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Topic X Identifying

Reasons and
Conclusions
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LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1."

Determine if reasoning is present in an argument;

2."

Identify words used in the language of reasoning;

3."

Use the Thinking Map to analyse and evaluate arguments;

4."

Apply tests to evaluate the validity and acceptability of claims; and

5."

Identify assumptions and evaluate inferences in an argument.

X" INTRODUCTION
Many a time we face situations where someone tries to convince us of a
viewpoint in the hope that we would accept it. This is often known as "arguing a
case" or "presenting an argument". Sometimes, the reasoning is simple to
understand but at other times it can be rather difficult. Likewise, when we
present a case, at certain times it can be easy for the other person to understand it
and at other times it can be difficult. We will explain the method to identify what
reasoning is being presented when someone is arguing a case and how to present
reasoning in a clear manner ourselves.
There are basic critical thinking skills we must practise if we want to excel at
critical thinking in real circumstances. You cannot assess a case presented in
support of some belief or decision unless you are very clear on what the case is.

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TOPIC 3

3.1

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

DECIDING WHEN REASONING IS PRESENT

First of all, it must be realised that we use language for many purposes besides
trying to influence others of a standpoint. We use language for descriptive and
informative purposes, such as to report an event, describe things, tell stories, tell
jokes, make promises and many other things.
While language has an important role in conveying such information for the
purpose of this discourse, however, we are interested in how language is used in
reasoning. Reasoning is the process of making inferences from the information
given.
The following passages are provided to see if you can tell which contain
reasoning and which do not.
Scenario 1
James burst out of Customs, diamonds and expensive watches falling from his
bag as he ran. As he reached the taxi stand, customers were sitting in all of the
waiting taxis. James ran towards the nearest taxi and leaped into it as it was
beginning to move. He pointed a gun at the driver and said, Downtown! The
taxi turned towards the motorway. (Morton, 1988)
The above passage is simply a descriptive passage, and it does not provide
reasons for a conclusion, although we naturally make several inferences as we
read it.
Scenario 2
Many substantial environmental problems cannot be solved by individual or
local action; for example, the pollution caused by automobile exhaust gases is a
world-wide problem, and so such problems can only be addressed by
international action.
Scenario 2 provides reasons for the conclusion that certain problems can only be
addressed by international action.

TOPIC 3

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

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Scenario 3

The 19th century English theologian and biologist Gosse (1810 1888) (Figure
3.1) had a problem. He was a devout Christian who accepted the Creation story
as set out in the Bible, but he was also a practising scientist. He was well aware
that the geological and fossil studies by other scientists seemed to show that the
Earth was very old, perhaps millions of years old. How could he resolve this
conflict?

Figure 3.1: Philip Henry Gosse


Source: http://www.parlouraquariums.org.uk/

Scenario 3 does not provide reasons for a conclusion. It only describes a possible
solution to a problem but there is no reasoning.
Thus, it is evident that at certain times, we use language to describe some state of
affairs, and at other times, we use it to reason and arrive at a conclusion. There
are also times when we use language to ridicule, insult or offend. Most articles in
newspapers report events but the leading articles and letters to the editor will
often contain reasoning in support of a conclusion. As for novels, they rarely
contain much reasoning. Textbooks, on the other hand, often seek both to pass on
information and to present the authors arguments. Finally, parliamentary
debates many a time contain reasoning as well as verbal abuse.

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3.2

TOPIC 3

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

EXAMPLES OF REASONING

In order to understand reasoning, we shall thoroughly study the following


example. Let us imagine a student, Peter, who has just completed a critical
thinking course and has failed the test which was set at the end of the course. Let
us imagine that he sends this note to his teacher:

"That test was unfair. I studied for days, reading the material four times,
underlining important details and then studying them. After doing all
these I should obtain a good grade. That test was unfair."
From this note, it is clear that Peter argues that "the test was unfair" and this is
basically his conclusion. Notice that the conclusion in this example has been
provided at the beginning of a piece of reasoning and it comes again at the end of
the note, perhaps to strongly stress the complaint. You may also think that
Peters conclusion is that the teacher should look again at the test or at Peter's
answers, or that Peter's answers should be regarded favourably by the teacher or
by any other teacher competent in this field. The main allegation is that
something should be done to rectify a mistake, and in this situation, it goes
beyond what is actually said. Thus, you might say that this is his conclusion. At
times, people do not express, or do not completely express, their conclusions.
Peter provided several reasons for his conclusion when he said, "I studied for
days, reading the material four times, underlining important details and then
studying them." These are his reasons for coming up with the conclusion that the
test was unfair.
Among the lessons learned from the above example are:
(a)"

It is rather easy to see which reasons are presented for which conclusions.
All that is needed is an understanding of our normal use of the language.

