence. Most important, as a good
thinker, you should be willing and able to admit the strengths and weaknesses of various posi-
tions on issues, especially your own. At the same time, if in your search for evidence you find
that the opposing position is the stronger one, you should be willing to change your position.
It is also a sign of good thinking to suspend judgment when you suspect that the arguments of
others are not supported by evidence or logical reasoning. Suspending judgment can protect
you from error and making rash decisions that lead to negative outcomes.

Becoming a Critical Thinker


By now it should be clear that critical thinking is an important life skill, one that will have a
decisive impact on our lives. It does not take luck or a genetic disposition to be a critical thinker.
Anyone can master critical thinking skills. So how do you become a critical thinker? Earlier in

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Three Misconceptions About Logic Section 1.2 

the chapter, logical reasoning was described as the main tool for critical thinking. Thus, the most
fundamental step in becoming a critical thinker is to recognize the importance of reason as the
filter for your beliefs and actions. Once you have done this, you will be in the right frame of mind
to start learning about logic and identify what tools of logic are at your disposal.

It is also important to note that becoming a critical thinker demands intellectual modesty. We
can understand intellectual modesty as the willingness to put our egos in check because we
see truth seeking as a far greater and more satisfying good than seeking to be right. Critical
thinkers do not care about seeking approval by trying to show that they are right. They do
not assume that disagreement reflects a lack of intelligence or insight. Being intellectually
modest means recognizing not only that we can make mistakes, but also that we have much
to learn. If we are (a) aware that we are bound to make mistakes and that we will benefit
when we recognize them; (b) willing to break old habits and embrace change; and, perhaps
most importantly, (c) genuinely willing to know what others think, then we can be truly free
to experience life as richly and satisfactorily as a human being can.

1.2  Three Misconceptions About Logic


If logic is so important to critical thinking, we must of course examine what logic is. This task
is not as easy as it sounds, and before we tackle it we must first dismantle some common
misconceptions about the subject.

Logic Is for Robots


The first misconception is that it is not normal for humans to display a command of logic. (In
fact, some suggest that humans created, rather than discovered, these patterns of thought;
see A Closer Look: Logic: A Human Invention?) Think of how popular culture and media often
depict characters endowed with logical reasoning. In American slang they are the eggheads,
the geeks, the nerds, the ones who can use their minds but have trouble relating to other
people. Such people often lack compassion or social charisma, or they are emotionally unex-
pressive. They are only logical and lack the blend of attributes that people actually have.

Consider the logically endowed characters on the Star Trek series. Vulcans, for example, are
beings who suppress all emotions in favor of logic because they believe that emotions are
dangerous. What appear to be heartless decisions by the Vulcans no doubt make logic seem
quite unsavory to some viewers. The android Data—from The Next Generation series in the
Star Trek franchise—is another example. Data’s positronic brain is devoid of any emotional
capacity and thus processes all information exclusively by means of a logical calculus. Logic is
thus presented as a source of alienation, as Data yearns for the affective depth that his human
colleagues experience, such as humor and love.

Such presentations of logic as the polar opposite of emotion are false dichotomies because all
human beings are naturally endowed with both logical and emotional faculties—not just one
or the other. In other words, we have a broader range of abilities than that for which we give

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Three Misconceptions About Logic Section 1.2 

ourselves credit. So if you think that you are mostly emotional, then you simply have yet to
discover your logical side.

Nonetheless, some believe emotions are the fundamental mark of human beings. It is quite
likely that emotion has played a significant role in our survival as a species. Neuroscientists,
for example, have discovered that our emotions have a faster pathway to the action centers
of the brain than the methodical decision-making approach of our logical faculties (LeDoux,
1986, 1992). It pays, for example, to give no thought to running if we fear we are being hunted
by a predator.

In most human civilizations today, however, dodging predators is not a main necessity. In fact,
methodical reasoning is more advantageous in most of today’s situations. Thinking things
through logically assists learning at all levels, produces better results in the job market (in
seeking jobs, obtaining promotions, and procuring raises), and helps us make better choices.
As noted in the previous section, we are more likely to be satisfied and experience fewer
regrets if we reason carefully about our most critical choices in life. Indeed, logical reasoning
can prove to be a better strategy for attaining the individual quest for personal fulfillment
than any available alternative such as random choice, emotional impulse, waiting and seeing,
and so on.

Moral of the Story: Emotions Versus Logic


Embracing logical reasoning does not mean disregarding our emotions altogether. Instead, we
should recognize that emotions and logic are both essential components of what it is to be human.

A Closer Look: Logic: A Human Invention?


One objection to the use of logic—often from what is known as
a postmodern perspective—is that logic is a human invention
and thus inferior to emotions or intuitions. In other words,
what some call the “rules of logic” cannot be seen as univer-
sally applicable because logic originated in the Western world;
thus, logic is relative and only a matter of perspective.
For example, the invention of chairs seems indispensable to
those of us who live where chairs have become part of our
cultural background. But those from different cultural back-
grounds or those who lived during different time periods may
not use chairs at all, or may employ alternative seating devices,
such as the traditional Japanese tatami mats. To broadly apply
Fine Art Images/SuperStock the concept of chair as an appropriate place to sit would be
Aristotle’s Organon is a ethnocentric, or applying the standards of one’s own culture
compilation of six treatises in to all other cultures.
which Aristotle formulated In response to the foregoing objection, the authors of this
principles that laid the text argue that logic is not a human invention, nor a conven-
foundation for the field of logic. tion that spread in certain parts of the world. Rather, logic was
(continued)

