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SMART THINKING For Jane and Verity (as ever) SMART THINKING SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING AND WRITING Second Edition MATTHEW ALLEN OXFORD UNIVERSITY P R E S S OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 253 Normanby Road, South Melbourne, Victoria 3205, Australia Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide in Oxford New York Auckland Bangkok Buenos Aires Cape Town Chennai Dar es Salaam Delhi Hong Kong Istanbul Karachi Kolkata Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Mumbai Nairobi Sâo Paulo Shanghai Taipei Tokyo Toronto OXFORD is a trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries Copyright © Matthew Allen 1997, 2004 First published 1997 Reprinted 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 Second edition published 2004 This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without prior written permission. Enquiries to be made to Oxford University Press. Copying for educational purposes Where copies of part or the whole of the book are made under Part VB of the Copyright Act, the law requires that prescribed procedures be followed. For information, contact the Copyright Agency Limited. National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data: Allen, Matthew, 1965-. Smart thinking: skills for critical understanding & writing. 2nd ed. Bibliography. ISBN 0 19 551733 4. 1. Critical thinking. 2. English language - Rhetoric. 3. Reasoning (Psychology). 4. Thought and thinking. I. Title. 153.42 Typeset by OUPANZS Printed through Bookpac Production Services, Singapore Contents Preface to First Edition viii Preface to Second Edition ix How to Use this Book xi 1 Smart Thinking 1 What is smart thin; king? 1 How do we study smart thinking? 5 Why do we need to 'think smart'? 7 Claims: The Key Elements of Reasoning 9 2 3 4 Understanding language 10 More about claims 14 Claims and reasoning 18 Review 22 Linking: The Key Process in Reasoning 25 Links between claims 26 The analytical structure of reasoning 28 Learning more about the analytical structure 31 Review 37 Understanding the Links between Claims 39 Dependent premises 39 Vi 5 6 7 8 CONTENTS Special functions of premises 44 The link from premises to conclusion 47 Review 53 More Effective Reasoning I: Better Claims 55 Well-formed claims 56 Well-founded claims 60 Review 67 More Effective Reasoning II: Better Links 69 Effective use of dependent premises 70 Relevance 74 Strength of support 80 Review 86 What Kinds of Reasoning are There? 89 Deductive and inductive reasoning 89 Categorical and propositional logic 92 Five types of reasoning 93 Review 100 Research, Reasoning, and Analysis 102 Reasoning and analysis 103 Information understood by where we find it 106 Information as it relates to other information 108 Information classified by the topic under investigation 109 Information as it relates to how we are using it 9 111 Direct and indirect sources 113 Review 117 Planning and Creating Your Reasoning 120 The key analytical questions 121 Using the analytical structure for planning 127 Review 132 CONTENTS 1 0 Bringing It All Together: Narrative and Structure vii 134 Example text 134 Casting and notes on each paragraph 137 Capturing the essence of the text 146 Overall narrative flow of the text 147 Summary 149 Answers, Discussion, and Further Advice 150 Glossary of Key Terms and Concepts 174 Further Reading 186 Guide to Important Skills 190 Preface to First Edition The study and teaching of critical thinking (also known as informal logic) is relatively rare in Australia. There is little to guide the keen student or teacher in the development of skills for analysis and reasoning in everyday work and study. The orientation of most of the available books on this subject is more traditionally logical, and this orientation further complicates the process of teaching and learning applied critical thinking skills, since it tends to remove the use of reasoning and logical analysis from even its most basic social contexts. Smart Thinking'is designed to provide a simple, but not simplistic, guide for the development of critical thinking and analytical skills. It combines the undoubted strengths of the informal logical approach with a newer—but often-overlooked— insight: that reasoning and analysis are always communicative acts. I would not pretend that one can easily resolve the epistemological tensions between, on the one hand, the commonly held commitments to objective judgment and truth that underpin 'logic' as a mode of analysis and, on the other, the social relativism and intersubjectivity that a communicative-theory approach demands. However, from a pragmatic point of view, there is considerable profit to be gained from letting these two distinct approaches jostle alongside one another. Moreover, for all my attempts to keep competing epistemological ideas to a minimum in Smart Thinking, the book cannot remain purely 'practical'. Simple advice on 'better thinking' rubs up against deep and important matters of philosophy in a way that, I hope, creates a constructive interaction between the ease with which one can begin to improve one's thinking and the complexity of thinking about smart thinking. While I myself work theoretically within post-structuralist frameworks, Smart Thinkings bias towards communicative issues stems primarily from the very practical experiences I had in developing and teaching a critical thinking unit (Applied Reasoning 200) at Curtin University of Technology in Perth. On the basis of my experiences with many hundreds of students, I am confident in asserting that it is wrong to divorce analytical thinking from its communicative context. Outside the narrow confines of some academic disciplines, communication takes place on a VIII PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION ix vast scale, with far too little critical analysis to support it. It is precisely at the junction between 'knowledge as something one knows' and 'knowledge as a function of communication' that most of us need assistance in sharpening up our thinking skills. My work in Applied Reasoning 200 has not only helped my own development as a critical thinker but has given me the opportunity to test ideas and approaches on a captive audience. So, my first debt of gratitude is to all the students who have, in so many ways, contributed to the writing of this book. Applied Reasoning 200 also became the focal point for a series of collegia! relationships from which I have benefited enormously. For their assistance, insights (and perseverance with often impractical ideas), my thanks are extended to Patrick Bertola, Gina Koczberski, Des Thornton, and especially, Eamon Murphy, all of Curtin University. Thanks also to Will Christensen, Dennis Taylor, and Roy Jones for their positive encouragement as heads of academic departments. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Bosworth, who some years ago, when I began to study at university, first taught me that critical enquiry involves asking about the 'who', 'when', 'why', and 'how', as well as the 'what' that was the staple of high school study. Michelle Forster and Emma Rooksby provided invaluable research assistance and general help; both are fine young philosophers. Thanks, as well, to my publisher, Jill Lane, and editor, Lucy Davison, of Oxford University Press. Finally, I could not have written this book without the unstinting support and reassurance of my wife Jane and stepdaughter Verity; most of all, they remind me that a person cannot live on logic alone and confirm in my mind that life must be lived, not just with analytical reserve, but also with passion and commitment. Matthew Allen Perth September 1996 Preface to Second Edition I have been fortunate enough to find that I was right to assume that a practical book on critical thinking skills set in the context of communication would be both popular and necessary. I continue to be involved in teaching critical thinking in the unit Applied Reasoning, which is now a part of some courses of study through Open Learning Australia (REAl 1—visit http://www.ola.edu.au), and is being revived on campus at Curtin University. I have also realised that, in writing Smart Thinking, I myself learnt as much as I would hope for its readers and so, in the end, it was an easy decision to produce a new edition. This second edition reflects the experiences of teaching with Smart Thinking over the years since it was first published. In revising it, I have found that much of what I had originally written remains valuable, and that students have learnt from x PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION it. But I have also made some significant changes, including greater assistance in the earlier chapters to help readers with the more complicated skills and concepts, as well as expanding later chapters on reasoning and on research. The final chapter is now a fully worked example of the skills that underpin the whole book, providing a model for readers of the power and value of the approach I am outlining. I would hope that readers will now find the sometimes-confusing journey towards greater ability in critical thinking and reasoning just that little bit easier, and with a clearer goal ahead. In writing the second edition, I have been aided greatly by Jane Mummery and Robyn Mayes, both fine teachers of critical thinking, who have struggled with the problems of the first edition in teaching Applied Reasoning and have generously provided advice on how I might improve it. To them both, I owe a great deal. I also wish to thank Christine Richardson with whom I taught elements of critical thinking and who gave me the opportunity to develop further my ideas about reasoning and research. To my long-suffering publishers at Oxford University Press, especially my editors Lucy McLoughlin, Anne Mulvaney, and Chris Wyness, great thanks and apologies for all the delays. Perhaps they could ask the government about its neglect of higher education and the consequent doubling of workloads since I wrote the first edition. And to Jane and Verity, this book is still and always for you both. Matthew Allen firstname.lastname@example.org Perth February 2003 How to Use this Book To get the most out of this book, you will need to read it carefully chapter by chapter. The book builds sequentially, so that many of the ideas and concepts introduced in earlier chapters underpin more complex discussion of related issues in subsequent chapters. Also, as you go, you should do the exercises in each chapter. Do not check the answers until you have completed all of a particular exercise and are satisfied with them. When you turn to the Answers, Discussion, and Further Advice, you will see that, in most cases, there is further discussion of the issues and concepts relevant to each exercise. As much as you can, don't be tempted to look at the next set of answers until you have completed the exercises for them. Often, you will be asked to do an exercise in order to provide you with the experience necessary to get the most out of the further advice offered in the answers. And, when you have done the exercises and checked the answers, I expect you will need to reread and revise the chapter again. After you have read a chapter, done the exercises, and checked the answers, look at the Concept Check and Review Exercise at the end of the chapter. The concepts introduced in each chapter are listed. You should briefly write down what you know about them, then turn to the Glossary to check your answers. There are, by contrast, no answers provided for the review questions that you will find at the end of most chapters. If you have understood and integrated the material in each chapter, you should be able to answer these questions confidently. If you cannot, then it is probably a sign that you have missed something. Finally, you should integrate what you learn about reasoning in this book with the work or study you are doing at the moment. For example, when doing the exercises and review questions, you will often be called upon to use information from your own life as examples or basic material with which to do an exercise. The whole point of this book is to give practical, applied advice. I can provide the advice; you must apply it. This book aims to provide you with structured information, exercises, and reflections to guide your own learning. Your investment of time and effort in working through this structure will provide you with considerable returns in improving your smart thinking. XI 1 Smart Thinking There is an inner logic, and we're taught to stay far from it It is simple and elegant, but it's cruel and antithetic And there's no effort to reveal it ... Bad Religion, 'Inner Logic' What is smart thinking? There are many words associated with what is, loosely, termed 'thinking'. We are often told to 'think about the issues', to 'analyse in more depth', to 'use reasoning', or to 'be rational'. Sometimes (perhaps with reference to computers, or to the legendary Star Trek character Mr Spock) we are told to 'be logical'. Often students are told that they must think 'critically' if they are to succeed. When people write essays or reports, they are usually advised to make sure that they have a good 'argument' or that they 'explain in detail'. But do students (and lecturers) really know what these words and phrases mean? Can we actually identify the key skills and underlying techniques that allow us to think better? The answer is yes. Smart thinking means.knowing how to: • • • work out and express your main ideas plan your communication of ideas so that they can be clearly understood check to see if you have covered all the important parts of your topic 1 2 • SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING establish a framework or structure in which your basic facts and evidence make sense • present ideas by linking them together to convince readers of your conclusion. Moreover, we must also relate thinking to knowledge and information (what we think about), and the processes of communicating our ideas, either in written or oral form. Thinking is one aspect of an integrated process of finding, analysing, and communicating information. Your thinking begins even when you are deciding 'what' to read and write about. 