Guide to Class
The essence of "critical thinking," or thinking in an educated manner, is suspending judgment until adequate evidence has been collected, the evidence has been evaluated, and both sides have been thoroughly represented and explored. Debates are an excellent tool for exploring both sides of an issue.
- Do not expect to convince anyone. This is not the purpose of the debates and is, in any case, seldom possible.
- Do not expect an answer to be found. Remember that Bertrand Russell said that if the answer can be found it is science, if there is no way to prove an answer it is philosophy. The purpose of the debates is not to prove any viewpoint right or wrong.
- You will be expected to respect the opinions of others. Do not take the debates personally. Relax. Enjoy.
- Debates will be between teams (see information on the team learning approach in your syllabus).
- Teams will not be told prior to the debate which side of the issue they are defending. They will, therefore, have to develop arguments and counter-arguments for both sides in advance.
- Teams will be given time in class for preparation. However, time is short, so each individual should do most of their brainstorming for arguments at home before they meet with their group in class. That will allow the time in class to be spent collating arguments and getting organized for the debate.
- The "pro" side will begin.
- They will be given one minute (60 seconds) to huddle, agree on which argument to present, choose a spokesperson, and gather their wits.
- They will then have one minute to succinctly present their argument ("X is right because...").
- Then the other team will have one minute to huddle, agree on which argument or counter-argument to use, rotate to the next spokesperson, and gather their wits.
- Then they will have one minute to either disprove the other team's argument or present a new argument.
- Once an argument is presented, move on. The object of the debate is to uncover all the arguments on both sides. Avoid the natural tendency to return to favorite arguments and hammer away at them.
- Individual team members must rotate the task of speaking for the team. Each member must speak once before anyone can speak for a second time.
- What is the issue?
- Divide it into all of its subissues. List them.
- Circle the one you have chosen to debate.
- In order to eliminate lots of "What if.." arguments, describe a specific situation which will be debated.
- What position/viewpoint will you be arguing? (Avoid factual issues.)
- Inquire. Seek evidence for your position. Use your experience, the background to the issue, facts and statistics, legal precedents, information from other people, newspaper and journal articles, books on the subject, etc. Be sure you gather enough evidence before stopping.
- Brainstorm. Come up with every possible argument you can. When you run out of arguments, ask yourself this: "If the issue were decided in this manner, what would happen to...
- ...poor people?
- ...our nation?
- Outline your arguments in logical sequence. For each argument, either give evidence or give a logical sequence which begins with a statement the opposition will agree with.
- Review your material and locate all the assumptions you have made. Be sure you can defend each of them.
- Review each of your arguments and list all possible counter-arguments. Think of an answer for each counter-argument.
- List every argument the opposition can possibly use. Develop counter-arguments for each.
- Mine is better--ethnocentricity.
- Resistance to change--prefer familiar ideas.
- Conformity--group pressure & desire to belong.
- Face-saving--attempting to preserve your image.
- Stereotyping--generalizations; neat categories.
- Faulty common sense.
- Oversimplification--distortion of complex matters.
- Hasty conclusions--judgments made before sufficient evidence is gathered.
- Unwarranted assumptions--unexamined conclusions.
Strategy to avoid problems in critical thinking
- Be honest with yourself.
- Be conscious of where you are vulnerable.
- Anticipate your reactions and prejudices.
STEPS OF CRITICAL ANALYSIS...
- List all subissues. Divide a cluster of issues into individual questions.
- Eliminate factual (scientific and quantifiable) questions/issues.
- Inquiry. Seek evidence. Sources can be your own experience, background and history of the issue itself, legal precedents, facts and statistics, information and stories from other people, newspaper and magazine articles, radio and television newstories, books, etc.
- Interpret the evidence. Consider the status and authority of the source, people's possible motives and vested interests, bias of sources, and the way evidence is presented. Ask these questions:
- How accurate is the observation?
- What is the character, and the reputation, of the observer, the journal, the source of information?
- If there is more than one report or observation, do the reports agree?
- How consistent is this with other evidence?
- How impartial is the observer? Do they avoid unsupported assertions, oversimplification, generalizations and ethnocentricity?
- Are details of the research provided?
- Has enough evidence been gathered, or presented?
- Analyze and weigh the positions (viewpoints). Follow these steps:
- Identify all assertions made.
- Identify all qualifications and conditions.
- Identify all stated and unstated assumptions.
- Notice the connections between ideas and assertions.
- Decide which assertions are the main ones.
- Raise questions about each assertion.
- Are there any biases evident?
- Any assumptions glossed over?
- Anything else not stated? Any parts of issue not discussed?
- Is the logic clear, concise, and valid?
- Are all consequences and ramifications of the conclusion explored?
- Form a judgment.
- Review your own biases and tendencies. Be honest with yourself. Be sure your final judgment is objective and clear.
- Be specific about the subject.
- State your judgment carefully and precisely.
- Include appropriate qualifications.
- Distinguish certainty from probability.
Characteristics of Good Thinkers
--They look at an issue, react to it, and then examine their reaction before accepting it.
--They carefully determine the kind and amount of evidence needed to solve a problem and conduct their inquiry patiently.
--They draw their conclusions to fit the facts.
--They resist the temptation to use previous, ready-made solutions. They are honest with themselves.
How to Clarify Issues
- Narrow/limit questions--subdivide clusters of issues.
- Be precise in focus--choose an issue which cannot be subdivided.
- State the issue in a clear, precise question.
Outline of an Argument
- Clearly state a single issue.
- Clearly state your position.
- Clearly state each argument for why your position is correct.
- After each argument, present a proof or evidence to verify that argument.
Final Note... It is human nature to OMIT evidence which does not support the position being offered. When you hear someone defending a position, pretend they are a used car salesman. Ask yourself what they are trying to sell you and what are they not telling you.
Philosophy is like boxing. You can't learn how by sitting and watching. You have to get in the ring and throw some punches... So participate. Say something.
Animated graphic is courtesy of Club Unlimited
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