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AnalyzingArgument - Chapter Six Analyzing Arguments...

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Chapter Six: Analyzing Arguments =Theory= I. Introduction 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. Evaluation 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 formal analysis , 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, context analysis . 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--
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Carter left hostages in Iran and Clinton brought dishonor to the office. We have to vote for someone else if we hope to have effective federal government. Is this a good argument? Before answering this, we must determine exactly what the argument is. The conclusion is that we must vote for someone other than Al Gore in the upcoming Presidential election. The reasons offered turn on the effectiveness of Democratic Presidents in the recent past. In particular, the argument contends that Gore
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