(b)" You now understand what the words "conclusion" and "reason" mean, in a
simple context as shown above. We use these words in their ordinary,
everyday sense.
(c)"

Conclusions can come at the beginning as well as the end of an argument,


and although they may be unexpressed, they may be "implied" by what is
mentioned.

(d)" The task of judging whether an argument is good or not is rather difficult.
What is really required is an understanding of what is said, what is
assumed and what the context is.

TOPIC 3

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

SELF-CHECK 3.1
1."

Read the passage below which is adapted from a letter to an


American newspaper published a few years ago.

We should bring most of our troops home from Europe. The


threat from Russia has gone now that the Evil Empire has
collapsed; the Europeans can defend themselves now that the
threat to their security is less and they are so rich; and we must
reduce our federal deficit fast, if our economy is not to collapse.
(a)"

What is the conclusion of this argument?

(b)" What is the author trying to persuade us of?


(c)"

What reasons are given in support of the conclusion?

(d)" Is anything assumed (something not actually stated in the


text)?
(e)"

2."

Again, you might like to comment briefly on whether the


argument is a good one.

We need to make rail travel more attractive to travellers. There are


so many cars on the road that the environment and human safety
are under threat. Rail travel should be made cheaper. Everyone
wants the roads to be less crowded but they still want the
convenience of being able to travel by road themselves. People will
not abandon the car in favour of the train without some new
incentive.
(a)"

What is the conclusion of the argument?

(b)" What is the author trying to persuade us of?


(c)"

What reasons are given in support of the conclusion?

(d)" Is anything assumed (that is, implicit but not actually stated)?

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3.3

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

LANGUAGE OF REASONING

There are several words and phrases that are normally used characteristically to
indicate that an individual is arguing a case or is presenting reasons for a
conclusion. Among the words or phrases used to show that the claim indicated is
a conclusion for which reasons have been presented are:
x" therefore

x" justifies the belief/view that

x" so

x" it can be concluded that

x" hence

x" from which we can infer

x" thus

x" it follows that/it demonstrates that

x" consequently

x" must

x" which proves/establishes that


However, it is not necessary that the utilisation of such phrases always indicate
the occurrence of a conclusion to an argument, just that it often does and that,
taken in concurrence with the context, such language often provides you with an
important clue about the structure of the reasoning. These phrases are commonly
called "conclusion indicators" because they signal the presence of a conclusion,
for which reasons have been presented.
In addition, there are also words or phrases that are commonly utilised to signal
the presence of reasons, and are usually known as "reason indicators". Among
the common reason indicators used are:
x" because

x" the reasons are

x" since

x" firstly

x" for

x" secondly

x" follows from the fact that


When we intend to refer to both "conclusion indicators" and "reason indicators,
"we commonly speak of "argument indicators," which are signs that help us
understand whether a reasoning is present and what the author's argument is.

TOPIC 3

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

SELF-CHECK 3.2
1."

In the following examples, identify which words and phrases are


"argument indicators". Also, identify the sentences that indicate
reasons and its corresponding conclusions:

During a football game, John Terry committed a serious foul, so


he deserved a sending off.
The butler was in the pantry. In that case, he couldn't have shot
the master, who was in his study. Hence, the butler couldn't
have done it.
The Green Movement is mistaken in thinking that we should
recycle materials like paper and glass because paper comes from
trees, an easily renewable resource, and glass is made from
sand, which is plentiful and cheap. Furthermore, in some
American cities recycling schemes have been abandoned
because they are too expensive.
2."

In the passage below, state which of the words marked in bold are
reason indicators and which are conclusion indicators, and then
state which sentences are reasons and which are conclusions.
Finally, state the reasons you think are presented by the author in
support of the corresponding conclusions.

Most parents want their children to have successful careers.


Since education is essential to success, it is the duty of parents to
give children the best possible education. Because it is also in the
country's economic interest to have a highly educated
population, the Government should help parents to provide for
their children's education. Therefore, all parents should receive
financial help towards the cost of their children's education, so
the lowly paid should receive tax credits and those who are
better off should receive tax relief.