'Smart thinking' can assist you in: • working out where and how to look for the information you need • understanding that information in relation to your own work • deciding which information is relevant to your topic and which is not • identifying when you need to find out more information to make sense of a problem. Smart thinking can also improve your capacity to set your communication in context. It alerts you to the importance of: • • your audience and their expectations of what you are doing the requirements upon you to communicate in a certain way in a certain situation • your own assumptions and biases, and the role of society in forming those biases, which will need to be considered and explored through your communication. To think smart, you must use reasoning. Reasoning is the basis of much of our thinking. It is often described simply as the process of thinking through and communicating our reasons for holding certain views or conclusions. Reasoning is, however, better defined as a process of understanding and exploring the relationships between the many events, objects, and ideas in our world. None of these individual 'items' can be meaningful in and of itself. An item can only be understood in relation to other ones. Reasoning enables us to get beyond a world of innumerable separate events, objects, and ideas. Using reasoning, we see that all these separate items are interconnected, and what we know about any particular object depends on our knowledge of other objects. Sometimes the connections are obvious; other times, they are much harder to see. Reasoning involves finding and expressing these connections or relationships so that each individual event, object, or idea is explicable in terms of other events, objects, or ideas. Exercise 1 . 1 Smart thinking demands that we do more than just 'think' vaguely about things. Before we look at reasoning, the key underlying process of thinking, let's consider some common 'informal' ideas about thinking. Look at the four actions listed SMART THINKING 3 below and, writing on a piece of paper, list some examples in your own life of when you have successfully done these actions and why you did them. The answers contain more discussion of each one. 2 • Ask questions (of ourselves and others) • Seek out information • Make connections • Interpret and evaluate Reasoning Reasoning represents one of the great advances that human beings have made in their ability to understand and make sense of the world. It has been described as a 'complex weave of abilities that help you get someone else's point, explain a complicated idea, generate reasons for your viewpoints, evaluate the reasons given by others, decide what information to accept or reject, see the pros as well as the cons and so forth'.3 Yet it is also the case that reasoning does not come naturally but must be learnt and can be improved. Let us begin with an easy example. Imagine you hold an apple in one hand and an orange in the other. Now, at first sight, these two objects appear to be completely different; each would seem to be understandable only in its own terms—that is, in a way unique to each apple and each orange. However, we are better able to understand them and to communicate what we think about them when we start to make connections. Here are some examples: • An apple is not an orange. • An apple and an orange are similar: both are pieces of fruit. • This apple will be, roughly speaking, the same as all the other apples I have eaten. • If I eat this orange and I like the taste, then I can assume that generally I will like the taste of other oranges. • You should eat this fruit because you are hungry. Obviously, this list makes only a few simple connections between the two particular pieces of fruit that we are considering; it also makes a few connections between the orange and the apple and other pieces of fruit generally; and the latter connections relate fruit to people. If we did not make these connections, then every time we ate an orange, for example, it would be a new experience. We would not be able to rely on past experience or on our experiences with other things; nor would we be able to make any predictions about future experience. Such a world might be interesting (as each morning you drank your orange juice and had a whole new experience), but it would also be extremely confusing. Moreover, if you think about a more complex example (say, deciding to study for a university degree) you can see that, without the ability to make connections between things, you would not be able to make 4 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING your decision in the way that all of us take for granted (by thinking, for example, 'A university degree will help me get a better job'). When we start to make connections, we are able to know things of which we have no direct experience (and which may not yet have happened). Of course, since we live in a society in which reasoning is accepted as the main method of processing information, we already use reasoning, but we usually do not think about it. Often, we can feel reasonably certain about our knowledge because it is based on evidence of things that we do know about. For example: In the past, when driving down the freeway after work, I have found that there is usually a traffic jam. Because of the traffic jam, it always takes a long time to get home. So, today, because I need to get home quickly, I had better leave work earlier. The conclusion that 'I had better leave work earlier' follows from the evidence or reasons given for it. We can say that it is a 'reasonable' conclusion. Using reasoning requires us to look for and rely on structures of connections between separate things or events in the world; it also requires us to make an active effort to create these structures—to make the connections that we cannot easily see. The two main kinds of relationships that underpin these structures are: • • how things relate to one another, at any given moment (syntagmatic relationships such as 'an orange is a citrus fruit' or 'citrus fruits are edible') how things relate to one another, over time (paradigmatic relationships such as 'eating too many oranges made me feel sick' or 'if I want vitamin C, then I should eat an orange'). Working out the precise relationship requires attention to a number of 'patterns' that might help us to see how one thing is linked to another. These patterns can be understood through concepts such as: • similarity/difference • commonality/inconsistency • necessity and sufficiency. When we make these connections, we are able to function much more effectively and to make sense of the world around us. In particular, we are more capable of communicating our ideas and discussing knowledge with other people. The things, then, that we do with reasoning, as a form of communication, are: • • • • • arguing ('You should not believe what you see on television because ... ') 4 explaining ('Digital television has been introduced because ... ') making decisions CI think we should buy a digital television receiver because ... ') predicting the future ('I expect digital television to make pay television better because ... ') exploring issues ('How will digital television link to the Internet?') SMART THINKING • 5 finding answers ('Why did the government decide on a higher-quality digital television standard?') • justifying actions ('When first introduced, I thought subscribing to pay television was not a good idea because ... ' ) . So, smart thinking is about reasoning, which is about the use and communication of knowledge. Researching, reading, analysing, testing, checking, planning, and writing all depend on understanding those interrelationships. Once you understand that knowledge consists of innumerable interrelations between small 'bits' of information, then you will be able to find, shape, and use knowledge for yourself. But reasoning is also about people: the authors and audiences of arguments, explanations, and so on. And it is in relation to the human, social aspect of reasoning that we must really be 'smart'. Reasoning is not just formal logic; nor is it an abstract way of thinking about ideas. It is always a social act. People always use reasoning for particular purposes (be they economic, political, or whatever). They all have different perspectives on the issues being debated. Their age, class, race, gender, and ethnicity all influence the broad structures upon which they rely in reasoning. If we forget that reasoning has this social aspect, then we will run the risk of failing to think effectively (this point will be explored in more detail in later chapters). The connections and relations between ideas, events, proposals, and so on only become meaningful in the context of how, when, where, and why they are communicated with others. How do we study smart thinking? Thinking about thinking Reasoning is something we already do: all of us have learnt, in one way or another, to think and to reason, to make connections and see relationships between various events and attitudes in our world. So, being a smart thinker is not about becoming a different sort of person, but about improving skills that you already have. The way to achieve this goal (and the main emphasis within this book) is to become explicitly aware of the analytical processes involved in reasoning. If you do, then you will be able to analyse complex issues more deeply, understand and process information more effectively, and communicate your ideas convincingly. In succeeding chapters, then, we will learn a way of talking and thinking about reasoning that allows us to understand and use reasoning better. In particular, we will learn about the 'analytical structure' of ideas, which is, essentially, the clearest expression of reasoning. However, we usually encounter such structures 'embedded' in the words we read and hear, or in so-called 'natural language'. We must learn to distinguish more effectively between the structures and the natural language through which it comes to us. We will also encounter the idea of 'analytical questions', which can guide the way we think about and develop the relationships that comprise our analytical structures. 