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CLAIMS AND CRITICAL THINKING The principal goal of critical thinking is “determining when it is reasonable to accept claims.” Not all claims are explicitly.

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Presentation on theme: "CLAIMS AND CRITICAL THINKING The principal goal of critical thinking is “determining when it is reasonable to accept claims.” Not all claims are explicitly."— Presentation transcript:

1 CLAIMS AND CRITICAL THINKING The principal goal of critical thinking is “determining when it is reasonable to accept claims.” Not all claims are explicitly supported by argument. Whether or not a claim which is presented without explicit supporting argument should be accepted depends on: 1. The content of the claim (what it is about) 2. The source of the claim (where it comes from)

2 ASSESSING AN UNSUPPORTED CLAIM Generally speaking, it is reasonable to accept an unsupported claim: 1.If it does not conflict with our own observations, our background information, or other credible claims; and 2.If it comes from a credible source that gives us no reason to suspect bias. Remember that accepting or rejecting claims need not be done with absolute confidence, but the degree of confidence with which we accept (or reject) a claim can vary quite a bit, from very tentative to thoroughly convinced.

3 PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS I A person’s most reliable source of information about the world is her own observations. Accordingly, if a claim conflicts with what we know based on our personal experience, it is reasonable to be suspicious of the claim and to reject the claim as false, at least provisionally. However, it is important to note that observations are not infallible.

4 PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS II Personal observations are not infallible, since various things can affect the quality of observations or make perception difficult, such as: –quality of lighting or weather (e.g., rain or fog) –mental distractions or fatigue –emotional factors –impaired senses –Beliefs, hopes, fears, expectations, personal interests, and biases. In addition, the reliability of our observations depends in turn on the reliability of our memory, which can be faulty at times. However, even though firsthand observations are not infallible, they are still the best source of information which we have; a ny factual report that conflicts with our own direct observations is subject to serious doubt.

5 BACKGROUND INFORMATION I Bac kground information =df. The immense body of justified beliefs that consists of facts we learn from our own direct observations and facts we learn from others. This information is termed ‘background’ because we may not be able to say where or when we learned it, but it is something which we mentally retain from the past as we think and act in the present.

6 BACKGROUND INFORMATION II Background information is typically well- confirmed by a variety of sources. Factual claims must be evaluated against our background information. Factual claims that conflict with our background information are usually quite properly dismissed, even if we cannot disprove them through direct observation.

7 THE CHALLENGE OF SKEPTICISM It is possible to talk about skepticism in a stronger and a weaker sense: –Skepticism in the weaker sense = df. Doubting the truth of any claim until evidence in favor of the claim is either thought to be conclusive, or is thought to be adequate to accepting the truth of the claim. –Skepticism in the stronger sense = df. Denial that any knowledge is possible, or denial that any claim can be known to be true, where “known”indicates certainty. A certain amount of skepticism is healthy for both philosophy and the kind of critical thinking required in ordinary living. However, skepticism can be overdone; in the lived world it is not necessary to be able to prove what we know – or what we take ourselves to know – about reality with mathematical certainty.

8 INITIALLY ASSESSING A CLAIM Claims are initially assessed in relation to our background information. A claim which seems initially plausible seems so because it does not conflict with our background information. In this case we give the claim a high degree of initial plausibility; we lean toward accepting it. A claim which does not seem initially plausible does not seem so because it conflicts with our background information. In this case we give the claim low initial plausibility and lean toward rejecting it unless very strong evidence can be produced on its behalf.

9 BACKGROUND INFORMATION III If your background information does not adequately relate to the subject matter of a particular claim, then you will not be in a position to evaluate the claim adequately. The broader your background information, the more likely you are to be able to evaluate any given claim or assertion effectively.

10 CREDIBLE SOURCES Our guiding principle in evaluating unsupported informational claims requires that they come from credible sources. In general, the more knowledgeable a person is about a given subject, the more reason there is to accept what the person says about that subject. W hen consid ering the credibility of the person who asserts a claim, an important factor is that person’s relevant background information.