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THINKING MAP FOR UNDERSTANDING


AND EVALUATING REASONING

3.4

So far, we have seen many different pieces of reasoning and explained how to
best understand and evaluate them. We have been looking at small pieces of
reasoning, pondering how to handle them and paying attention to some of the
common mistakes we commit in responding to reasoning. In the absence of such
assistance, most individuals tend to react by immediately challenging any claim
they disagree with or by presenting their own opinion without reflecting on the
arguments presented and so on.
The key to effective critical thinking is asking the right questions. We now
present a basic model or "thinking map" a tool that can help us evaluate
reasoning as seen in Table 3.1. Basically, the thinking map is a list of key
questions you should ask when analysing an argument be it your own or
someone else's.
Table 3.1: Thinking Map Skillful Analysis and Evaluation of Arguments
Analysis
1.

What is/are the main conclusion(s)?


(May be stated or unstated; may be in the forms of recommendations, or explanations
and so on. The presence of conclusion indicator words such as "therefore" may help.)
[Aim: It helps in organising your thinking about a piece of reasoning if you know

what the author is trying to persuade and/or convince you of]


2.

What are the reasons (data, evidence, etc) and their structure?

3.

What is assumed (that is, implicit or taken for granted, perhaps in the context)?

4.

Clarify the meaning (by the terms, claims or arguments) which needs it.

Evaluation
5.

Are the reasons acceptable to you?


(These include explicit reasons and unstated assumptions these may also involve
evaluating factual claims, definitions and value judgments and judging the
credibility of the source.)
(a)

Does the reasoning support its conclusion(s)?


(For example, is the supporting argument strong as "beyond reasonable doubt"
or weak)?

(b)

Are there other relevant considerations/arguments which strengthen or


weaken the case?

(You may already know these or may have to construct them)

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63

[Aim: Also called critico-creative thinking, which requires us to consider any other
relevant ideas we know or can think up which will help us to arrive at a good
judgment for the case in hand].
6.

What is your overall evaluation based on what you have obtained above?

The first set of questions is based on analysis. You cannot respond reasonably to
an argument without understanding it. Thus, the above given analytical
questions help you to understand what is being stated and argued. This is
followed by the evaluative questions, which will assist you in deciding whether
or not you should be convinced of the argument.
The Thinking Map should be used not only when you are considering other
peoples reasoning but also when you are constructing your own. If you have a
good case, you should be able to organise it so that your readers or listeners will
be able to clearly understand what you are trying to state in terms of how you
carry it out. It helps to use the "language of reasoning" in order to make your
conclusion and reasoning clear and unambiguous.

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SELF-CHECK 3.3
1."

Sometimes, we may be led astray by flawed but persuasive


"reasoning". Consider the following:

Three friends had dinner at a restaurant. The bill came up to


RM25. Since RM25 is not easily divisible by 3, they decided to
put up RM10 each. They gave RM30 to the waiter, who
subsequently returned them RM5 change. From the change, they
took RM1 each, and tipped the waiter the remaining RM2. So,
for their dinner, they actually paid RM9 each (RM10 less the
RM1 returned).
Three times RM9 is RM27. The waiter took RM2. This adds up to
RM29. What happened to the remaining RM1?
Though it may not appear to be so, this is really a problem of logic
rather than arithmetic. You are led to the wrong conclusion that the
remaining RM1 cannot accounted for, because of flawed reasoning.
Where is the flaw in this reasoning? Can applying the Thinking
Map expose it? If so, please elaborate your answer.
2."

For the following passages, use the thinking map to help you
analyse the argument (noting any important assumptions) and
write a brief evaluative response:

Big art exhibitions, which collect paintings from all over the
world, are bad for the paintings. Whenever they are transported,
there is a danger of accidents and resultant damage or
destruction, and it cannot be good to subject paintings to the
changes of pressure and humidity that even carefully controlled
travel is likely to bring.
The number of crimes committed by people under the age of 17
has almost doubled in the last seven years. The Criminal Justice
Act which becomes law this year should have the effect of
reversing this trend. Children who commit crimes know that the
penalties are minimal. But the new Act will make it possible for
parents to be made liable for fines and compensations, and for
them to be compelled to appear in court alongside offspring
who are under 17. The level of fines will be related to parental
income and wealthy parents may have to pay up to $5,000 for
their childrens crime.