6 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING Thinkers with attitude Remember, smart thinking always has a social dimension: we humans are doing the reasoning. As a result, one of the key ingredients of successful thinking and analysis, and of the effective use of reasoning, is our own attitude. For most (if not all) of us, our knowledge will usually consist of both the basic information or 'facts' we know, as well as a framework or structure of broader ideas with which we interpret these facts. Many of us are quite capable of assimilating and 'knowing' the facts, but smart thinkers constantly assess their structures and frameworks. In the process, they develop a much deeper and more effective appreciation of situations and events. Smart thinkers can be confident in their reasoning, precisely because they do not rely on too many unexamined or unquestioned assumptions. First of all, we should always be willing to reflect on our own views and positions—to scrutinise the way we think about the world. We might ask ourselves, from time to time: • Are my views consistent with one another? • What assumptions underpin my views? • Am I open to new ideas and alternative conclusions? • Can I look at this issue from another perspective? We should also be constantly asking ourselves, in relation to the issues that matter to us: • Why did this happen? • What should we do next? • What does it mean? As we will see, questioning is the key analytical skill that enables us to develop complex knowledge about the world in the form of structures of related ideas, so as to communicate with other people. It is not the answers to these questions that matter, but the very fact that we ask them of ourselves, the willingness not to 'take things for granted' or to be satisfied with the 'obvious answer'. Indeed, a great failure of our society is that, by and large, we are people who believe that someone has the answer and all we have to do is develop a clever way of finding that answer. In fact, the key skill that you need, to be an effective and thoughtful adult who is able to engage with and understand the world, is not an ability to find the answers: it is the ability to ask the right questions. If you can ask the right questions, then most of the answers will come very easily. Moreover, you will also be able to determine why others do not necessarily accept your answers but have their own views. Questions are fundamental to reasoning. Exercise 1.2 On a piece of paper, write down a key issue that you are dealing with at the moment—at work, perhaps an assignment, or something significant to you; don't SMART THINKING 7 choose a matter that is personal and emotional since these are often best analysed in different ways. Then start to ask yourself, in your mind, questions that will help to analyse that issue. As you go, write them down on the page, review them, and add more questions. Try to ask questions that are prompted by the first questions you thought of, questions that 'connect' the dots between the issue and another question. Why do we need to 'think smart'? Basically, unless we are smart thinkers, we cannot understand the world as well as we should; we cannot solve problems effectively and consistently; we cannot be successful in the areas of our life that concern information. Knowledge is the 'stuff of everyday life in the early twenty-first century. We are always being asked to find it out, develop it, communicate it, and think about it. Smart thinking improves the ways in which we can work with knowledge and information. First of all, smart thinking helps you to study. All academic work requires the use of reasoning. You want to understand the content, to digest information, pick out the key issues to learn, grasp the underlying concepts, and come to terms with unfamiliar ideas: reasoning is the way to go. Most teachers look for reasoned explanations and arguments when marking assignments. More importantly, by using smart-thinking skills to understand context—the situations in which we learn and communicate knowledge—you can understand the system you are in, the expectations and requirements on you as students, and then fulfil those requirements. Second, smart thinking helps you at work. Work is, by and large, about decision making. It involves initiating change, coping with new and unfamiliar situations, finding better ways of doing things, finding out crucial information, understanding the people and institutions you work with, and solving complex problems. You use reasoning to accomplish these tasks, and if you have smartened up your thinking, then you will have more confidence in your abilities and succeed more often. In particular, the insights gained through smart thinking will assist in promoting more effective communication. Such communication is essential to successful business and professional life. Third, and perhaps most importantly, smart thinking makes you an active member of communities. We are all members of various local and national groups and communities. While our membership of these communities gives us certain rights (for example, the rights of citizenship), it also entails certain responsibilities. It is our responsibility to understand what is happening in society and to act where necessary to conserve or change, to get involved, to make things better, and to fight injustice. We can only pick our way through the complex tangle of opinions, assertions, ideas, and assumptions that make up the dominant social world in which we live /fwe use the skills of smart thinking. Otherwise we are just going to be swept along without any control over events, a situation that is unhelpful for us as individuals but worse for the overall community, to which we owe the responsibilities that come with our rights. 8 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING Moreover, as the neo-punk band Bad Religion sing, there is an inner logic to the events that surround and involve us and, very often, we are taught to stay far from it. We often think that the best way to live our lives is to stay out of the way. As the song 'Inner Logic' continues: 'don't ask questions, don't promote demonstration/don't look for new consensus/don't stray from constitution'. There are two equally undesirable extremes in this refusal to think things through. At one extreme, staying away from the 'logic' means putting too much faith in so-called 'scientific', 'objective' knowledge (which appears as if it can never be questioned). At the other extreme, we shy away from complexity by putting too much reliance on individual relativism, in which each person's opinion is thought to be as good as anyone else's. We should never assume that there can be only one right view; we should not, in turn, presume that all views are right. We do need to make the 'effort to reveal' the logic, to 'pierce the complexity', not only for ourselves but for the common good. Smart thinking is how to do it. Generally, knowledge is tied up in contexts of power and influence, and is hardly ever 'objective' or 'neutral'. Smart thinking can help empower us in the face of knowledge, revealing its political and social purposes, its biases and consequences, its exclusions and errors. Thinking smart is about recognising the contexts of power and influence in which knowledge exists. Thinking smart is about using knowledge within and against the constraints of these contexts. It also always involves remembering that our own reasoning may equally involve the exercise of power and of influence.5 Review exercise There is no review exercise for this chapter—move on to chapter 2. Also, there is no need to do a concept check now. When you have finished the book, however, return to this chapter and revise it. I am sure you will read it with a very different perspective. NOTES 1 2 3 4 5 From Bad Religion, Stranger than Fiction (compact disc), Dragnet, 1994, MATTCD003. Developed from Josina M. Makau, Reasoning and Communication: Thinking Critically about Arguments, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 1990. Stephen Toulmin, Richard Rieke, and Allan Janik, An Introduction to Reasoning, Macmillan, New York, 1984, p. 6. An argument, here, does not mean a 'fight' or 'dispute' but is the technical name for reasoning that seeks to establish a conclusion on the basis of reasons. These issues—objectivity, relativism, and so on—are complex. We will encounter them again in later chapters (chapters 6, 8, and 9). You should also be aware that there are legitimate differences of opinion on these matters among intellectuals. 2 Claims: The Key Elements of Reasoning This chapter begins our in-depth exploration of how to use reasoning more effectively in order to make us smart thinkers. As suggested in chapter 1 , learning to use reasoning better requires that we be more aware of what we are already doing. We need to learn some basic terms and concepts with which to talk and think about reasoning. The aim of this chapter is to improve our awareness of how we are actually doing reasoning. The focus in this chapter is on claims. In the next chapter we look at the process of linking claims together to form reasoning. There are three main areas that we will cover in this chapter: 1 2 3 We will look at language, since reasoning is a way of manipulating and using words and statements. Language allows us to make claims about the world. Claims are the key component of reasoning. We need to understand more about the significant properties of these claims which affect how we use them in reasoning. We see how claims function differently, as premises or as conclusions, depending on how we link them together. The conclusion is what you are arguing for or explaining. The premises are how you get to your conclusion. 10 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING Understanding language A basic look at language Every time we argue or explain something, we use language—regardless of whether we are thinking to ourselves or communicating with others. As children, we learn to use language so 'naturally' that we tend to take its use for granted. In fact, there are many subtleties and complexities in language. Knowing something about these can help our reasoning by giving us more conscious control over the material (language) with which we are reasoning. There are four distinct 'levels' of languageuse that build together to create 'language' as we know it. The first level is a word—for example, 'student' or 'reasoning'—which is the basic unit of language. Words have meanings, usually more than one, and often multiple meanings are 'denotative' (that is, what the word explicitly says) or 'connotative' (the more subtle, 'hidden' meanings of words). We will see, through this book, that definitions of words are important but, for the moment, we are just interested in words insofar as they can form statements. When we put some words together, we get the second level of language: a statement, such as 'there are several hundred students who have studied smart thinking at Curtin University'. We probably think of statements as being the same things as sentences, but they are not. In the following example we can see how one sentence can be made up of more than one statement: 'We use reasoning everyday of our lives, but most of us have no formal training, and the more practice and the more training, the better we will be at it'. The first statement is 'We use reasoning everyday of our lives'; the next is 'most of us have no formal training [in reasoning]'; the third is 'the more practice and the more training, the better we will be at it [reasoning]'. The third level of language-use is the text, which is made up of any group of statements, such as the sentence above. Now, usually, the texts we encounter are much longer than just a few statements (for example, this book is a text, as is a newspaper article). But, remembering that we are talking about something different to 'natural' things we read and hear, we define a text as a group of statements that is of any length, so long as there is more than one statement and these statements are related to one another in some way. Texts are not just lists of statements; they are groups of connected statements. In the example of a multi-statement sentence from the previous paragraph, as well as in single statements, words like 'but' or 'and', and punctuation like commas and semi-colons, are not included in the statements. They act both to distinguish one statement from another and, at the same time, to join together the various statements to make a text. Practical communication via texts depends on the way these words connect the statements. Finally, the last level of language-use is the context, which consists of all the elements outside a particular text that make it meaningful. Contexts cannot be 'seen' in the way, say, that the text you are now reading can be. A context for this book would include (at least) the purposes and goals of its author and readers, the CLAIMS: THE KEY ELEMENTS OF REASONING 11 assumptions about the meanings of words and ideas that lie behind it, and other texts that, though absent, are implicitly connected with what is being written and read here. For example, a student who reads this book as the textbook for the Open Learning Australia unit Applied Reasoning has a very different context to someone who is just browsing through it, casually looking for quick ideas about critical thinking. Assumptions are a primary component of context. Assumptions are those ideas or values that we 'take for granted' and do not question. To be smart thinkers we must recognise the assumptions that surround us (including our own) and that influence every argument and explanation. Reasoning involves making connections between our ideas about the world, expressing them as linked claims, and constructing a text to express that knowledge. Obviously this reasoning is a conscious process, but it also draws upon a background of implicit or assumed connections and structures. As we grow up and learn about our environment (from parents, school, and so on), all sorts of connections are made for us and become embedded in our minds, so that we do not even realise we are relying on these structures when we think. For example: In the nineteenth century, Australian children were often warned that the 'black bogeyman' would get them if they were naughty. This apparently mild threat created an association in children's minds between 'Blacks' (indigenous Australians) and something dangerous. Is it any wonder, then, that when these children grew into adults they continued to act and think about indigenous Australians in extremely racist ways? What makes assumptions dangerous is not their content (unlike the previous example, the content of assumptions may actually be correct) but, rather, that they are not consciously considered and tested to see if they are correct. What matters first is to be conscious of the assumption so we can ask 'is this true?'