11 OBSERVATION REPORTS An observation report =df. An eyewitness record or recollection of an event. Many informative claims are based on observation reports – e.g. ‘I saw Jones cheating, that is why he deserved to fail.’ Not all observation reports are equally good, but some are better than others. If someone observes something in an area in which she is an expert, then her report of the event is more credible than that of a person who is not an expert. –This is because her observations will be more accurate and reliable than those of a non-expert. –For instance, if Sam is an expert music critic, then his report of the quality of a pianist’s playing is better than that of a novice.

12 SHARPENING, LEVELING, AND DISTORTION In sharpening a person exaggerates what he or she thinks is the main point of a topic, issue, or story. In leveling the person either de-emphasizes or fails to consider elements of the topic, issue, or story which he or she considers to be peripheral or irrelevant. Because certain things are emphasized and others are not, a distortion of the topic, issue, or story can occur.

13 CAUSES OF EXAGGERATION People tend to emphasize those things which they remember, and we tend to remember things which are different or unusual; so we tend to exaggerate differences rather than similarities between things. We want other people to find what we say to be interesting, and differences are more interesting than similarities between things; so we tend to think that, by exaggerating differences, what we say will be more interesting.

14 EXPERTS I An expert =df. A person who, through education, training, or experience, [or a combination thereof] has special knowledge or ability [or both] in a subject. One should give a great deal of initial plausibility to a claim made by an expert when the claim pertains to the subject or field in which the person making the claim is an expert. If two or more reports of firsthand observations conflict, and one of the reports is made by an expert in the field which the observation concerns, then the observation made by the expert should be considered to be more reliable.

15 EXPERTS II Remember that being an expert in one thing does not mean being an expert in everything, so even an expert’s opinion about something in a field in which he is not an expert should be questioned. Also, possessing the ability to become an expert is entirely different from actually being an expert. A person who is an expert in physics might have the ability to become an expert in philosophy, but, until such expertise is acquired and demonstrated, then what the physicist says about philosophy should not be treated with the same respect given to what he says about physics.

16 FACTORS DETERMINING EXPERTISE 1.Education. This includes but is not limited to formal education. 2.Experience. Kind and amount of experience are important; however, time alone doing something will not guarantee that the person is good at what he does. 3.Accomplishments. These are important to determining a person’s expertise, but only when the accomplishments are directly related to the issue being considered; a Nobel prize in chemistry is irrelevant to a person’s opinion about politics or art. 4.Reputation. This is always relative to a particular group of people, but the important group is the group of people who are experts in the same field in which the person in question is also an expert. 5.Position. Such as director of a major museum, head of a university, or coach of a team; position indicates what other people think of your expertise.

17 DISAGREEMENT OF EXPERTS It is important to recognize that experts in a field can and do sometimes disagree with one another about things in their field. This is especially true when the issues are complicated, or when something is at stake, such as a grant for research. When experts disagree, a critical thinker is obliged to suspend judgment about which expert to endorse, unless expert clearly represents a majority view among experts in the field, or expert can be established as more authoritative or less biased than the others.

18 MAJORITY AGREEMENT OF EXPERTS One must be careful though, because even the majority of experts can be wrong. In addition, even the best expert is not infallible, but can be wrong and can make mistakes. Still, it is good critical practice to side with the experts, and the authority among experts until it is shown that they are wrong. The reasonable position is one that agrees with the most authoritative opinion but allows for enough open- mindedness to change if the evidence changes. Recall too that, sometimes, suspending judgement makes the most sense, especially if we are suspicious of evidence or sources or both.

19 AN EXCEPTION TO A RULE Generally speaking, it’s reasonable to accept an unsupported claim if it comes from a credible source and does not conflict with your observations, your background information, or other credible claims. There are exceptions to this principle when there is something very important at stake. When that is the case “subject the claim to the most stringent tests you can.” –For instance, get a second or third opinion if a doctor recommends a serious operation, or if a financial advisor recommends a major change in your portfolio.