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Three Misconceptions About Logic Section 1.2 

A Closer Look: Logic: A Human Invention? (continued)


discovered in people’s ordinary encounters with reality, as early as antiquity. Based on avail-
able historical records, the first study of the principles at work in good reasoning emerged
in ancient Greece. Aristotle was the first to formulate principles of logic, and he did so in six
treatises that ancient commentators grouped together under the title Organon, which means
“instrument” (reflecting the view that logic is the fundamental instrument for philosophy,
which will be discussed later in the chapter).
Importantly, other civilizations have developed logic independently of the Greek tradition.
For example, Dignaga was an important thinker in India who lived a few hundred years after
Aristotle. Dignaga’s work begins with certain practices of debate within the Nyaya school of
Hinduism and transitions to a more formal approach to reasoning. Although the result of Dig-
naga’s studies is not identical to Aristotle’s, there is enough similarity to strongly suggest that
basic logical principles are not merely cultural artifacts.
In the Middle Ages, Aristotelian logic was brought to the West by Islamic philosophers and
thus became part of the scholarship of Christian philosophers until the 14th or 15th century.
The emergence of modern logic did not take place until the 19th and 20th centuries, during
which new ways of analyzing propositions gave rise to new discoveries concerning the foun-
dations of mathematics, as well as a new system of logical notation and a new system of logical
principles that replaced the Aristotelian system.
Thus, the examination of good reasoning was fundamental in the development of human civi-
lization. Logical reasoning has helped us to identify the laws that guide physical phenomena,
which brought us to the state of technological advancement that we experience today. How
else could we have erected pyramids and other marvels in the ancient world without having
discovered a principle for checking the accuracy of the geometry employed to design them?

Logic Does Not Need to Be Learned


A second misconception is that logic does not need to be learned. After all, humankind’s
unique distinction among other animals is the faculty of rationality and abstract thought.
Although many nonhuman animals have very high levels of intelligence, to the best of our
knowledge, abstract thought seems to be the mark of humankind’s particular brand of
rationality. Today the applications of logical reasoning are all around us. We are able to
experience air travel and marvel at rockets in space. We are also able to enjoy cars, sky-
scrapers, computers, cell phones, air-conditioning, home insulation, and even smart homes
that allow users to regulate light, temperature, and other functions remotely via smart-
phones and other devices. Logical reasoning has afforded us an increasingly better picture
of reality, and as a result, our lives have become more comfortable.

However, if logical reasoning is a natural human trait, then why should anyone have to learn
it? We certainly experience emotions without any need to be trained, so why would the case
be different with our rational capacities? Consider the difference between natural capacities
that are nonvoluntary or automatic, on the one hand, and natural capacities that involve our
will, on the other. Swallowing, digesting, and breathing are nonvoluntary natural capacities,
as are emotions. We usually do not will ourselves to feel happy, angry, or excited. Rather, we
usually just find ourselves feeling happy, angry, or excited.

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Three Misconceptions About Logic Section 1.2 

Now contrast these with voluntary natural capacities such as walking, running, or sitting. We
usually need to will these actions in order for them to take place. We do not just find ourselves
running without intending to run, as is the case with swallowing, breathing, or feeling excited
or angry. If logic were akin to breathing, the world would likely look like a different place.

Logic is practiced with intention and must be learned, just like we learn to walk, sit, and run.
True, almost everyone learns to run to some degree as part of the normal process of growing
up. Similarly, almost everyone learns a certain amount of logical reasoning as they move from
infant to adult. However, to be a good runner, you need to learn and practice specific skills.
Similarly, although everyone has some ability in logic, becoming a good critical thinker
requires learning and practicing a range of logical skills.

Moral of the Story: Logic as a Skill


Having a natural capacity for something does not amount to being good at it. Even as emotions
seem to come so naturally, some people have to work at being less sensitive or more empa-
thetic. The same is true for logical reasoning.

Logic Is Too Hard


The final misconception is that logic is too hard or difficult to learn. If you have survived all
these years without studying logic, you might wonder why you should learn it now. It is true
that learning logic can be challenging and that it takes time and effort before it feels like
second nature. But consider that we face the same challenge whenever we learn anything
new, whether it is baking, automotive repair, or astrophysics. These are all areas of human
knowledge that have a specific terminology and methodology, and you cannot expect to know
how to bake a soufflé, fix a valve cap leak, or explain black holes without any investment in
learning the subject matter.

Let us return to our running analogy. Just as we must intend to run in order to do it, we must
intend to think methodically in order to do it. When we become adept at running, we do not
have to put in as much effort or thought. A fit body can perform physical tasks more easily
than an unfit one. The mind is no different. A mind accustomed to logical reasoning will find
activities of the intellect easier than an unfit one. The best part is that if you wish to achieve
logical fitness, all you need to do is learn and practice the necessary tools for it. The purpose
of this book is to guide you toward this goal.

Without a doubt, learning logic will be challenging. But keep in mind that starting a logical
fitness program is very much like starting a physical fitness program: There will be a little
pain in the beginning. When out-of-shape muscles are exercised, they hurt. You might find
that some lessons or concepts might give you a bit of trouble. When this happens, don’t give
up! In a physical fitness program, we know that if we keep going, over time the pain goes

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What Is Logic? Section 1.3 

away, the muscles get in shape, and movement becomes joyful. Likewise, as you keep working
diligently on learning and developing your natural logical abilities, you will discover that you
understand new things more easily, reading is less of a struggle for you, and logical reasoning
is actually fun and rewarding. Eventually, you will begin to recognize logical connections (or
the lack thereof) that you did not previously notice, make decisions that you are less likely
to regret, and develop the confidence to defend the positions you hold in a way that is less
emotionally taxing.