. Smart thinkers must be capable of understanding how each of these four levels of language use relates to one another, and of how to write good statements, link them together to make a text, and consider the contextual factors that bear upon their text. Statements that are claims Our central focus for the moment is on a particular type of statement: the claim. Here are two examples of claims: • Prior to the war on Iraq in 2 0 0 3 , more Australians opposed the war than supported it. • John Howard, Australian Prime Minister in 2 0 0 3 , determined that Australian military forces should be deployed to participate in the war on Iraq. 12 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING Although these statements differ in what they say, each is a claim. More precisely, they claim to represent truly something 'real' about the world. We could test each claim to see if it is true or not (or at least get a clearer idea of whether or not we can accept it as true). For example, if someone claimed that John Howard had supported the war, we could check appropriate newspaper reporting of the time. Opinion polls conducted at the time can test the first claim, to see if there was such a majority. All statements that are claims assert the truth of some information or knowledge about the world. Claims are not, as you might think, the opposite of facts. Nor does a claim 'become' a fact once we know it is true. A claim is always a claim, but the truth of some claims is established. And a claim does not necessarily involve some personal advantage or bias. Although in everyday speech we often use the word 'claim' to try to distinguish between statements whose truth is suspect or that are biased and those statements (called Tacts') whose truth is established and that are unbiased, these distinctions are dangerously misleading. All the statements that we think of as 'facts' are, actually, claims; they are so widely and clearly accepted as true that they seem different from claims that are not accepted. Put simply, claims are those statements that express beliefs or views about the way the world is or the way the world should be. Whether they are true or not is, of course, important, but it does not determine whether or not they are claims. The reasonableness of claims (what we think of as 'truth') does not change their status as claim or non-claim; but it does help us to decide what to do with claims in our reasoning (as we will see). To emphasise this point, here are three statements that are not claims: • • • Do you think Australia should continue to support all American foreign policy decisions concerning Iraq? Tell me immediately what you think about Australia's war on Iraq! G'day! None of these statements expresses a view about the way the world is or should be, and hence they are not claims. The first asks for information (a question);1 the second demands that a person do something (an order); and the third is an exclamation. Note how we do not say 'g'day' to claim that 'this day is a good day'. We say 'g'day' as a greeting, as a ritual use of language to begin a conversation. Similarly, orders and questions are ways of initiating or concluding communication. A few statements may fall somewhere between the two groups (claims and non-claims)—because they might be interpreted differently in different contexts— but generally speaking, all statements can be seen as one or the other. We cannot tell just from the written or spoken expression of a statement whether or not it is a claim. Rather, we must look at the defining property of a claim: that it asserts something to be true.2 To distinguish a claim from other sorts of statements, we simply need to consider whether it is possible to ask 'Is this statement true or false?'. A claim need not actually be true; it need not be false. It just has to be possible to ask if the claim could be true or false. Consider the following three statements. Which of them do you think are claims? CLAIMS: THE KEY ELEMENTS OF REASONING • Is the world round or flat? • The world is round. • The world is flat. 13 The first statement is not a claim—we cannot ask 'Is it true or false to say "Is the world round or flat"?'. But it is possible to ask 'Is it true or false to say "The world is round"?'. Similarly we can ask 'Is it true or false to say "The world is flat"?'. Hence the second and third statements are both claims, even though one is true and one is false. Claims are about the possibility of truth or falsehood, not about whether a claim really is true or not. Exercise 2.1 Decide which of these statements are claims and which are not. Then write three examples of your own of statements that are claims and three examples of statements that are not. a. Why did you do that? b. There is a yellow marble on the table. c. Get out of here! d. Somewhere over the rainbow ... e. We should always pay our taxes on time. f. Cheese is made from milk. Claims as elements of reasoning Effective thinking skills can be elusive. Reasoning has a structure and content that can be hard to control (as an author) and hard to discern (as a reader) when it is expressed in normal English (so-called 'natural language'). We tend to assume that claims are indistinguishable from their particular forms of expression, and it may be hard to grasp just what claims do within reasoning unless we shake them loose from their normal modes of expression. Claims may be expressed in natural language. However claims are better understood as elements of reasoning: the basic units of analysis in our arguments and explanations. Written and spoken English does make claims, but draws them together and expresses them in ways that are stylish, but which also make it harder to identify and understand individual claims. In particular, sentences, which assist in making English easy to write and read, can obscure the more analytical function of the statements that these sentences express. Look, for example, at the following: Many Australians favour making the nation a republic. However, it is unclear just how many Australians there are in favour of this, and until we know and are sure that a very large majority of Australians want a republic, we should not move too quickly to implement this change. 14 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING How do we identify the claims? In the first sentence, there is just one claim. In the second sentence, though, there are two claims. The first is 'it is unclear just how many Australians there are in favour of this' (note the use of 'this' to mean 'making the nation a republic'); the second is 'until we know and are sure that a very large majority of Australians want a republic, we should not move too quickly to implement this change'. Note how tricky the process of identifying claims can be. In the second sentence, the first 'and' indicates a break between two claims, but the word 'and' is later used differently to combine 'know and are sure'. Similarly, the comma after 'however' in the second sentence indicates that a claim is starting, but later on, a comma proves to be part of a claim. Note, too, the use of pronouns such as 'this' and 'it', which are used as substitutes for the actual nouns that claims contain. As another example of this distinction between 'language for expression' and 'language for analysis', claims are sometimes expressed as questions. They appear as that special form of expression known as rhetorical questions, in which the answer to the question is presumed. For example, 'Isn't it obvious that Australia should be a republic?' is clearly different from 'Do you think that Australia should be a republic?'. The first question—a rhetorical question—is simply a clever way of saying Australia should be a republic', whereas the second question genuinely seeks an answer. Hence, to understand fully how claims are used in reasoning, we need to be aware of the difference between making claims as part of writing or talking, and making claims as part of the process of reasoning. Often, the claims we make in each context will be similar—but we cannot rely on it. Natural language, when properly put together in a narrative sequence, is an excellent tool for expressing our arguments and explanations. A danger, however, is that the requirement for proper, readable expression can confuse and mislead the unwary about the analytical units (claims) and structures (connections between claims) which, actually, constitute the reasoning. Exercise 2.2 Identify the claims in the following sentences. Then write three sentences of your own, each of which expresses a number of claims in various different ways. a. All that glitters is gold, and this nugget glitters. b. Isn't it obvious that this song is called 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend'? c. Silver jewellery is very common because silver is a cheap metal and it is easily worked. More about claims Connections within claims A claim provides an internal connection between at least two ideas. For example, the claim that Australia should become a republic' provides an internal connection between, roughly speaking, Australia' and 'republic'. Similarly, Australia should CLAIMS: THE KEY ELEMENTS OF REASONING 15 not become a republic' also makes this connection, although the meaning of that claim is completely different. The technical, grammatical names for the two components within a claim are the 'subject' and the 'predicate' of the statement. Roughly speaking, the subject is the main focus of the claim, and the predicate is some property or consequence of, or notable point about, that subject and the way the claim is made is to identify through the verb the link between the subject and the predicate. Hence 'Reasoning is a skill' uses the verb 'is' to assert that reasoning is a member of the larger set of things we know about called 'skills'. As another example, 'Reading this book on critical thinking is no use if you are not practising critical thinking exercises' is also a claim with a more complicated link between the subject 'Reading this book on critical thinking', and a predicate 'not practising critical thinking'. Exercise 2.3 Identify the subject and the predicate in the following statements: a. Drinking milk makes some people feel sick. b. I do not drink milk. c. Milk drinking is not recommended for people who are lactose-intolerant. This property of a claim—an internal connection between two or more ideas— is fundamental. The internal connection underpins the external links between claims that are necessary in reasoning. While reasoning does not consist simply of one claim, it does occur when you take a number of claims and, by varying the pattern of interconnections, produce a 'link' from the first interconnection to the next. Here is a simple example (we will be doing much more on this concept in later chapters). Reasoning is a skill. Skills can be improved by practice. The book Smart Thinking gives you a chance to practise reasoning. Reading Smart Thinking and doing the exercises will improve your reasoning. See how the same ideas