Chapter Six: Analyzing Arguments
As I have characterized it in this handbook, critical thinking is primarily about the
evaluation of arguments. Evaluation of arguments requires that we have arguments to
evaluate, and it has been the purpose of the preceding chapters to describe how we locate
and represent such things. Once we have them, though, we can get down to business.
is, after all, the central activity of critical thinking, and it is in this chapter that
we will focus on this activity. The goal is to provide the tools to use in detecting good
arguments. This contrasts with the goal in the next chapter, which is to provide tools to
use in detecting bad arguments. We begin this chapter by discussing the nature of
argument evaluation, and the relationship between this stage of critical thinking and the
stages we have discussed in earlier chapters.
As we observed in Chapter Three, arguments understood as products have both form and
content. In light of this, it should come as no surprise that they can be evaluated in terms
of their form and their content. Both types of evaluation will be discussed in this chapter.
Evaluation of form, or
, falls within the province of logic. Logic, as a
discipline, concerns the identification and development of formal patterns of reasoning
(and related concepts) that meet certain standards, such as validity or non-deductive
strength. After discussing the nature of argument analysis in general, we will turn to a
development of the logical tools necessary to engage explicitly in the evaluation of
argument form. Evaluation of content, or
subject matter analysis
, will vary from field to
field. This sort of evaluation requires familiarity with specific disciplines, their facts,
theories, and standards. As such, there is little we can say here about the specific
character of this form of analysis, but there are some general considerations that I address
in the penultimate section. The final section is devoted to the third stage of evaluation,
. After assessing an argument for merit on its own, we must examine if it
serves the purposes of the arguer. Does it advance her persuasive goals, and if so, how
does it advance them?
II. The Nature of Argument Analysis
II.1 A Worked Example
Consider the following argument:
I plan to vote for someone other than Al Gore, and I think you should follow my lead.
He's a Democrat, and Democratic presidents in the last 30 years have not done the job--