1.3  What Is Logic?


Having dispelled some common misconceptions, we can now occupy ourselves with a funda-
mental question for this book: What is logic? A first attempt to define logic might be to say
that it is the study of the methods and principles of good reasoning. This definition implies
that there are certain principles at work in good reasoning and that certain methods have
been developed to encourage it. It is important to clarify that these principles and methods
are not a matter of opinion. They apply to someone in your hometown as much as to someone
in the smallest village on the other side of the world. Furthermore, they are as suitable today
as they were 200 or 2,000 years ago.

This definition is a good place to start, but it leaves open the questions of what we mean
by “good reasoning” and what makes some reasoning good relative to others. Although it is
admittedly difficult to cram answers to all possible questions into a pithy statement, defini-
tions should attempt to be more specific. In this book, we shall employ the following defini-
tion: Logic is the study of arguments that serve as tools for arriving at warranted judgments.
Notice that this definition states how logic can be of service to you now, in your daily routine,
and in whatever occupation you hold. To understand how this is the case, let us unpack this
definition a bit.

The Study of Arguments


This definition of logic does not explain
that there are principles at work in
good reasoning or that these princi-
ples are not necessarily informed by
experience: The meaning of the word
argument in logic does the job. Argu-
ment has a very technical meaning in
logic, and for this reason, Chapter 2 is
dedicated entirely to the definition of
arguments—what they are, what they
are not, what they consist of, and what
makes them good. Later in this chap-
ter, we will survey other meanings for
Purestock/Thinkstock
the word argument outside of logic.
In logic, an argument is the methodical presentation
of one’s position on a topic, not a heated fight with
another person.

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What Is Logic? Section 1.3 

For now, let us refer to an argument as a methodical defense of a position. Suppose that Diana
is against a proposed increase in the tax rate. She decides to write a letter to the editor to pres-
ent her reasons why a tax increase would be detrimental to all. She researches the subject,
including what economists have to say about tax increases and the position of the opposition.
She then writes an informed defense of her position. By advancing a methodical defense of a
position, Diana has prepared an argument.

A Tool for Arriving at Warranted Judgments


For our purposes, the word judgment refers simply to an informed evaluation. You examine
the evidence with the goal of verifying that if it is not factual, it is at least probable or theo-
retically conceivable. When you make a judgment, you are determining whether you think
something is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, real or fake, delicious
or disgusting, fun or boring, and so on. It is by means of judgments that we furnish our world
of beliefs. The richer our world of beliefs, the clearer we can be about what makes us happy.
Judgments are thus very important, so we need to make sure they are sound.

What about the word warrant? Why are warranted judgments preferable to unwarranted
ones? What is a warrant? If you are familiar with the criminal justice system or television
crime dramas, you may know that a warrant is an authoritative document that permits the
search and seizure of potential evidence or the arrest of a person believed to have commit-
ted a crime. Without a warrant, such search and seizure, as well as coercing an individual
to submit to interrogation or imprisonment, is a violation of the protections and rights that
individuals in free societies enjoy. The warrant certifies that the search or arrest of a person
is justified—that there is sufficient reason or evidence to show that the search or arrest does
not unduly violate the person’s rights. More generally, we say that an action is warranted if it
is based on adequate reason or evidence.

Accordingly, our judgments are warranted when there is adequate reason or evidence for
making them. In contrast, when we speak of something being unwarranted, we mean that it
lacks adequate reason or evidence. For example, unwarranted fears are fears we have without
good reason. Children may have unwarranted fears of monsters under their beds. They are
afraid of the monsters, but they do not have any real evidence that the monsters are there.
Our judgments are unwarranted when, like a child’s belief in lurking monsters under the bed,
there is little evidence that they are actually true.

In the criminal justice system, the move from suspicion to arrest must be warranted. Simi-
larly, in logic, the move from grounds to judgment must be warranted (see A Closer Look: War-
rants for the Belief in God for an example). We want our judgments to be more like a properly
executed search warrant than a child’s fear of monsters. If we fail to consider the grounds for
our judgments, then we are risking our lives by means of blind decisions; our judgments are
no more likely to give us true beliefs than false ones. It is thus essential to master the tools for
arriving at warranted judgments.

It is important to recognize the urgency for obtaining such mastery. It is not merely another
nice thing to add to the bucket list—something we will get around to doing, right after we
trek to the Himalayas. Rather, mastering the argument—the fundamental tool for arriving at

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What Is Logic? Section 1.3 

warranted judgments—is as essential as learning to read and write. Knowledge of logic is a


relatively tiny morsel of information compared to all that you know thus far, but it has the
capacity to change your life for the better.