TOPIC 3

3.5

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

65

ACCEPTABILITY OF REASONS

We have already looked at some techniques required to understand what authors


mean, especially in the process of reasoning. Next, we will continue with the
process of evaluating authors' reasonings. This is vital because when someone
provides reasons which aim to persuade us to agree with a certain point of view,
we not only want to understand what they are saying but we may also be in a
position to evaluate their claims. In other words, we want to decide whether it is
a good reasoning and whether we should be persuaded by it. In order to do this
skillfully, we have to ask the right questions.
Generally, people commonly react in two ways towards a conclusion made by
another. If they agree with the conclusion, they say, "Yes, I agree with that,"
without considering the details of the argument. If they disagree with it, they say,
"I do not agree with that," and may say something against the conclusion, such as
denying it, rejecting the argument or providing a contradictory or opposing
argument. It is very uncommon for listeners to take the argument seriously and
analyse it for its validity. In order to obtain the truth about substantial issues, one
has to be systematic and skillful. We will look at how to go about this in more
detail here.
To set the context for our present work, let us look at an example, and use it to
explain the questions to be asked, and how they work:
In general context, most prospective parents would prefer to have sons.
So if people can choose the sex of their child, it is likely that there will
eventually be more males than females in our population. This could
produce serious social problems; therefore we should prohibit the use of
techniques which enable people to choose the sex of their children.
If we were to evaluate this systematically, we need to ask the following
questions:
x" Are the reasons acceptable (true, valid, factual, etc.)?
x" Does the reasoning support its conclusion(s)?
x" Are there other relevant considerations/arguments?
x" What is your overall evaluation on this topic?
First, we have to decide whether it is true that "most prospective parents would
prefer to have sons." Based on general knowledge, this claim may be true in some
societies and cultures across the world, for instance in India and China, but it

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may be untrue in others. To find out, we need to carry out our research or look
for survey information on this matter to ascertain this statement.
The question that follows is: "Does this reasoning support its conclusion?" If it is
true that "most prospective parents would prefer to have sons," then does it not
follow that if people can choose the sex of their child, it is likely that there will
eventually be more males than females in the population? If people prefer boys
and can get boys, does it not seem very likely that more boys than girls will be
born? It is definitely hard to see anything wrong with that inference of
correlation.
The next reason is, "This could produce serious social problems," and the
question is whether this claim is acceptable or not. It is not very easy to judge this
reason because it actually depends on whether there is a small or big surplus of
boys in society. Following this, the next question is, "Do the preceding claims
support the conclusion that we should prohibit the use of techniques which
enable people to choose the sex of their children?" Well, if allowing these
techniques to be used does produce a surplus of boys, which will in turn produce
serious social problems, maybe we should ban them.
However, there is another question that we should ask: "Are there other relevant
considerations or arguments in regards to this statement?" This is the point when
thinking about an issue requires us to be critical, creative and to think out-of-thebox to arrive at the acceptance of an argument or claim.
Just why is this so important? It generally means, we have analysed the
statement constructively and are now more clear and ready to determine the
validity and credibility in support of a conclusion we can accept, and not only
comprehend.
To summarise the above, once you are reasonably clear about what an author is
saying and what his reasons and conclusions are, you are in a position to
evaluate the reasoning.

ACTIVITY 3.1
State additional and further considerations and/or arguments that are
relevant to the question of banning the use of techniques for selecting the
sex of children."

TOPIC 3

3.6

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

67

JUDGING ACCEPTABILITY OF A CLAIM

There are several questions to be asked on the acceptability of a claim, which


would then lead into considerations about credibility. In general, to skilfully
judge the acceptability of a claim, six steps are involved as outlined in Figure 3.2:

Figure 3.2: Six steps in evaluating the acceptability of a claim

Now, let us explore each step in the process of evaluation of acceptability in


detail.
(i)"

How certain is the claim?


Whether a claim is acceptable or not depends on the strength of
commitment. A provided claim may well be acceptable as a "guess" or a
"possibility", however, its acceptability will be judged by more thorough
standards if it is presented as being true or even assured.

(ii)" Does the context of the claim influence its acceptability?


