14 episodes

Critically Minded Network podcast created for the purpose of assisting language educators in providing quality instruction in critical thinking skills and critical dispositions to second language learners--and first language learners too!

Critically Minded: A Critically Minded Network Podcast: Critical Thinking for 2nd Language Learners David Gann and Nicholas Bufton

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Critically Minded Network podcast created for the purpose of assisting language educators in providing quality instruction in critical thinking skills and critical dispositions to second language learners--and first language learners too!

    Episode 3: Organizing an Argument 2

    Episode 3: Organizing an Argument 2

    Episode 3: Organising an Argument 2

    Nick: Welcome back to Critically Minded: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners. I’m Nick.
    Dave: And I’m Dave.
    Nick: As you may remember, last time we were discussing how arguments are organised. We noted that informally speaking an argument has reasons and a conclusion. And we said that when we speak formally, that is when we make an argument, we use the word premise for reason.
    Dave: When reading an argument or listening to someone argue a point it is not always easy to know which is the premise and which is the conclusion, but there are some very useful words called argument indicators that can help us. Argument indicators help to know if you are hearing a premises or a conclusion in order to understand what, exactly, is being argued.
    Nick: There are two kinds of argument indicators: they are called . . . premise indicators and . . . conclusion indicators. Premise indicators include words like “because.” Conclusion indicators include words like “so” and “therefore.”
    Dave: In our previous episode, we looked at the argument, “There is ice on the pond, so the temperature must have been zero or below zero last night.” In this case, the premise is first and the conclusion is last.
    Nick: But that is not always the case. We could just as easily say, “The temperature must have been zero or below last night, because there is ice on the pond.” In that example the conclusion comes first and the premise comes second. Using the premise indicator “because” instead of the words “therefore” or “so” reverses the direction of the logic in the sentence.
    Dave: Recognising these indicators will help you to know if you are reading a reason or a main point, a premise or a conclusion.
    Nick: Reason indicators are words that tell you that you are about to read a reason or premise. You already know most of these words. They include words like: because . . . since . . . the reasons are . . . firstly . . . secondly . . . evidence . . . and support.
    Dave: When you read or hear words like these you can be pretty sure that you will read or hear the writer or speakers’ reasons next. Main points or conclusions also have indicators. They include words such as therefore . . . thus . . . hence . . . it follows that . . . indicates that . . . and points to . . .
    Nick: When you see words like this you can be sure that a conclusion is on its way. You can also tell if the argument is conclusion-first or conclusion-last.
    Dave: And that should be enough for this time. It was a short episode but we packed in a lot of important information necessary for understanding the episodes that follow.
    Nick: Right. In these second and third episodes we learned about simple premises. However, there are various kinds of premises, and knowing how to identify each kind is also important for analysing and evaluating arguments.
    Dave: In the next episode we’re going to begin learning about two kinds of premises, called major and minor premises.
    Nick: So until we meet again next week—
    Dave: This has been Critically Minded—Critical Thinking for 2nd Language Learners.

    • 4 min
    Episode 4: Validity and Soundness

    Episode 4: Validity and Soundness

    Episode 4: Validity and Soundness

    Dave: You are listening to Critically Minded.
    Nick: The podcast for English learners who want to become better critical thinkers. We’re your hosts, Nick . . .
    Dave: And Dave. You should be happy to hear that we have completed our introductory discussion of argument analysis. In this episode, we are going to discuss the second category of basic critical thinking skills, argument evaluation.
    Nick: When we evaluate an argument, we judge its strength by looking at several points. First, whether the premises are true or false. Second, whether the logic is successful in bridging the gap between the premises and the conclusion.
    Dave: Today we are going to learn six new words. Really, there are only three new words and their three opposites. And here they are: valid, invalid, sound, unsound, logical, illogical.
    Nick: Let’s look at the word “valid” first. We often hear people say, “He has a valid point.” Or “He has a valid opinion.” It doesn’t really mean much except to say that someone’s opinion seems believable. However, in argument, the word valid means that the premises of an argument lead to a logical conclusion. It doesn’t mean that the premises or the conclusion are true. It only means that the pattern of the argument is follows pure logic.
    Dave: Yes, and that’s an important point. An argument is considered valid when we say to ourselves that IF the premises are true, THEN the conclusion must also be true. For example, listen. You’re leaving for school in the morning and your mother says:

    There is a lot of influenza going around.
    This mask will protect you from it.
    So be sure to wear it on the train.