A Closer Look: Warrants for the Belief in God


Striving for warranted judgments might seem difficult when
it comes to beliefs that we have accepted on faith. Note that
not all that we accept on faith is necessarily related to God or
religion. For example, we likely have faith that the sun will rise
tomorrow, that our spouses are honest with us, and that the car
we parked at the mall will still be there when we return from
shopping. Many American children have faith that the tooth
fairy will exchange money for baby teeth and that Santa Claus
will bring toys come Christmas. Are we reasoning correctly by
judging such beliefs as warranted? Whatever your answer in
regard to these other issues, questions of religious belief are
more likely to be held up as beyond the reach of logic. It is
Photos.com/Thinkstock important to recognize this idea is far from being obviously
In his Summa Theologica, true. Many deeply religious people have nonetheless found it
Thomas Aquinas advanced the
advisable to offer arguments in support of their beliefs.
idea that belief in the existence One such individual was Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century Roman
of God can be grounded in Catholic Dominican priest and philosopher. In his Summa Theo-
logical argument. logica (Aquinas, 1947), he advanced five logical arguments for
God’s existence that do not depend on faith.
The 20th-century Oxford scholar and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, perhaps best known for
the popular children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia, did not embrace his Anglican religion
until he was in his thirties. In his books Mere Christianity and Miracles: A Preliminary Study, he
employs reason to defend Christian beliefs and the logical possibility of miracles.
There are, of course, many more examples. The important point to draw from this is that all
of our judgments of faith—from the faith in the sun rising tomorrow to the faith in the exis-
tence of God—should be warranted beliefs and not just beliefs that we readily accept without
question. In other words, even faith should make sense in order to be able to communicate
such beliefs to those who do not share those beliefs. Note that philosophers who have pre-
sented arguments in defense of their religious views have helped transform the nature of reli-
gious disagreement to one in which the differences are generally debated in an intellectually
enlightening way.
We have not yet reached the point in which differences in religious views are no longer the
cause of wars or killing. Nonetheless, the power of argument in the formation of our beliefs is
that it supports social harmony despite diversity and disagreement in views, and we all gain
from presenting our unique positions in debated issues.

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Arguments Outside of Logic Section 1.4 

Formal Versus Informal Logic


Logic is a rich and complex field. Our focus here will be how logic contributes to the develop-
ment and honing of critical thinking in everyday life. Primarily, the concepts we will discuss
will reflect principles of informal logic. The principal aim in informal logic is to examine the
reasoning we employ in the ordinary and everyday claims we make.

In contrast, formal logic is far more abstract, often involving the use of symbols and math-
ematics to analyze arguments. Although this text will touch on a few formal concepts of logic
in its discussions of deduction (see Chapter 3 and Chapter 4), the purpose in doing so is to
develop methodology for good reasoning that is directly applicable to ordinary life.

1.4  Arguments Outside of Logic


Although Chapter 2 will explore the term argument in more detail, it is important to clarify
that the word is not exclusive to logic. Its meaning varies widely, and you may find that one of
the descriptions in this section fits your own understanding of what is an argument. Knowing
there is more than one meaning of this word, depending on context or application, will help
you correctly understand what is meant in a given situation.

Arguments in Ordinary Language


Often, we apply the word argument to an exchange of diverging views, sometimes in a heated,
angry, or hostile setting. Suppose you have a friend named Lola, and she tells you, “I had an
argument with a colleague at work.” In an ordinary setting you might be correct in under-
standing Lola’s meaning of the term argument as equivalent to a verbal dispute. In logic, how-
ever, an argument does not refer to a fight or an angry dispute. Moreover, in logic an argument
does not involve an exchange between two people, and it does not necessarily have an emo-
tional context.

Although in ordinary language an argument requires that at least two or more people be
involved in an exchange, this is not the case in logic. A logical argument is typically advanced by
only one person, either on his or her behalf or as the representative of a group. No exchange is
required. Although an argument may be presented as an objection to another person’s point
of view, there need not be an actual exchange of opposing ideas as a result.

Now, if two persons coordinate a presentation of their defenses of what can be identified as
opposing points of view, then we have a debate. A debate may contain several arguments but
is not itself an argument. Accordingly, only debates are exchanges of diverging views.

Even if a logical argument is both well supported and heartfelt, its emotional context is not its
driving force. Rather, any emotion that may be inevitably tied in with the defense of the argu-
ment’s principal claim is secondary to the reasons advanced. But let us add a little contextual
reference to the matter of debates. If the arguments on each side of the debate are presented

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Arguments Outside of Logic Section 1.4 

well, then the debate may lead to the discovery of perspectives that each party had not pre-
viously considered. As such, debates can be quite enlightening because every time our own
perspective is broadened with ideas not previously considered and that are well supported
and defended, it is very difficult for the experience to be negative. Instead, a good debate is an
intellectually exhilarating experience, regardless of how attached one may be to the side one
is defending.

Not even debates need to be carried out with an angry or hostile demeanor, or as a means to
vent one’s frustration or other emotions toward the opposition. To surrender to one’s emo-
tions in the midst of a debate can cause one to lose track of the opposition’s objections and,
consequently, be able to muster only weak rebuttals.

Moral of the Story: Defining the Word Argument


To avoid conflating the two widely different uses of the word argument (that is, as a dis-
pute in ordinary language and as a defense of a point of view in logic) is to use the word
only in its classical sense. In its classical meaning, an argument does not refer to a vehicle
to express emotions, complaints, insults, or provocations. For these and all other related
meanings, there are a wide variety of terms that would do a better job, such as disagree-
ment, quarrel, bicker, squabble, fight, brawl, altercation, having words, insult match, word
combat, and so on. The more precise we are in our selection of words, the more efficient
our communications.