Whether a claim is acceptable or not depends on the context and manner in
which it is made.
(iii)" Does the claim require expertise/research to decide?
There are cases in which reasons provided for selective conclusions require
specialised knowledge or expertise input in determining whether they are
acceptable or not. Sometimes, you may have this knowledge and at other
times, you may not for it may not be your field of forte. Thus, wherever

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such an expertise is needed, it may be challenging or even impossible for


you to judge the strength of an argument.
(iv)" Is it widely known or believed?
There are times when a reason presented is widely recognised or believed.
(v)" How well does the claim fit with our other beliefs and opinions?
Sometimes, the reason you are reflecting upon "fits well" with other beliefs
you have and sometimes it does not.
(vi)" Is it from a credible source?
We can accept or reject a claim based on the credibility, reliability and
validity of its source.

SELF-CHECK 3.4
From the following passage, discuss the acceptability of the claims.

The huge Norwegian company called Norsk Hydro wants to grow more
fish in the sea by spreading fertilisers over the ocean. The company,
which is the worlds biggest producer of fertilisers, believes that this will
grow more marine algae, which in turn will encourage the expansion of
fish stocks. Marine scientists from Sweden and Canada who reviewed
the plan at the request of the Norwegian Research Council say it is
unlikely to work. They say it ignores basic principles of marine ecology
and could do irreversible damage.
[Adapted from "Norway's fish plan a recipe for disaster," New
Scientist, 13 January 1996]"

3.7

JUDGING CREDIBILITY OF SOURCES

Our beliefs and opinions are shaped by what we read in newspapers, what we
see on television or what we hear from the radio. When deciding whether or not
to believe a person's statement or a piece of information, these sources provide us
with some points of reference.

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69

In this section, we will go through the criteria required to judge the credibility of
sources of claims. Among the criteria that we should pay close attention to are:
(i)"

The sources reputation for reliability;

(ii)" Whether the source has a vested interest;


(iii)" Whether there is corroboration or validation of the claim from independent
sources;
(iv)" Whether the source has the relevant expertise or training;
(v)" The nature of the claim itself; and
(vi)" Whether the source can provide credible reasons for the claim they make.
To check the credibility of sources of claims, let us look into each question in
Table 3.2.
Table 3.2: Five Criteria Required to Judge the Credibility of Sources of Claims
1.

Questions on the person/source.


x"

Do they have relevant expertise/knowledge/training/experience?

x"

Do they have the capacity to observe accurately (includes all other abilities like
hearing, proximity to event, absence of distractions, appropriate machines, and
skill in handling machineries)?

x"

Does their reputation suggest they are dependable?

x"

Does the source have vested interest or show bias?

2.

Questions on the circumstances/context in which the claim is made

3.

Questions on the jurisdiction the source offers or can offer in support of the claim.

4.

5.

x"

Is the claim based on primary and secondary sources?

x"

Is the claim based on direct or on circumstantial evidence?

x"

Is the claim based on direct reference to credibility considerations?

Questions on the nature of the claim which influence its credibility.


x"

Is it very unlikely or is it easy to believe?

x"

Is it a basic observation statement or an inferred judgment?

Is there corroboration or validation from other sources?

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In summary, we can categorise the above mentioned criteria into five sections
which contain questions pertaining to the:
(i)"

Person/source whose credibility we intend to judge;

(ii)" Circumstances/contexts in which the claim is made that affect its


credibility;
(iii)" Justification the source offers or can offer in support of the claim which
affects its credibility;
(iv)" Nature of the claim which influences its credibility; and
(v)" Whether there is corroboration/validation from other sources.

SELF-CHECK 3.5
You are listening to a court case in which Jason, who collided with
another car, is accused of driving at twice the speed limit in the city and
with three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. Jason denies the
charges but the doctor who attended to him tells the court that Jason
smelled very strongly of alcohol and blood tests showed alcohol in his
blood at three times the legal limit. Who is credible and why?"

ACTIVITY 3.2
Think about several examples of people or "sources" (like the BBC or
TV3) you know and identify the areas in which they have a well-justified
reputation for reliability and areas in which they do not. Discuss with
your coursemates."

3.8

EVALUATING INFERENCES

When we argue on a certain case, we present reasons to support our conclusion,


interpretation and decision. In other words, we infer our conclusion from our
reasons. Normally, arguments contain both reasons and inferences, and
"inferences" are the ones that we use in order to move on from reasons to
conclusions. This can be seen in the following example.