get used, but in a different order? These claims, because they share the same ideas even though in some the idea is the subject and in others it is the predicate, are well on the way to being used for reasoning. So, to reason, we always need more than one claim, all linked together in some way. It is this internal connection within a single claim that allows these external links to be made. Claims that include claims One example of the importance of grasping this process of internal connection is provided by a special kind of claim in which an entire claim serves as one element of another claim. We find two main uses of this kind of claim-formation. First, there are claims such as 'George W Bush said that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator'. In this claim, what is being asserted is that George W Bush has said those 16 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING words, and not that Hussein was such a person. The claim 'Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator' here serves as the predicate to the subject 'George W. Bush', connected with the word 'said'. Thus, if we were to assess the truth of the claim, it would do no good to see whether or not Hussein was a dictator or evil (even though we probably could find much evidence to support that point), because the claim is about what Bush said. These claims, which are essentially concerned with what others have already claimed, are vital: we often wish to reason about another's point of view and thus must understand how to make claims about that person and their words. A second and even more important use for claims within claims can be found in claims that use propositional logic, that is, claims taking the 'if..., then...' form so common in contemporary philosophy and computer programming. Such a claim is, for example, 'If I am unwell, then I should go to the doctor'. Now it might look as though there are two claims here: and, indeed, there are. However, by placing two claims in an if/then relationship, each claim becomes a subsidiary part of a single, much more powerful claim. What is actually being asserted in the if/then claim is not the substance of one or the other claim but, rather, the relationship between them. Hence 'If I am unwell, then I should go to the doctor' asserts that it is reasonable to do something (go to the doctor) when a particular state of affairs (feeling unwell) occurs. We will see the importance of these special 'if/then' claims in chapter 3. Exercise 2.4 Identify the claims within a claim here, remembering that an entire claim can serve as either predicate or subject. a. I have been told by my doctor that drinking milk makes some people feel sick. b. If I drink milk, then I feel sick. c. If a person comes to a doctor and says 'If I drink milk, then I feel sick', then the doctor will diagnose that person as lactose-intolerant. Scope and certainty A statement that makes a claim about the world allows us to judge the truth or falsity of that statement. In making this judgment, we need to consider the scope of the claim. For example, each of these claims has a different scope: • • • All Australians think global terrorism threatens this country. Some Australians think global terrorism threatens this country. A few Australians think global terrorism threatens this country. The claims are very similar, except in their reporting of the number of Australians who believe global terrorism threatens their country. The scope, in each CLAIMS: THE KEY ELEMENTS OF REASONING 17 case, is determined by the different value of'all', 'some', and 'few'. Scope is not just about numbers. It can also be seen in claims about, for example, a geographic area ('Most of Western Australia is uninhabited') or time ('For much of its history, Australia was not populated by white people'). Certainty is another characteristic of all claims. Whether explicitly stated or not, claims include a judgment about the likelihood or probability that what they are claiming is true, or will become true: • There is a high probability that Australia will suffer a major terrorist attack in the next decade. • There is some chance that Australia will suffer a major terrorist attack • There is virtually no chance that Australia will suffer a major terrorist in the next decade. attack in the next decade. In each case, the claims are saying something about Australia and terrorism; they differ only in their explicit statement of the probability that the substance of the claim will come true. Understanding how to include proper indications of scope and certainty in the claims you write, or to recognise them in other people's work, is crucial to being an effective reasoner. Remember, scope and certainty are tied in with the idea that claims are asserting the truth of something. If you limit or qualify your claims by appropriately indicating scope and certainty, then you are thinking more clearly and therefore can write better claims. Exercise 2.5 Identify the two components that are internally linked within each of the following claims. Then rank claims a-c in order of scope (from widest to narrowest) and claims d-f in order of certainty (from most certain to least certain). In each case identify the word or words that lead you to your judgment. Then write a list of some of the other words that can be used to indicate the scope and certainty of a claim. a. Sometimes, when I drink milk, I feel sick. b. Whenever I eat cheese before sleeping, I have dreams. c. Occasionally, after eating rich food, I get indigestion. d. It is probable that humans will live in space. e. There is no way that humans can live in outer space. f. I'd say the odds are 50:50 that humans will live in space. Descriptive and value claims Some claims assert that things are, or have been, a certain way; and some claims make judgments about the way things should or should not be. These are respectively called descriptive claims and value claims. For example, 'This book is printed on white paper' describes the type of paper, whereas 'We should use less 18 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING paper to save trees' expresses a value judgment ('it is good to save trees'). But, to complicate matters many, and perhaps even all, claims have some implicit value judgment. Often we find an implicit value judgment in the words that make up the claim. For example, 'This book is comprehensive' implies some positive value judgment, whereas 'This book provides only an outline of reasoning techniques' implies a more negative value judgment. So, really, there are two main sorts of value claims: those that explicitly declare a value judgment, and those whose value judgment is hidden in the choice of words. There are also some claims that can legitimately be called descriptive claims. Yet, even then, claims are almost always found in combination with other claims. So, if there is one value claim among a series of claims, then all of them tend to create an implied value judgment. Here we can see that the context in which we find a claim—the purposes and processes by which a text, containing many linked claims, is produced and received—plays a very significant role. Claims that appear to their author as descriptive may, in the context provided by their readers, suddenly acquire value judgments. Hence, judgments of value can rarely be made solely on the basis of one claim; they depend on the other claims with which the claim is linked (the text) and the circumstances in which that text is presented (the context). Being alert to the value judgments that you read and make is a skilled smart thinking attribute. Exercise 2.6 Decide which of these four claims are explicit value claims and which are implicit value claims that appear to be descriptive claims. You may also decide that some of the claims are purely descriptive and contain no value judgments. Then write three claims of your own, one of which is explicitly a value claim, one of which has a clear implied value judgment, and one of which is, in your opinion, clearly descriptive. a. Fatty foods are bad for you. b. Regular cows' milk contains fat. c. You should drink milk each day. d. Regular cows' milk is a white liquid. Claims and reasoning Using claims as conclusions and premises We know that reasoning is, put simply, giving reasons for one's views. We reason, therefore, by linking claims together to form a text in which most of the linked claims provide a reason or reasons for accepting another claim, or the linked claims explain why another claim can be made. For example, if I said Australia should become a republic', it would only be natural for you to ask 'why?', which would prompt me to give you a reason: that Australia's economic relationship with Asia CLAIMS: THE KEY ELEMENTS OF REASONING 19 would be strengthened if Australia declared its final independence from its European origins by becoming a republic'. The claims that act as reasons are 'premises' and the claim that is being supported or explained is the 'conclusion'. When reasoning, we will always be dealing with at least two claims: the claim we want people to accept and the claim we are using to support the first claim. Almost always there are a number of premises supporting one conclusion, but the minimum requirement is one premise and one conclusion. A fundamental skill in reasoning is to be able to identify, in our own and in others' work, those claims that are serving as premises to support the claim that is acting as a conclusion. Thus we need to understand how claims can be used as conclusions and premises. To do so, we must remember that, before we use them in reasoning, all premises and conclusions are the same thing: they are claims. There is nothing about a claim on its own that makes it a conclusion or a premise. Until we decide, in our reasoning, that claim Z will be the conclusion and claims X and Y will be the premises, X, Y, and Z are all just claims. They only become premises and conclusion through the act of linking them together, as in 'Because of X and Y, my conclusion is Z'. The difference between premises and conclusions is not dependent on any essential qualities of the claims; it is, instead, a functional difference. Whether a claim is a conclusion or a premise depends on the function that the claim performs in any particular argument or explanation. What determines that function is the relationship between one claim and another. Let us use the following claims to demonstrate this point: • Your car is dirty. • You drove the car through some mud. • You should wash your car. And here are two very simple examples of the way we can use these claims in reasoning, with the claims marked as [c] (conclusion) or [p] (premise) to show how they perform different functions: • Your car is dirty [c] because you drove through some mud [p]. • You should wash your car [c] since your car is dirty [p]. The same claim—'Your car is dirty'—is used in two different ways: first, as a conclusion being explained and, second, as a premise. The general rule, thus demonstrated, is that any claim can be either a conclusion or a premise depending on how it is linked with other claims and the context in which it is used. Conclusions and premises are very similar because both are claims. However, within reasoning, some claims serve a different purpose to other claims. The nature of premises and conclusions is not already laid down, magically, in the words we use to express them, but is something that we can actively control and alter. For example, we may read someone else's conclusion and then use it as a premise in our own reasoning. Or, we see that the premises of someone's argument need further explanation and, by using them as conclusions, proceed to give that explanation with our own premises.3 20 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING Exercise 2.7 Make up four short examples of reasoning using the following claims. Make sure that you practise using the same claim as the conclusion in one example and as a premise in another. • The road is wet. • You need to drive more carefully. • • You should pay attention to what you are doing. Verity has just come home soaking wet. • There was a rainstorm a few minutes ago. More on conclusions So, when we reason, we first of all have to decide which is the claim we are trying to argue for or explain. This claim is the conclusion. It is not a summary, but a new statement altogether, which may be linked to the premises but goes beyond them to give some further information, the 'truth' of which becomes clearer because of the premises given. The conclusion is a claim in its own right, and not