Rhetorical Arguments
Think about how politicians might try to persuade you to vote for them. They may appeal
to your patriotism. They may suggest that if the other candidate wins, things will go badly.
They may choose words and examples that help specific audiences feel like the politician
empathizes with their situation. All of these techniques can be effective, and all are part of
what someone who studies rhetoric—the art of persuasion—might include under the term
argument.

Rhetoric is a field that uses the word argument almost as much as logic does. You are likely to
encounter this use in English, communication, composition, or argumentation classes. From
the point of view of rhetoric, an argument is an attempt to persuade—to change someone’s
opinion or behavior. Because the goal of a rhetorical argument is persuasion, good arguments
are those that are persuasive. In fact, any time someone attempts to persuade you to do some-
thing, they can be seen as advancing an argument in this sense.

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Arguments Outside of Logic Section 1.4 

Think about how you might have persuaded a sibling to do something for you when you
were young. You might have offered money, tried to manipulate with guilt-inducing tactics,
appealed to his or her sense of pride or duty, or just attempted to reason with him or her.
All of these things can be motivating, and all may be part of a rhetorical approach to argu-
ments. However, while getting someone to do something out of greed, guilt, pride, or pity can
indeed get you what you want, this does not mean you have succeeded in achieving a justified
defense of your position.

Some of the most impressive orators in history—Demosthenes, Cicero, Winston Churchill—


were most likely born with a natural talent for rhetoric, yet they groomed their talent by becom-
ing well educated and studying the speeches of previous great orators. Rhetoric depends not
only on the mastery of a language and broad knowledge, but also on the fine-tuning of the use of
phrases, metaphors, pauses, crescendos, humor, and other devices. However, a talent for rheto-
ric can be easily employed by unscrupulous people to manipulate others. This characteristic is
precisely what distinguishes rhetorical arguments from arguments in logic.

Whereas rhetorical arguments aim to persuade (often with the intent to manipulate), logical
arguments aim to demonstrate. The distinction between persuading and demonstrating is
crucial. Persuading requires only the appearance of a strong position, perhaps camouflaged
by a strong dose of emotional appeal. But demonstrating requires presenting a position in a
way that may be conceivable even by opponents of the position. To achieve this, the argument
must be well informed, supported by facts, and free from flawed reasoning. Of course, an
argument can be persuasive (meaning, emotionally appealing) in addition to being logically
strong. The important thing to remember is that the fundamental end of logical arguments is
not to persuade but to employ good reasoning in order to demonstrate truths.

Moral of the Story: Persuasion Versus Demonstration


Purely persuasive arguments are undoubtedly easier to advance, which makes them the per-
fect tool for manipulation and deceit. However, only arguments that demonstrate with logic
serve the end of pursuing truth; thus, they are the preferable ones to master.

Revisiting Arguments in Logic


Suppose you and your friend watch a political debate, and she tells you that she thought one
of the candidates gave a good argument about taxes. You respond that you thought the can-
didate’s argument was not good. Have you disagreed with each other? You might think that
you had, but you may just be speaking past each other, using the term argument in different
senses. Your friend may mean that she found the argument persuasive, while you mean that
the argument did not establish that the candidate’s position was true. It may turn out that you
both agree on these points. Perhaps the candidate gave a rousing call to action regarding tax
reform but did not spend much time spelling out the details of his position or how it would
work to solve any problems. In this sort of case, the candidate may have given a good argu-
ment in the rhetorical sense but a bad argument in the logical sense.

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The Importance of Language in Logic Section 1.5 

To summarize:

• In contrast to ordinary arguments, logical arguments do not involve an exchange of


any kind.
• In contrast to ordinary arguments and rhetorical arguments, logical arguments are
not driven by emotions. In logic, only the reasons provided in defense of the conclu-
sion make up the force of the argument.
• In contrast to rhetorical arguments, logical arguments are not primarily attempts to
persuade, because there is no attempt to appeal to emotions. Rather, logical argu-
ments attempt only to demonstrate with reasons. Of course, good logical arguments
may indeed be persuasive, but persuasion is not the primary goal.

The goal of an argument in logic is to demonstrate that a position is likely to be true.

So before you go on to have a quarrel with your friend, make sure you are both using the word
in the same way. Only then can you examine which sense of argument is the most crucial to
the problem raised. Should we vote for a candidate who can get us excited about important
issues but does not tell us how he or she proposes to solve them? Or shall we vote for a can-
didate who may not get us very excited but who clearly outlines how he or she is planning to
solve the nation’s problems?

In the rest of this book, you should read the word argument in the logical sense and no other.
If the word is ever used in other ways, the meaning will be clearly indicated. Furthermore,
outside of discussions of logic, you must clarify how the word is being used.

1.5  The Importance of Language in Logic


The foregoing distinction of the different uses and meanings of the word argument show the
importance of employing language precisely. In addition to creating misunderstandings, mis-
used words or the lack of knowledge of distinctions in meaning also prevent us from formulat-
ing clear positions about matters that pertain to our personal goals and happiness. Language
affects how we think, what we experience, how we experience it, and the kind of lives we lead.

Language is our most efficient means of communicating what is in our minds. However, it is
not the only means by which humans communicate. We also communicate via facial expres-
sions, gestures, and emotions. However, these nonverbal cues often need clarifying words so
we can clearly grasp what someone else is expressing or feeling, especially people we don’t
know very well. If we see a stranger crying, for example, we might not be able to distinguish
at first glance if the tears are from happiness or sadness. If we are visiting a foreign land and
hear a man speaking in a loud voice and gesturing wildly, we might not know if he is quarrel-
ling or just very enthusiastic unless we understand his language.