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71

Some people have solved their own unemployment problem by either


looking for a job or by willingness to work for less. So all the unemployed
could do the same.
In the above example, the inference is the move from "some people have solved
their own unemployment problem" to "all the unemployed could do the same."
However, reasons and inferences have to be evaluated rather differently. In most
circumstances, it is important to judge whether the reasons provided in some
argument are true or otherwise acceptable. On the other hand, to judge whether
the inference based upon those reasons are justified or not is a totally different
thing.
Let us look at the following example.

Women's brains are on average smaller than men's, therefore women are
less intelligent than men.
Most people, when asked, say that they are unsure of why the brains of women
are smaller than those of men but they are very sure that the conclusion
presented is not true. Although the reason is true, there is no connection between
brain size and intelligence, so the reason does not support the conclusion.
The first response points to the fact that we expect to be able to see some
reasonably established connection between reason and conclusion if one is to
justify the other a link we can perceive and accept in the light of everything else
we believe.
The second says that if the reason is true but there are reasons for thinking the
conclusion could be false, it cannot be a good inference. However, since the
second response has received more support in the history of thinking about
inferences, that is the one we will choose here. Thus, the fundamental idea is that
the reason(s) do not make you accept the conclusion, and if you can think of
other ways in which the reasons can be proven to be true and the conclusion false
concurrently, then the inference is false. The test to apply when judging an
inference is:

Could the reason(s) be true (or otherwise acceptable) and the conclusion
false (or otherwise unacceptable) at the same time?
If the answer to the above question is "No," then the inference, which is the
progress from reasons to conclusion, is a brilliant idea and forces you accept the
conclusion if the reasons are true. On the other hand, if the answer is "Yes," then
the inference fails, or is not justified.

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In the example above, we face a situation where the reason is true but the
inference from reason to conclusion is unjustified. In other words, the inference is
unjustified because the reason could be true and the conclusion untrue at the
same time. Thus, it is clear that the attempt to decide whether an inference is
justified is very different from the tests you should apply when trying to decide
whether reasons are accepted.

If you have memorised the key points of this book, you will do well in the
critical thinking examination, and you have memorised them so you will
do well in the exam.
In the above example, the reasons are true, thus, the conclusion must also be true,
and this makes it a good inference. However, the reason which says that you
only have to memorise the facts in order to do well in the examination is
definitely false. Thus, this argument fails to justify its conclusion not because it
makes a poor inference, but due to the fact that at least one of the reasons on
which it is based is not true.
In summary, for an argument to succeed in justifying its conclusion it must meet
two important conditions:
(i)"

Its reasons must be true or otherwise acceptable; and

(ii)" The inferences which are then drawn from those reasons must be good
ones.

SELF-CHECK 3.6
Apply the test we have just explained to decide whether the inferences
you identified in the passages given below are justified.
(a)"

The job of a driving instructor is challenging and rewarding. One


has great freedom in working for oneself and it is unnecessary to
have passed any "A" levels. Therefore, a suitable job for anyone
without "A" levels is that of a driving instructor.

*d+" If the world's climate is getting warmer, we would find that some
of the ice at both the North and South Pole would melt at an
unusually high rate. If the ice is melting, we would see its effect in
raising the level of the sea. There is evidence that this level is
increasing, so the world's climate must be getting warmer."

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73

Next, we would like to introduce the "d


deductively valid" concept, the highest
standard of all for judging inference. Can you think of any way the reason(s)
could be true and the conclusion false? If the answer to that question is "No,"
then the inference is deductively valid, and if the answer is "Yes," then the
inference is not deductively valid.
Hence, if an argument is deductively valid, the truth of its reasons absolutely
guarantees the truth of its conclusion; if the reasons are true, the conclusion must
be true, there are no other possibilities. A good example would be that if it is true
that "all whales are mammals" and "all mammals give birth to their young," then
it must be true that "all whales give birth to their young." There is no way that
the reasons can be true and the conclusion false. Thus, this is a deductively valid
argument.

SELF-CHECK 3.7
1."

Compare the following two syllogisms.


(a)"

All men are mortal.


Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

(b)" All bird-watchers own binoculars.


Bob owns (a pair of) binoculars.
Therefore Bob is a bird-watcher.
What is the difference, if any, between the two? Do both
conclusions follow logically from their respective assertions? Are
both conclusions acceptable?
2."