20 IRRELEVANT CONSIDERATIONS Sometimes irrelevant things can affect how we judge things and what claims we will accept. We may give more weight than we should to the opinions of those we are emotionally attached to or have greatly influenced us. People’s mannerisms, facial expressions, composure, or even manner of dress can affect how much weight we attach to what they say. Also, we unconsciously tend to modify our beliefs to please those who flatter us. Logically irrelevant considerations do affect our assessments of credibility and beliefs in general.

21 THE NEWS MEDIA I Major kinds of news media include: newspapers, newsmagazines, television news, radio news, and Internet sites of major news agencies. The broadest and most detailed coverage is offered by print media, but the breadth and depth of coverage in any medium is affected by such factors as: 1.Space or time. 2.The interests of the audience. 3.Concerns of advertisers, government officials, and pressure groups. 4.The quality and amount of information given to a reporter. 5.Biases of the reporter or the news organization for whom the reporter works.

22 THE NEWS MEDIA II The news media – whether print or electronic – determines not only what news it will present, but can use various devices to affect how the news is perceived. For instance, where news is placed in space or when it is presented in time suggests how important it is – in a headline on the first page, at the start of the news. News is selectively reported since each news organization has to determine what it is going to report, and to what degree of depth. Also, there is no guarantee that the media have reported the story accurately, and if it is not reported accurately then it can at best be partially true and may be wholly false.

23 THE NEWS MEDIA III Any news organization is a business, and so must make money. –So only a small amount of money can be allotted for expensive investigative reporting. –The great bulk of news is given to reporters. –So news tends to be shaped by the purposes and interests of those people who are supplying it. –Reporters cannot afford to offend their sources if they want future news. –News organizations cannot afford to offend their readers or advertisers if they want future revenues.

24 THE NEWS MEDIA IV It is good that news organizations are private businesses; it makes them independent of the government. The bad aspect is that, as businesses, they need to make a profit, and this need can affect both what they report and how they report it. They do not want to offend either their sources or their readers or (especially) their advertisers (the source of most of their income is advertising.) The tastes, interests, and education of the public affects what and how news is presented. –The main effect of the public on the news is that it tends to be oversimplified –This is because most people are unwilling or unable to comprehend complicated issues.

25 NEWS AND ENTERTAINMENT I Many or most important world events are complicated and boring (at least by everyday standards). Accordingly, sensational, unusual, and easily understood subjects get more attention than the unexciting, the usual, and the complicated, even if the latter are much more important in the long run. These factors not only help determine what gets reported and how it gets reported, they also help determine which people are featured on tv programs. The number of movie stars and celebrities interviewed on talk shows is wildly disproportionate to –the effect that these people have on our lives –the importance of their contribution to society and culture.

26 NEWS AND ENTERTAINMENT II The overindulgence of our desire to be entertained comes at the expense of our need to be informed. In the process, we become passive citizens rather than active participants in society. While for the most part we can trust most reporting of the major news agencies, competition for readers and viewers has become so fierce that the tactics the media employ to attract an audience have begun to endanger the very idea of an independent, honest, straightforward press.

27 THE INTERNET Information on the Internet must be evaluated with even more caution than information from the print media, radio, or television. The Internet has commercial and institutional sources, and individual and group sites on the Web. Just because something appears on the Internet does not make it true; any individual or group can put up a Web site and they can say anything they want on it. Remember that the information you get from a source is only as good as that source.

28 SUMMARY I When informational claims do not conflict with our observations or background information and come from sources which are credible and unbiased, then it is generally reasonable to accept them, even if they are not presented with supporting argument. Bac kground information consists of our general knowledge of reality, facts and data which we have accumulated over the years and on which we constantly depend. The less initial plausibility a claim has the more suspicious of it we should be.

29 SUMMARY II We have better reason to accept a claim made by a person when that person is an expert in the field which his claim concerns. The claims of experts are more reliable, but experts can and do disagree, and the claims of experts are no more reliable than anyone else’s if the claim does not concern their field. All claims which may show bias, whether that of an expert or not, should be regarded with suspicion. One should keep an open mind about what is presented in the news, although major print and electronic news agencies are typically reliable sources of information. Be especially careful about claims made on the Internet.

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