This suggests that words matter very much because they are the universal means for making
ourselves clear to others. This may seem obvious, since we all use language to communi-
cate and, generally speaking, seem to manage satisfactorily. What we do not often recognize,

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The Importance of Language in Logic Section 1.5 

however, is the difference we could experience if we took full advantage of clear and precise
language in its optimal form. One result could be that many will no longer ignore what we say.
Another could be that as our vocabulary expands, we will no longer be limited to what we can
express to others or in what we can grasp from our experiences.

Suppose, for example, that you are invited to a dinner that unbeknownst to you introduces
you to a spice you have never tasted before. As you savor the food on your plate, you may taste
something unfamiliar, but the new flavor may be too faint for you, amidst the otherwise famil-
iar flavors of the dish you are consuming. In fact, you may be cognitively unaware of the char-
acter of this new flavor because you are unable to identify it by name and, thus, as a new
flavor category in your experience.

According to philosopher David Hume (1757), many


of us do not have a sensitive enough palate to actually
recognize new or unfamiliar flavors in familiar taste
experiences. For those who do, it would seem that the
test of a sensitive palate lies not with strong flavors
but with faint ones. However, recent neurobiological
research suggests that our responses to taste are not
entirely dependent on the refinement of our sensory
properties but, rather, on higher levels of linguistic
processing (Grabenhorst, Rolls, & Bilderbeck, 2008).
In other words, if you cannot describe it, it may be
quite possible you are unable to taste it; our ability to
skillfully use language thus improves our experience.

Logicians and philosophers in general take lan-


guage very seriously because it is the best means for
expressing our thoughts, to be understood by others,
and to clarify ideas that are in need of clarification.
Georgios Kollidas/iStock/Thinkstock
Communicating in a language, however, is more com-
plex than we recognize. As renowned philosopher Hume’s essay Of the Standard of Taste
John Searle observed, “Speaking a language is engag- stated that taste depends on the
ing in a rule-governed form of behavior” (Searle, refinement of sensory properties,
1969, p. 22). This means that whenever we talk or but recent neurobiological research
write, we are performing according to specific rules. suggests that taste may actually be
Pauses in speech are represented by punctuation dependent on language.
marks such as commas or periods. If we do not pause,
the meaning of the same string of words could change its meaning completely. The same prin-
ciple applies in writing. But although we are more conscious of making such pauses in speech,
sometimes we overlook their importance in writing. A clever saying on a T-shirt illustrates this
point, and it reads as follows:

Let’s eat Grandma.


Let’s eat, Grandma.
Commas save lives.

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Logic and Philosophy Section 1.6 

Indeed, even what may seem like a meaningless little comma can dramatically change the
meaning of a sentence. If we want to make sure others understand our written meaning, we
need to be mindful of relevant punctuation, grammatical correctness, and proper spelling. If
something is difficult to read because the grammar is faulty, punctuation is missing, or the
words are misspelled, these obstacles will betray the writer’s meaning.

Moral of the Story: The Importance of Language in Logic


Clarity, precision, and correctness in language are not only important to the practical quest of
communicating your ideas to others; they are fundamental to the practice of logical reasoning.

1.6  Logic and Philosophy


By this point, you may have noticed that logic and philosophy are often mentioned together.
There is good reason for this. Logic is not only an area of philosophy but also its bread
and butter. It is important to understand the connection between these two fields because
understanding the pursuit of philosophy will help clarify in your mind the value of logic in
your life.

First, however, let us confront the elephant in the room. Some people have no idea what phi-
losophers do. Others think that philosophers simply spend time thinking about things that
have little practical use. The stereotypical image of a philosopher, for instance, is a bearded
man asking himself: “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one else to hear it, is there
sound?” Your response to this may be: “Why should anyone care?” The fact is that many do,
and not only bearded philosophers: Such a question is also critical to those who work at the
boundaries of philosophy and science, as well as scientists who investigate the nature of
sound, such as physicists, researchers in medicine and therapy, and those in the industry of
sound technology.

Spatial views regarding sound, for example, have given rise to three theories: (a) sound is
where there is a hearer, (b) sound is in the medium between the resonating sound and the
hearer, and (c) sound is at the resonating object (Casati & Dokic, 2014). Accordingly, the tree
in the forest question would have the following three corresponding answers: (a) no, if sound
is where there is a hearer; (b) no, if sound is in the medium between the resonating sound
and a hearer; and (c) yes, if sound is located in the resonating object such as a human ear. This
seemingly impractical question, as it turns out, is not only quite interesting but also bears
tangible results that lead to our better understanding of acoustics, hearing impairments, and
sound technology. The best part is that the results affect us all. Many modern technologies
arose from a “tree in the forest” examination.

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Logic and Philosophy Section 1.6 

The Goal of Philosophy


Now that the practical nature of philo-
sophical inquiry has been demonstrated,
we can move to a more fruitful exami-
nation of what exactly philosophy is. In
one view, philosophy is the activity of
clarifying ideas. It is an activity because
philosophy is not fundamentally a body
of knowledge (as is history or biology,
for example) but rather an activity. The
goal of philosophical activity is to clarify
ideas in the quest for truth.