merely a restatement of the claims already made as premises. The selection of a conclusion is dependent on the purpose of our overall argument or explanation. First, we can use claims about the future as conclusions. These sorts of conclusions are required when we are making a prediction, as in 'In the future, the world will be much warmer [c] because of the effects of industrial pollution [p]'. Predictions are always doubtful since the events they predict have not yet happened, and thus their truth can never be established except as a prediction. Hence they require supporting argument to make them acceptable. We can also use claims about the past or the present to establish what is the case. Often there are doubts about what has happened or is happening (for example, in a criminal investigation), and argument can be used to support our conclusions on these matters. Second, we can use as a conclusion any claim that makes an appeal for people (whether an individual or group) to act in a certain manner, as in the argument that 'We should reduce the production of carbon monoxide [c] because this action will reduce the rate of global warming [p]'. Such arguments, the conclusions of which are appeals to action, are designed to convince people to do something. Sometimes the action required is for us to think differently, as in an argument that demands that 'You should not think highly of governments that are reluctant to stop global warming [c] since these governments are risking the future prosperity of all humanity [p]'.4 Conclusions such as those just discussed require arguments to convince audiences to accept them. In both cases, it is the conclusion that is in doubt (remember that claims are statements that may or may not be true). But other conclusions, often about events happening in the past, are not in doubt, but still involve reasoning that explains why the conclusion can be made. In the sentence 'We now have a problem CLAIMS: THE KEY ELEMENTS OF REASONING 21 with global warming [c] because previous governments were blind to the consequences of industrial growth and technology [p]\ the conclusion reports that there is now a problem with global warming so that the premise can explain why this has happened. Some explanations can be characterised as justifications, as in 'I decided to vote for the Greens at the last federal election [c] because I am very keen to see Australia's environment protected [p]'. In this example, the conclusion reports something that happened so that the writer can justify why they did it. Exercise 2.8 Try to work out what sort of conclusion is used in each of the following. Remember to think about the purpose that the conclusion is designed to fulfil. In each example the conclusion is the second claim in the sentence. a. Since the bushfire threat is high in the next three months, we should improve our fire-fighting service. b. Since there has been no rain recently, I forecast that there will be a high bushfire threat this coming summer. c. Because the government failed to improve the fire services, the bushfires that occurred in 2001 were much harder to control than in previous years. d. The government has not done much to improve the fire-fighting service— don't you think that it is inefficient? e. Because the budget deficit has required the government to make many cut-backs in spending, we have done little to increase available firefighting resources [assume that a government representative is speaking]. More on premises While a basic outline of the different types of conclusions is relatively straightforward, there is no similar, straightforward approach for different types of premises. Virtually any claim you can think of can serve as a premise. Even claims that we might normally think of as conclusions can be premises. All that premises have to do is to be able to provide support for the conclusion (either in explaining it or arguing for it). Thus, premises tend in most cases to be initially more acceptable than the conclusion (though not always—see 'Strength of support' in chapter 6). Furthermore, it is misleading to think about individual premise 'types'; instead, we should look at the way in which premises connect with one another. In short, premises function in three ways: they make a substantive point (i.e. report something, or provide some kind of evidence), they can define some term in the argument, or they can frame the other premises, demonstrating more clearly the relationship of all the other premises to the conclusion (see chapter 4 for more details on how premises function). 22 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING Review Words combine to form statements, which in turn combine to form texts. No text can be understood outside its context of use and interpretation. The most important statements for us to consider are claims. When properly linked together, they form a text, which is either an argument or an explanation. Claims state, in language, the events, ideas, and things that make up our world, asserting that what they represent is true. Claims are the key elements from which we build our arguments and explanations. The analytical function of claims is, however, often obscured by their mode of expression. By understanding what claims are and what their properties are, we can better understand how to use claims as premises and conclusions in our reasoning. Claims have three significant properties. First, a claim always contains an internal connection between two or more components. One or both of these components can be a claim in its own right, but functioning differently—as an element within a claim. Second, claims always include some indication of scope and certainty, though often they are implied. Third, claims are either descriptive (what is) or are value judgments (what ought to be). Many claims appear to be descriptive but either contain implicit value judgments or become value-laden when read in combination with other claims. Claims are used as either premises or conclusions; the difference between them is determined by how we use them in any particular act of reasoning. Any claim can serve as a premise or conclusion. That said, we can see how conclusion-claims must relate to the particular purposes of the reasoning: predicting, establishing, or appealing for action, and explaining or justifying. In the last case, the reasoning involves an explanation, whereas the other purposes require an argument. CONCEPT CHECK The following terms and concepts are introduced in this chapter. Before checking in the Glossary, write a short definition of each term: argument assumption audience certainty claim conclusion connotation CLAIMS: THE KEY ELEMENTS OF REASONING 23 context descriptive claim exclamation explanation internal connection order premise purposes of reasoning question scope statement subject text value claim word Review exercise 2 Answer briefly the following questions, giving, where possible, an example in your answer that is different from those used in this book. a. Is a statement the same as a sentence? Why should we distinguish between the two? b. What distinguishes claims from statements that are not claims? c. Why are some claims thought of as 'facts'? d. What are the three crucial properties of claims? e. What is special about if/then claims? f. What is the difference between a premise and a conclusion? g. Are all conclusions the same? If not, why not? h. What determines the 'type' of a particular premise? i. What happens to claims when we express them in natural language? NOTES 1 As we will see in chapter 8, questions can also be thought of as 'potential' claims or 'claims in question'. Here, for example, the claim 'Australia should continue to support all American foreign policy decisions concerning Iraq' has been put under scrutiny by turning it into a question. 24 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING 2 There is considerable philosophical argument concerning the notion of truth. Some philosophers might wish to substitute words such as 'valid' or 'sound' in this test of a claim, but for the practical purposes of this book, 'truth' will suffice. In particular, however, we should recognise that value claims (described a little later in this chapter) cannot really be true or false, but they can be judged in terms of whether or not they are reasonable. 3 We cannot simply interchange conclusions and premises as we like and still be confident of being correct. It would, for example, be incorrect to say that 'because you should wash your car, your car is dirty'. We need to think much more carefully about the relationships we are asserting to be true when we decide just what exactly our premises and conclusions are. For example, the following would be good reasoning: 'I know that if you are told to wash your car, then it is more than likely that the car is dirty; I have just heard someone tell you to wash your car; therefore I can infer that your car is dirty (otherwise that person would not have told you to wash it)'. We should note here, too, that giving premises to explain a known conclusion is contextually different from giving premises to establish by argument the soundness of an unknown or doubtful conclusion. The term 'conclusion' here merely indicates the logical function of the claim we are explaining, and not its importance or significance. In an explanation, and from the point of view of our audience, our premises and how they explain the conclusion are more important than the conclusion itself. 4 Because group and individual decisions carry with them the requirement that we be able to justify and explain our decisions to others, decision making also involves reasoning. 3 Linking: The Key Process in Reasoning Claims are the basic material of reasoning, but they must be linked together if we are to argue and explain our points of view. We have already seen that claims that are linked to a conclusion by supporting it or explaining it are called premises. A conclusion, therefore, is a claim that is supported or explained. In this chapter we investigate this linking process in more detail. My principal goal, again, is to give you greater awareness of how you reason, in order to improve what you actually do. There are four main areas we will cover in this chapter: 1 We will examine natural language for the traces of this linking. Traces are the signals in natural language that we only half-consciously use to develop our reasoning within a narrative-flow format (what you normally read and write). 2 We will look at the process of linking analytically, introducing the idea that all important relationships between claims can be shown in a diagram. Combining the diagram with a list of claims provides a clear, analytical structure format without the confusions of natural language. 3 To assist in understanding the analytical structure format, we will learn about casting the reasoning of others, as a useful exercise for skill development. 4 We consider in more detail what we need to know in order to be comfortable expressing our critical thoughts in such a format, including the way in which complex argument forms can be shown using a diagram. 