    Nick: O.K. Now this argument is valid, because, if its premises are true then it must also be true that this mask will protect you from influenza. So again, this argument is valid, but in this case it isn’t sound. So although the argument was valid, it is unsound because the premise, ‘This mask will protect you from influenza’ is not true. Influenza is spread through contact, so washing your hands is far more effective. Note that validity is not based on the truthfulness of an argument, but soundness is.
    Dave: An argument is only SOUND when the reasoning is logical and ALL of the premises are true. If one of the premises, or indeed the conclusion, is NOT true then the argument is unsound.
    Nick: Now here is an example of an argument that is both valid and sound. No fish have feathers. All sardines are fish. Therefore, no sardines have feathers. This is sound because it is true in the real world. The premises are true, as is the conclusion.
    Dave: The logic is clear. The premises and conclusion are true, and the conclusion cannot be denied.
    Nick: And if you memorise that example you can use it in the future as a model example. Of course, not every argument is that simple or that clear, but if you hear an argument that you don’t quite understand, break it up into simple parts, and ask yourself, ‘How true is each of the parts?’ ‘Are there any other possibilities?’ and if so, ‘What could they be?’, and ‘How well does everything support the conclusion?’
    Dave: So that first example, with the influenza and the face mask is one way that an argument can go wrong––when, even though the logic is valid, one of the premises is false. But that is not the only way that an argument can be unsound. It may be unsound, when, even though the premises are all true, the conclusion is faulty. How about an argument about musical instruments and families of musical instruments? Listen:

    All members of the string family of musical instruments have strings.
    Pianos have strings.
    Thus, pianos, are members of the string family of musical instruments.

    Nick: Well, that’s not quite right. Although it is true that all members of the string family have strings; and it is also true that pianos have strings, the piano is not a member of the string family.

    • 7 min
    Episode 5 Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens

    Episode 5 Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens

    Episode 5 Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens

    Nick: We’re back again with Critically Minded––Critical Thinking for 2nd Language Learners.
    Dave: The podcast for English language learners who want to improve their critical thinking skills.
    Nick: And we’re your hosts Nick-
    Dave: And Dave. In this episode we’re going to discuss two kinds of basic argument forms. In the first episodes we talked a little about organizing an argument, and how logic connects premises and conclusions.
    Nick: But what we haven’t talked about yet are patterns of logic. The first pattern we will look at is called Modus Ponens. A rule of reasoning which is often related to the conditional sentence. The IF/THEN pattern. For example, “If the water is boiling, then the temperature of the water is 100℃.” There are two parts to this expression, “If the water is boiling.” and “The temperature of the water is 100℃.” So if we know for a fact that the water is boiling then we have to conclude that the water temperature is 100℃.
    Dave: So what you are saying is that the logic of the Modus Ponens rule is actually quite simple. It says, that if the first part of the conditional sentence is true, then the second part must also be true.
    Nick: Exactly.

    p ->q: If the water is boiling, then the temperature of the water is 100℃.
    p: The water is boiling.
    ----------------------------------
    q: The temperature of the water is 100℃.

    Dave: Nick, do all examples of Modus Ponens follow the if/then pattern?
    Nick: The pattern of logic, yes. But we don’t always need to use the words ‘if’ and ‘then’. For example, “The water is boiling so the temperature of the water is now at 100℃.” The words are different, but the relationship between the two parts is the same, and that’s what is important to us.
    Dave: And for our listeners that is a very important point. As critical thinkers we have to look at the meaning and relationship between ideas, and not to be too worried about each and every word.
    Nick: Right. And a good way to test the logic and relationship between two ideas is to try the Modus Tollens rule of reasoning. That is, make a conditional sentence with the two ideas, and then imagine that the second part is not true. For example, if we take the temperature of the water and it is NOT 100℃. It’s 55℃. Then we could safely conclude that the water is not boiling.
    Dave: So, if the second part is false then the first part must also be false.

    p -> q: If the water is boiling, then the temperature of the water is 100℃.
    ~q: The temperature of the water is not 100℃.
    ——————————————
    ~p: The water is not boiling.