How does one clarify ideas? By asking


christinagasner/iStock/Thinkstock
questions—especially “why?,” “what
Children’s inquisitive nature personifies the act
does that mean?,” and “what do you
of being philosophical. Asking questions to clarify
mean?” Philosophers have observed
ideas or seek the truth is fundamental to engaging
that asking such questions may be a
in philosophy.
natural human inclination. Consider any
2-year-old. As he or she begins to com-
mand the use of language, the child’s quest seems to be an attempt to understand the world by
identifying what things are called. This may be annoying to some adults, but if we understand
this activity as philosophical, the child’s goal is clear: Names are associated with meanings, and
this process of making distinctions and comparisons of similarity is essentially the philosophical
mechanism for learning (Sokolowski, 1998).

Once we name things, we can distinguish things that are similar because names help us sepa-
rate things that appear alike. To a 2-year-old, a toy car and a toy truck may appear similar—both
are vehicles, for example, and have four tires—but their different names reflect that there are
also differences between them. So a 2-year-old will most likely go on to ask questions such as
why a car is not the same as a truck until she grasps the fundamental differences between these
two things. This is the truth-seeking nature of philosophy.

Philosophy and Logical Reasoning


Since children’s natural learning state is a philosophical attitude, by the time we start elemen-
tary school, we already have a few years of philosophical thinking under our belt. Unfortu-
nately, the philosophical attitude is not always sustained beyond this point. Over time, we
stop clarifying ideas because we might get discouraged from asking or we just get tired or
complacent. We then begin to accept everything that we are told or shown by those around
us, including what we watch on television or learn through social media. Once we stop filter-
ing what we accept by means of questions, as we did when we were very small children, we
become vulnerable to manipulation and deceit.

When we stop using questions to rationally discern among alternatives or to make judgments
concerning disputed social problems, we begin to rely entirely on emotions or on past experi-
ence as the basis for our decisions and judgments. As discussed earlier in the chapter, although

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Summary and Resources

emotions are valid and worthwhile, they can also be unreliable or lead us to make rash deci-
sions. This may be somewhat inconsequential if we are simply buying something on impulse
at the mall. But if we make judgments based purely on fear or anger, then emotions have much
more dire consequences, perhaps causing us to mistreat or discriminate against others.

Past experience can also be misleading. Consider Jay, a university student, who has done
very well in his first four university courses. He has found the courses relatively easy and
not very demanding, so he assumes that all university courses are easy. He is then surprised
when he discovers that Introduction to Physics is a challenging course, when he should have
rationally recognized that undertaking a university education is a challenging task. Asking
himself questions about the past courses—subject matter, professor, and so on—may help
Jay adjust his expectations.

Let us review two important points that we have discussed so far. First, philosophy is an
activity of clarifying ideas. Second, the goal of philosophy is to seek truth about all phenom-
ena in our experience. Logic provides us with an effective method for undertaking the task
of philosophy and discovering truths. This view has thus remained mainstream in Western
philosophy. When we think philosophically with regard to our mundane practical purposes,
logic offers us the tools to break the habit of relying on our emotions, feelings, or our past
experiences exclusively for making our decisions. Arriving at this recognition alone in your
own case will be part and parcel of your journey, with this book as your guide.

Summary and Resources

Chapter Summary
We have covered a lot of ground in this chapter. First we introduced the ideas of critical
thinking and logic as tools that help us identify warranted judgments. In other words, if we
have a belief, then logic helps us find an argument that warrants either our acceptance or
rejection of this belief. By means of arguments, logic thus helps us clarify when our judg-
ments are warranted and our beliefs are likely true. Second, we have presented a prelimi-
nary understanding of the argument as a methodical defense of a position advanced in
relation to a disputed issue. Arguments provide us with a structure that will help us discern
fact from purely emotional appeal and identify sober judgment from wishful thinking. Third,
we have defined philosophy as an activity of clarifying ideas. As such, it can be applied to
ideas in every activity—for example, raising children, learning, tasks at work, cooking, mak-
ing decisions—and to every discipline—for example, physics, mathematics, economics, biol-
ogy, information systems, engineering, sociology, and so on.

Chapter 2 will introduce you to the argument, the principal tool of logic. Chapters 3 through 8
will teach you the applications of logical reasoning, and Chapter 9 will show you how the
knowledge that you gained can be applied in your everyday life. Approach these chapters
methodically: Do a first reading to get a general idea, then go back and focus on the details of
each section of the chapters, always taking notes. Keep in mind that what you are learning is a
method for thinking, so you cannot adopt it simply by reading. Practice what you are learning
by doing the indicated exercises and activities.

The goal of this chapter has been to show you why logic is an indispensable tool in your life.
(For some thoughts on how critical thinking and logic might apply to your life as a student,

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Summary and Resources

see Everyday Logic: Thinking Critically About Your Studies.) Over the course of this book, you
will see how logical reasoning can help you make wiser choices. You will also find that the
benefits extend beyond yourself, since by developing the habit of good reasoning you will
also become more enlightened parents, better spouses, wiser voters, and more productive
community members. There is a fundamental humanity in logical reasoning that brings
people together rather than alienating them from one another. To achieve the habit of logical
reasoning, this book will lead you in a methodical process in which each chapter will pro-
vide you with an important element. Each component of this book is not only important but
also necessary in learning the tools of logical reasoning.