26 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING Links between claims Evidence of the linking process We can directly 'see' claims in natural language, but linking, the process of reasoning, can only be inferred, indirectly.1 In any argument or explanation in natural language we can find the evidence of this linking process in the words or phrases that show or signal how one claim relates to another. We have already come across these words. Remember these examples? • • Your car is dirty [c] because you drove through some mud [p]. You should wash your car [c] since your car is dirty [p]. The words 'because' and 'since' do not £otm part of the claims (the premises and conclusions) but link them together, signalling which claim is the premise and which the conclusion. These signal words are the visible traces of the mental process of linking. Because of the richness and complexity of the English language, we rarely find evidence for every act of linking. Sometimes no link words are used because the sense of the reasoning is clear just from the arrangement of the claims; sometimes punctuation does the job. At other times, when it is stylistically appropriate, phrases or even sentences signal the linking process. Link words are not necessarily written directly between the premises and the conclusion, but since their function is not determined by their position in a text, they can nevertheless still signal which claim is which. In all cases, the linkages are between two or more claims, so that any link words can signal that both a premise and a conclusion are present and can distinguish between them. Here are some examples: • • • • I found out today that I had passed my exam. I was elated. [The order of the sentences signals that the first claim is linked to the second claim as premise to conclusion.] Because I felt ill, I went home from work. ['Because' signals that 'I felt ill' is the reason that explains the conclusion 'I went home from work'; the comma serves to show that there are two claims here and, hence, that some link can be inferred.] We need to learn to think: it helps us to do better at work and to do better at university. [The colon separates the claims and, at the same time, links them. The sense of the sentence signals the link between the first part (the conclusion) and the second part (the premises).] John has passed his final exams. This means that he is a fully qualified lawyer. [The phrase 'this means that' is the linking element here: 'this' refers to the first claim and 'means that' signals that the second sentence contains a conclusion. Because the second claim is identified as a conclusion and is linked to the first, we know that 'John has passed his final exams' is a premise.] LINKING: THE KEY PROCESS IN REASONING • 27 Everyone knows that Australia has great natural beauty and a marvellous climate, and that makes it clear why many tourists come here. ['Everyone knows that' signals that a premise or premises are following it, and 'that makes it clear why' links these premises to 'many tourists come here'—the conclusion that these premises explain.] Exercise 3 . 1 Here are the five examples from above. Rewrite each of them so that the reasoning is the same (i.e. the same premise and same conclusion) but in a different way, thus helping you to see how natural language can vary widely and that there is an underlying logic which can be expressed in various ways. a. I found out today that I had passed my exam. I was elated. b. Because I felt ill, I went home from work. c. We need to learn to think: it helps us to do better at work and to do better at university. d. John has passed his final exams. This means that he is a fully qualified lawyer. e. Everyone knows that Australia has great natural beauty and a marvellous climate, and that makes it clear why many tourists come here. Exercise 3.2 Here are three claims. Using the last claim as your conclusion and the first two as premises, write three different arguments in natural language and using a variety of different linking formations. Monitor the way in which the words reflect and signal your mental processes of linking premises and conclusions. • • • The road is wet. Wet roads increase the risk of accident. You should drive more carefully. The problem of understanding linkages There are many different words and phrases that appear in natural language to link claims together explicitly. There are also many ways of writing claims so they are clearly linked. But the linkages are not dependent on having the link words there in your writing. If you think, for example, that 'Australia should become a republic because this change will make Australia a more independent nation', then the linkage of this conclusion with this premise occurs because you think it is so (so long as you have sound reasons for that thought). Link words such as 'because' are very useful as signposts, which you can use to help others follow 28 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING your reasoning, but they are the result of your thought processes. Simply putting in a word such as 'thus' or 'because' cannot make unlinked claims magically become an argument. In other words, we must think through the analytical structure of our ideas before we express them in words. If we do this, and have some proficiency in writing, then the proper signals and traces of our analysis will emerge through our texts. If we simply learn to 'write' (rather than 'think'), then it is unlikely that our analysis will improve. No matter how hard we try to 'write better', we will often fail.2 The complex ways in which we signal the links in language are well suited to the requirements of naturally expressing our arguments and explanations. But they impede us in trying to understand and control our reasoning processes. First of all, links between claims precede and exist independently of their written expression. Because of the ways in which we use language, it is often hard to see the 'logic' in what someone is saying or writing, and probably harder still to write and speak ourselves in ways that make clear to our audience just what the reasoning is behind our views. The solution is to find a format or way of writing that breaks reasoning down into two components: first, the claims and, second, the way in which they are linked together. The analytical structure of reasoning Representing the analytical structure There two ways of understanding what we read and write. First, there is what I am calling the narrativeflow,that is, words arranged into sentences, and then divided into paragraphs. Second, there is the analytical structure, which is expressed in a list of claims and a diagram or picture showing how they are related to one another. Imagine that we have been asked to give our views on the environment by stating one action that people should take to help improve the world's environment. The following is an argument on this topic in the narrative flow format: All motor cars should be fitted with devices that reduce the pollution caused by their exhausts. My reasoning for this view is as follows. Car exhaust emissions are one of the most significant causes of air pollution, and if we are going to tackle the problem of improving the environment, we should concentrate on the major causes of pollution. Also, it is relatively simple to fit the appropriate anti-pollution device and will not cause dramatic social and economic upheavals in the way people live. But there is another way to express the argument, picking out the key claims and the links between them: 1. All motor cars should be fitted with devices that reduce the pollution caused by their exhausts. LINKING: THE KEY PROCESS IN REASONING 2. 3. 4. 5. 29 Car exhaust emissions are one of the most significant causes of air pollution. If we are going to tackle the problem of improving the environment, we should concentrate on the major causes of pollution. It is relatively simple to fit the appropriate anti-pollution device. Fitting appropriate anti-pollution devices will not cause dramatic social and economic upheavals in the way people live. ©*©+©+© Y © Can you see how the two forms (narrative flow and analytic structure) say roughly the same thing? In the narrative flow, the linking phrase 'My reasoning for this view is as follows' signals that the following claims are premises for the conclusion before them. In the diagram, this connection is indicated by the arrow symbol [-1] connecting claims 2 - 5 with claim 1. In such a diagram we always put the conclusion-claim at the bottom (no matter what number we give it). We do this because, logically, the premises lead to the conclusion, and positioning the conclusion at the bottom reminds us of this crucial process. So, obviously, the premises go above the conclusion. Certain words in the narrative flow, such as 'and' and 'also', are not included in the numbered list of claims. Why? Well, because the work that those words do (tying the premises together) is shown in the analytical structure diagram by the plus symbol (+). Furthermore, to indicate that all four premises work together to support the conclusion, the diagram uses a horizontal line to 'group' these premises ( ). Finally, note that claims explicitly state the missing subject which was not included in the narrative flow. What the analytical structure format offers The analytical structure format, then, is a much clearer way of showing the exact claims being made and the ways in which they relate to one another. This format, by representing the connections between claims through the standardised form of the diagram, avoids all of the vagaries of the English language that we have already seen, with its myriad ways of signalling what is the conclusion and what are the premises. By listing the claims as distinct entities, it also overcomes complex sentence formations, with multiple claims within sentences, 30 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING claims within claims, half-expressed claims, and so on. All the potentially confusing 'short-hand' use of pronouns, such as 'this' and 'it', and implicit crossreferencing is removed in favour of precisely written claims. Finally, the diagram, with grouped premises, clarifies all of the clever ways of writing that make English interesting to read but that mean it is hard to recognise just exactly which premise leads to which conclusion, and in combination with which other premises. Here is a more complex example of how one argument can be expressed in two different formats—as narrative flow and as analytical structure. While there is much about this argument that you may not yet understand (and we explore the details in later chapters), for the moment, just use it as a point of comparison between the two formats. First, here is the underlying structure, expressed as a list of claims and a diagram to show how they relate to one another. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. The Internet has no single regulatory body to impose censorship. The Internet is hard to censor consistently and reliably. The Internet is a new communications medium that is available for anyone to use. Vast amounts of violent and pornographic material are available on the Internet. Children often have access to the Internet. Children will, sooner or later, view violent and pornographic material on the Internet. l ) And here is how we might write this argument in natural language. We need to be keenly aware that children will, sooner or later, view violent and pornographic material on the Internet. It is a new communications medium that is available for anyone to use. The 'Net', since it has no single regulatory body to impose censorship, cannot be consistently and reliably censored, meaning that vast amounts of violent and pornographic material are available on it, and as we know, children often have access to the Internet. Exercise 3.3 Using the above example about the Internet, briefly list the differences and similarities between the two formats. Check the answers carefully. LINKING: THE KEY PROCESS IN REASONING 31 For simple examples, such as the first one I gave, it may seem foolish to use another format when the narrative flow (with which we are all more familiar) seems to work well enough. Equally it may seem that, in longer examples, such as the second one, the analytical structure only complicates the business. These observations miss the point: we need to be able to see the content and structure of reasoning (claims and a diagram) clearly before we can learn about, and thus smarten up, our thinking. Learning more about the analytical structure The analytical structure behind narrative flow The primary purpose of the analytical structure format is to assist you in planning your own writing. However it is very useful to look at other people's reasoning as a way of learning about it. We can recover this analytical structure by, first, finding the claims being made and, second, grasping the connections between them (some signals of which can be found in the traces of reasoning represented by any linking words or phrases). Before moving on to look at how we can use the analytical structure in our own writing, let us use it as a tool to understanding other people's reasoning. Casting The process by which we recover an analytical structure from a written argument is called 'casting'.3 I will work through an example, step by step, and then provide some practice examples. We will use the following natural argument—a very simple one that I have constructed to help demonstrate this process. Let's consider the facts. Chemical factories are very dangerous to live nearby and one has been built near your house. You'd be crazy to put yourself in danger, no? That's why you should move and live somewhere else. Before beginning, make sure you understand what you are reading and remember that you are not doing the reasoning here and must try to stay true to what is written, even if you disagree with it. So, what is the first step? Earlier in this chapter, we looked at how natural language contains 'traces' of reasoning—words that are not part of the claims, but which represent the way the author is linking those claims together. I will underline the words that signal reasoning: Let's consider the facts. Chemical factories are very dangerous to live nearby and one has been built near your house. You'd be crazy to put yourself in danger, no? That's why you should move and live somewhere else. 32 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING The second step is the crucial one: identify and mark the claims that are being made. We have already looked at the properties of claims in chapter 2 and here you see why that discussion is so important. The easiest way to mark these claims is by putting them in parentheses. I have also numbered the claims because we need to diagram their interrelationship later. Let's consider the facts. (Chemical factories are very dangerous to live nearby) 1 and (one has been built near your house) 2 . (You'd be crazy to put yourself in danger) 3 , no? That's why (you should move and live somewhere else) 4. Finally, we need to draw a diagram that shows how these claims link together. The conclusion always comes last and the premises go above it. 0 + 0+ © ¥ © How did I work out what the conclusion was? Look at the linking phrase 'That's why' in the last line. 