    Nick: And why is this important?
    Dave: Well, to be a critical thinker we have to look at the logical relationship between premises and conclusions. We need to be able to judge whether the premises are true, and that they lead to the most probable and logical conclusion.
    Nick: Right. And that’s a very important point. When the premises are true and the conclusion is the most probable one we can think of, then we say the argument is sound. Here’s an example, “If Tom is human, then he will die.”
    Dave: Okay, so let’s apply the Modus ponens rule to this. If the first part is true then so is the second. We can break it up like this: All humans die. We all know that is true. That’s common knowledge. So we have these two parts: Tom is human. Therefore, Tom will die . . .
    Nick: And I think we can all agree that’s a sound argument. But that is only if the premise “ Tom is human.” is true. If Tom is actually a robot that looks exactly like a human, then this argument is not sound.
    Dave: It’s unsound. It’s unsound, because even though the conclusion is true, the premise “Tom is human.” is false.
    Nick: And I could test this. I could apply the Modus Tollens rule and we could watch him for a hundred and fifty years and wait for him to die.
    Dave: Since no human has ever lived th

    • 6 min
    Episode 6: Hidden Premises 1

    Episode 6: Hidden Premises 1

    Episode 6: Hidden Premises 1

    Nick: You are listening to Critically Minded.
    Dave: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners. We’re your hosts, Dave . . .
    Nick: And Nick. In our earlier episode we discussed the basic organisation of arguments. We talked about how conclusions need to be supported by premises. Or, in other words, how you need to have reasons for what you believe.
    Dave: And those reasons need to lead logically, or reasonably, to that belief.
    Nick: So a typical organisation of a basic argument is quite simple. A premise, another premise, and a conclusion.
    Dave: You may be wondering why do we need a second premise? Isn’t one premise enough? Why do I need two reasons to believe something? But, in fact, it would be very difficult, and maybe impossible to think of an argument with only one premise. One of the most famous arguments, by the 17th Century philosopher named Rene Descartes went like this: I think. Therefore, I am.
    Nick: Actually David, this example is far more complicated than it seems. But from a very simplistic point of view of the structure, we have “I think,” that’s one premise, and “I am,” the conclusion. But that’s...
    Dave: Yes, it looks like one premise one conclusion, but arguments commonly have what are called hidden or unstated premises.
    Nick: Oh, of course. The hidden premise, or unstated premise. That is usually a premise which is considered to be so widely known that it is not necessary to say it. Like in our earlier episode, when we said, “Tom is human. Therefore, Tom will die.” And we didn’t directly mention the fact that “all humans die” because it’s common knowledge. Everyone knows that.
    Dave: Right. So in this argument, “I think. Therefore I am,” what could be the unstated premise? Well, an argument usually includes at least one premise about specific facts and at least one premise about general facts. In this argument, what is the specific fact?
    Nick: Would that be “I think.” – a specific person, for example me, and what I do, which is think.
    Dave: Right, that’s easy enough. But what general claim is hidden in the argument, a claim so widely believed that it isn’t necessary to say it.
    Nick: I suppose that would be the general belief that only things that exist can think. And to return to the argument, “I think. Therefore, I am.” The unstated premise here is: “Things that think exist.”
    Dave: I think. So, I exist. That is ‘I am.’ Which is fairly obvious. Just think how boring conversations would be if we had to mention every fact again and again.
    Nick: And that’s why we don’t do it. Well, not usually. Let’s look at an example that has more connection to everyday life: We should not use Pal Sweet because artificial sweeteners aren't natural.
    Dave: So what you are saying here is, Pal Sweet is an artificial sweetener. Therefore, it shouldn’t be used. The spoken premise is that Pal Sweet is an artificial sweetener. And the conclusion is that it shouldn’t be used.
    Nick: And the hidden premise, which is unspoken is that we should reject sweet things not found in nature.
    Dave: Okay, so I think we understand hidden premises now. Say, Nick, at the party last night, why didn’t Sachiko come? I wanted to meet her.
    Nick: Well, you know the deadline for her graduate thesis is on Monday.
    Dave: So? The party was on Saturday?
    Nick: Well, you see, David, generally speaking, when people have extremely important deadlines to meet, they don’t usually go out drinking a day-and-a-half before.
    Dave: Oh, I see. So the hidden premise here is that she hadn’t finished her graduate thesis and that she needed time to finish it.
    Nick: Spot on.
    Dave: So, listeners, I think you can see that a hidden premise is one that does not need to be spoken, because most of us understand the situation.
    Nick: By the way, do you remember we started this podcast with Rene Descartes’ “I think. Therefore I am? ”
    Dave: Yeah, and that the hidden premise