Everyday Logic: Thinking Critically About Your Studies


You will likely find that there are multiple opportunities to apply and develop critical thinking
skills in your life, but one of the most obvious opportunities at this juncture should be in your
academic career. As you move forward in your studies, the decisions you make about partici-
pation and study habits will affect your ability to succeed, so it is important that you approach
them thoughtfully, carefully, and even critically. The goal of this feature box is to provide some
insight into how good thinkers approach their studies and to offer some concrete methods for
developing your own vision of academic success.
How have you approached school and education throughout your life? From a theoretical
standpoint, all students know that the goal of college is to leave with skills that will allow them
to pursue certain careers or, at the very least, help them survive and pursue their conception
of a good life. Recall how interested you were in the world around you as a child or perhaps
how excited you became when you acquired a new skill or discovered a new interest. These
feelings and experiences are the essence of learning. Unfortunately, many people’s experience
in formal education is not one of wonder and enjoyment, but one of boredom and tedium. The
experience of the young child who found wonder and joy in discovering new things is often
crushed in formal educational experiences.
So what can we do? How can we learn to love learning again and improve our thinking and
study skills to make the most of our education? First you must identify and address your weak-
nesses and bad habits. Do you aim only to pass a class, cramming for tests or doing the bare
minimum on assignments, instead of steadily studying, reading, and taking notes for retention
and understanding? Do you tune out when you think material is boring? Do you avoid asking
questions because you are afraid of looking foolish or because it is easier to just accept ideas
at face value? Do you allow certain activities to interfere with your studies?
It is impossible to change all of our bad habits instantaneously, but starting with just one or
two can make a great difference. Here are some methods you can use to begin the journey
toward becoming a better student and thinker:

• Avoid trying to multitask while studying, and perhaps even consider “fasting” from any
media that tend to distract you or occupy inordinate amounts of your time. Tell oth-
ers to turn off the TV, Xbox, computer, and so forth when they see you zoning out while
engaging in these activities.
• Keep a journal and record urges that you have to fall into bad habits as well as goals
you have for your intellectual and academic future. Make note of your triumphs over
those negative urges. Review the journal regularly and reflect on how you are changing
through what you are learning.
(continued)

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har85668_01_c01_001-024.indd 22 4/9/15 11:20 AM


Summary and Resources

Everyday Logic: Thinking Critically About Your Studies


(continued)
• Surround yourself with people who will push you to higher levels of thinking and social
action.
• Read slowly and repeatedly. Having to read a text more than once does not mean you are
a poor reader. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that to read well, a human must
become a cow. What does that mean? It means we need to ruminate, to chew and chew
until we can swallow the meal. The process continues until we swallow and the food
stays down, becoming nourishment to our minds.
• Take notes and practice writing skills when you get some free time. Try to learn a new
grammar or usage rule every week. For example, do you know exactly when you should
use a semicolon? If not, look it up right now. It is a really simple rule.
• Teach what you are learning to others. One of the best ways to determine if you have
knowledge of something is if you can explain it and teach it to someone else.
• Recognize that this will take years of practice and will probably be slow going at first.
Remember that small positive changes will add up to a whole new way of thinking and
approaching life over time.
Finally, always remember that we are privileged to have the opportunity to pursue education.
There are billions of people that will never have the opportunity to go to school or to provide
that opportunity to their loved ones. Reformatting our perspective from one of frustration
to one of gratitude can do a lot to change the way we approach education and learning. As
you move forward this week, think about the following questions and how you might make
changes in your own life that will lead to positive intellectual change.

• What is my view of education, and what experiences led me to that view?


• What are my greatest strengths as a student?
• What are my greatest weaknesses as a student?
• How do I waste my time, and what might I do to utilize that time more effectively?
• What is something I can do today that will help me become a better student and thinker?
• What am I learning, and how has what I have learned changed who I am?

Critical Thinking Questions


1. What does the word critical in critical thinking mean? How would you explain criti-
cal thinking to someone you know?
2. Do you have reasons for your most strongly held beliefs? To what extent are they
based on emotions? Are they based in factual evidence and fair reasoning? Would
other people find them convincing?
3. Are there beliefs that others hold that make you upset or angry? Why? How might
you change your perspective in order not to react negatively when you hear contra-
dictory beliefs?
4. Is it important to use language clearly? Why or why not? What are some steps that
one can take to use language more clearly?
5. What is a logical argument? What role do you think logical argument could play in
your life?

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har85668_01_c01_001-024.indd 23 4/9/15 11:20 AM


Summary and Resources

Web Resources
http://www.criticalthinking.org
The Foundation for Critical Thinking maintains an extensive website regarding critical
thinking and related scholarship.

http://herebedragonsmovie.com
If you like to watch videos, Brian Dunning’s Here Be Dragons provides a nice introduction to
some of critical thinking’s advantages and tools.

http://philosophy.hku.hk/think/critical/ct.php
Hong Kong professors Joe Lau and Jonathan Chan sponsor open courseware on critical
thinking at this website. This is a great place to look up specific concepts and ideas within
critical thinking.

http://plato.stanford.edu
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an excellent resource for any topics related to
philosophy.

http://www.iep.utm.edu
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a peer-reviewed online academic resource of
articles on philosophy.

Key Terms
critical thinking  The activity of care- informal logic  The study and description of
ful assessment and self-assessment that reasoning in everyday life.
employs logical reasoning as the princi-
pal basis for accepting beliefs or making logic  The study of arguments as tools for
judgments. arriving at warranted judgments.

formal logic  The abstract study of argu- philosophy  The activity of clarifying ideas
ments, often using symbolic notation for with the goal of seeking truth.
analysis.
rhetoric  The art of persuasion.

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