'That' refers to all the things previously said and 'why' here means 'these are the reasons that explain or justify why something else is reasonable'. So, on that basis, I have determined that the author intended the last claim as the conclusion, with the other claims being the premises that form one reason why that conclusion is justified. Also, note that I have had to deal with a contracted claim: 'one has been built near your house'. If we were writing this claim out formally, it would be 'A chemical factory has been built near the house where you live' but, in natural language, the narrative flow means the author instead has written 'one', referring back to 'a chemical factory' in the first claim and 'your house', implying a connection to 'live' in the first claim. A key part of good casting (and indeed good reading) is to be able to see the contractions necessary for good narrative flow and yet recognise the substance of the analytical claims being made. Exercise 3.4 Now you practise it. Here are four short arguments or explanations, each with a different structure, and each with a little 'trick' to watch out for. Try underlining the signals of linking, delineating the claims, and, using a diagram, show how they relate to one another. Check the answers carefully for more advice on casting. LINKING: THE KEY PROCESS IN REASONING 33 Remember, what matters most here is correctly identifying the claims—and claims may not be written out as 'neatly' as you would like. a. I should not buy a car at the moment. I have just lost my driver's licence, and besides, I can't afford it. b. Nicole Kidman is an international movie star, and I know that, as a general rule, international movie stars get paid a lot of money. Therefore, it is obvious that Nicole Kidman is well paid. c. I have not got a university education, whereas several of my colleagues do. All of them have recently received promotions, but I did not receive one. Given that we are all roughly equal in our job performance, I would have to conclude that a university education really helps one to get ahead in a career. d. What was the explanation for Sydney beating Beijing for the 2 0 0 0 Olympics? There were two main reasons. The Sydney organisers did a better job of lobbying the International Olympic Committee delegates and, because of political crises in China at the time and perceived doubts about Beijing's quality of services and venues, Sydney offered a much safer venue for a successful Olympic games. If you have checked the answers to these four problems, you will realise that there is a lot more to learn about exactly how reasoning works in linking claims together. It is not simply a matter of working out which claims are the premises and which are the conclusions. You should also realise that casting is not an exact science—it is a tool to help you unpick the reasoning of others and, for our purposes, is mainly designed to help you get better at your own use of analytical structures. Using the analytical structure for planning Communication involves much more than just reasoning, and that is why we do not usually communicate via diagrams and lists of claims. But, that said, when we want to express our arguments and explanations clearly and effectively, we need to think carefully about the analytical structure that lies behind the narrative expression of reasoning. It is hard to recover this structure precisely from what you read because authors themselves are often not in control of their reasoning. It is also tricky simultaneously to write a narrative flow and reason analytically. So, before we write, we should plan our work on the basis of the reasoning that we wish to 'embed' within our written expression. A very effective way to do this planning is to use the analytical structure format. And, by properly planning our work, we will dramatically improve the quality and readability of our written and oral communication. How do we develop an analytical structure format? First of all, start thinking about structure and the logical connections between your ideas, rather than how you will actually write them. 34 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING 1 Decide what your conclusion will be. Write this claim out carefully, expressing exactly what you mean. Number it T \ 2 Then think about the reasons that you are giving for this conclusion. These reasons must be written as proper claims, this time serving as premises that either explain how that conclusion comes about or show why it should be accepted. Try to keep related premises together, but as the diagram will show these relationships clearly, it is not essential to group them perfectly. Write them out, making sure that you do not use pronouns but express each claim so that it makes sense in and of itself. Number them from ' 2 ' onwards. Focus on giving the main reasons for the conclusion at this stage. 3 Begin to draw the diagram to show the relationships between the claims. At this stage the key point is to realise that the symbols you draw in the diagram do not make the reasoning. They are, instead, a representation of the implied links that come from the way you have constructed your claims. Use the line underneath a group of related premises; use the arrow to show a premise-toconclusion relationship. 4 Stop and think: are you missing any claims? do you need more premises? have you got the relationships the way you want them to be? 5 Make changes if required, adding claims and redrawing the diagram if need be. If necessary, repeat step 4 . Here are five important points to remember when doing this process: Each claim must stand on its own. Do not include pronouns that refer to nouns elsewhere in the argument. Thus, 'Illegal immigrants are treated badly in Australia is a well-written claim, whereas 'They are treated badly in Australia is not—who are the 'they' referred to here? Do not include signals of reasoning in claims: 'Therefore illegal immigrants are treated badly in Australia' is not a proper claim—the word 'therefore' does not belong since the diagram will show that this claim is the conclusion. Each claim must imply links to other claims which, when added together, show the reasoning. 'Refugees are treated badly in Australia' and 'Australia violates international human rights treaties' don't connect with one another unless there are other claims. The word Australia appears in both, but other claims involving internal connections between, say, refugees and international human rights must also be included. You cannot use the symbols (the line and arrow) for just any purpose. Simply drawing extra arrows or lines does not work: the relationships signalled by these symbols must be there already in the claims. Do not be afraid to revise and rewrite. Changing the wording of the claims, moving them around so they fit together logically is the reason you do this process. It is called 'iteration'—you do one version, review it, see if it makes sense, and, if not, you change it and review again. In later chapters we will explore the subtleties of this process; for now, practise the method as you understand it at the moment. LINKING: THE KEY PROCESS IN REASONING 35 Exercise 3.5 Choose an issue or topic about which you have some knowledge. If possible, choose a topic that relates to something you are studying; alternatively, use as the basis for your argument some topic that is important to you at the moment. Follow the method outlined above, concentrating on writing clear, single claims and using the diagram to show their interrelation. Then check the answers for a discussion of common mistakes that people make. After you have checked for mistakes, try again. Complex analytical structures A simple argument or explanation is one in which one 'layer' of claims (the premises) links to another claim (the conclusion). In a simple argument the premises are on one level and the conclusion on a second. There may be more than one arrow in the diagram for a simple argument, but each arrow marks out a separate reason that is directly connected to the conclusion. A complex argument or explanation (such as that in exercise 3.3), on the other hand, has an analytical structure with more than two levels of connection. The purpose of each layer of claims is to show or explain the claim to which they lead via the arrow. As we will see in chapter 5, such structures make our reasoning more effective. A complex structure is easy to understand once we realise that it is 'built up' from a group of simple arguments. Here are two simple arguments; the important thing to note is that they share a common claim: 1. 2. Australia is a multicultural society. There are people from many different ethnic communities living in Australia. 3. Different ethnic and racial communities contribute different cultures to a society. 4. Government policies and widespread community attitudes encourage these different cultures to mix together and flourish. and 5. 6. 7. 1. Australia is a tolerant and interesting nation. Multicultural societies show more tolerance towards different groups. Multicultural societies are more interesting than those in which one culture dominates at the expense of other possible cultures. Australia is a multicultural society. Claim 1 appears twice. In the first example it is being used as the conclusion (and thus will come below claims 2—4 in the diagram). In the second example, claim 1 is functioning as a premise and, thus, goes with the other premises above claim 5. Because of the common claim, we can combine the two simple examples to produce a more complex structure, whose relationship would be easily 36 SMART THINKING: SKILLS FOR CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING & WRITING diagrammed. Because the first layer of the diagram does not lead directly to the conclusion, but instead to claim 1, we can call the argument supporting claim 1 a sub-argument. It is subsidiary (though still important) to the main argument for claim 5. We just add one diagram to the other, overlapping the common claim: A; 1 7*- W© -0 Y © Theoretically, there is no limit to the ways that simple arguments can combine in this manner, but for practical purposes, we may want to limit ourselves to no more than three or four levels of claims, so that the process does not become unwieldy. But it is crucial that we understand the basic idea behind complex structures. Any conclusion is, at base, a claim for which premises are being given. There is nothing to stop that claim from simultaneously serving as a premise itself, which leads to another conclusion. Exercise 3.6 Let us return to casting to assist our examination of complex structures. To help you understand them, work through the following exercise and then refer to the answers. There is more guidance there about how to cast but, until you have tried it yourself, you will not be able to understand that assistance. You must cast this argument, realising that it has a complex argument structure. The current Australian government is, in many ways, challenging the role of the United Nations as a body that promotes action by member nations to maintain and extend human rights within those nations' own jurisdiction. This challenge has a distinct and dangerous consequence for Australia (quite apart from arguments about its dubious morality) because the challenge puts A