Judge which of the following arguments is deductively valid and


which is not. Explain in each case why you make your decision.
(a)"

Tom hates everyone Mary loves and Mary loves Tom. So


Tom must hate himself.

(b)" The butler was in the pantry. In that case, he could not have
shot the master, who was in the study. So, the butler could
not have done it.

74 X
"

TOPIC 3

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

In most texts, it is rather easy to spot assumptions.

Driving instructor is a challenging and rewarding occupation. One has


great freedom in working for oneself, and it is unnecessary to have
passed any "A" levels. Therefore, a suitable job for anyone without "A"
levels is that of a driving instructor.
Anyone who reads the above passage would quickly assume that if a
"challenging and rewarding occupation with freedom to work for yourself"
appeals to you, then to be a driving instructor you require little more than to
"have no A levels." This is called an implicit (hidden or unspoken) assumption.
The inference made here is rather weak because the reasons could be true but the
conclusion false, judging by any reasonable standard. Many a time, it is not so
easy to tell what is being assumed and in these circumstances, we proceed to
elicit assumptions or assumptions that are drawn out, especially when the
quality of the inference is important. Thus, the general strategy is that we should
assign to arguments and explanations those assumptions which:
(i)"

Seem likely in the context; or

(ii)" Make sense of what is said; or


(iii)" Seem necessary to make the reasoning as strong as possible (if true).

x" A case presented cannot be assessed in support of some belief or decision


unless the individual is very clear on what the case is. One needs to identify
and ascertain reasons and conclusions made in the case.
x" The language of reasoning uses various types of words and phrases, known
as conclusion indicators, that indicate a conclusion is being made by the
particular claim.
x" A thinking map used in the understanding and evaluating of a reasoning
includes a list of important questions such as:
" What are/is the main conclusion(s);
" What are the reasons and their structure;
" What is assumed;
" Clarifying what is required;
" Are the reasons acceptable or not; and

TOPIC 3

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

75

" What is the overall evaluation when the analysis of an argument is being
carried out.
x" In the evaluation of acceptability of reasons, the important questions that
need to be asked include:
" Whether the reasons are acceptable or not;
" Does the reasoning support its conclusion(s);
" Are there other relevant considerations/arguments; and
" What is the overall evaluation.
x" The six steps involved in judging acceptability of a claim skillfully are:
" How certain is the claim;
" Does the context of the claim influence its acceptability;
" Does the claim require the decision of an expert;
" Is the claim widely known or believed;
" How well does the claim fit with our other beliefs; and
" Is the claim made by a credible source.
x" In judging the credibility of a source skillfully, the main criteria that require
close attention include the sources reputation for reliability:
" Whether the source has a vested interest;
" Whether there is corroboration or validation of the claim from
independent sources;
" Whether the source has the relevant expertise or training;
" The nature of the claim itself; and
" Whether the source can provide credible reasons for the claim they make.
x" When we argue on a certain case, conclusions are inferred from the reasons.
x" For an argument to succeed in justifying its conclusion its reasons must be
true or otherwise acceptable and the inferences which are then drawn from
those reasons must be good ones.

76 X
"

TOPIC 3

IDENTIFYING REASONS AND CONCLUSIONS

"
Acceptability of claim

Inferences

Acceptability of reasons

Reasoning

Credibility of sources

Thinking map

Deductive validity

1."

If the world's climate was getting warmer, we would find that some of the
ice at both the North and South Pole would be melting at an unusually high
rate. If the ice was melting, we would see its effect in the raising of the level
of the sea. There is evidence that this level is increasing, so the world's
climate must be getting warmer. Do you think that this argument contains
an implicit assumption?

2."

In each of the following examples, identify something which is implicitly


assumed and explain how assumptions affect the inference (does it make it
more acceptable or show that it is weak)?
(a)"

If the building burned to the ground, there will be only a pile of ashes
and rubble. There is now only a pile of ashes and rubble here.
Therefore, the building has been burned to the ground.

(b)" A teacher is speaking to a colleague about a student, Jones, just before


an exam. She says that Jones has worked hard so he will pass the
exam.

Moore, B. N., & Parker, R. (2005). Critical thinking. (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Vaughn, L. (2004). The power of critical thinking: Effective reasoning about
ordinary and extraordinary claims. USA: Oxford University Press.
Wright L. (2001). Critical thinking: An introduction to analytical reading and
reasoning. New York: Oxford University Press.