    • 7 min
    Episode 6 POINT 2: Hidden Premises 2

    Episode 6 POINT 2: Hidden Premises 2

    Episode 6 POINT 2: Hidden Premises 2

    Dave: You are listening to Critically Minded.
    Nick: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners. We’re your hosts, Nick . . .
    Dave: And Dave. In our regular episode titled Hidden Premises, we spoke about unstated premises, that is, facts that are so widely known that it is not necessary to mention them. We can assume that anyone we speak to understands these things. Still, it is important to remember that any argument has at least two premises, one general, and often unstated, and the others that is spoken, or written.
    Nick: As we noted in the earlier episode, we don’t need to give all the reasons why we know that we exist in order to convince most people that we do exist. Most of us are too busy thinking about more normal things. But there are hidden premises that are used to hide the truth, or to prevent us from thinking critically.
    Dave: And in many cases the people making these really bad arguments know that their general, unstated, hidden premise is questionable and probably false. But they don’t care.
    Nick: And that’s why they don’t say it out loud. They don’t want you to think too carefully about it, because if you see that the premise is questionable, you may start questioning the conclusion.
    Dave: They just want to win the argument, so that they can get what they want. And often, what they want, is the power to tell other people how to live their lives.
    Nick: Right, so what you’re saying is that hidden premises are often very political. That’s a good point, and it reminds us that hidden premises often come from prejudice. Prejudice about nationality, skin color, religion, sex, age or other backgrounds.
    Dave: An example of this might be the case of senior citizens, that is people in their 60s or older. Have you ever heard anybody say, “Don’t you think that your grandfather should stop driving? Didn’t you tell me he’s seventy years old!”
    Nick: That’s a form of prejudice based on the idea that older persons are more likely to have traffic accidents than younger persons. In fact, the opposite is true. Statistics show that teenagers are by far the most dangerous drivers—and drivers in their early-twenties are almost as dangerous. Yet people believe that older drivers are dangerous and it’s just not true.
    Dave: Notice that the person who said this, didn’t actually say that senior citizens are dangerous drivers. It was just quietly suggested and left for the listener to infer the hidden meaning. Of course, senior citizens driving is not a very political issue. Looking at a current and controversial political issue like gay marriage can show some good examples of hidden premises. The issue of gay marriage is not simple, since there are so many different sides of the argument and we can’t cover them all here. But one of the most common arguments against gay marriage is that since, homosexuality is condemned by the major religions of the world, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, then there can be no marriage between two people of the same sex.
    Nick: But what the people making this argument state is the hidden premise: Marriage is a religious institution. And often they don’t state it because they know that it just isn’t true. First of all, marriage is known to be much older than these three religions.
    Dave: Secondly, it doesn’t matter how old marriage is, because, nowadays we can get married without any religious ceremony. In fact, my wife and I got married at city hall. We didn’t want a religious ceremony.
    Nick: And you and your wife could have ten or twenty church weddings and you still wouldn’t be married until you did the official paperwork. Having a wedding ceremony and getting married are two things, but people who are against gay marriage don’t want you to think about that. So they form the argument in such a way that unless you think about it carefully, you won’t disagree.
    Dave: Another argument against gay marriage is that

    • 7 min
    Episode 7: Side-By-Side Premise Arguments and Chain Premise Arguments

    Episode 7: Side-By-Side Premise Arguments and Chain Premise Arguments

    Episode 7: Side-By-Side Premise Arguments and Chain Premise Arguments

    Dave: You are listening to Critically Minded.
    Nick: Critical Thinking For 2nd Language Learners. We’re your hosts, Nick . . .
    Dave: And Dave. In our earlier episodes we discussed the organization of arguments. We noted that arguments are made up of premises leading to a conclusion.
    Nick: And that is a rule that is going to remain in effect throughout this series. But in the next three episodes, we’re going to talk about three variations on that basic format. They are called side-by-side-premise arguments . . . chain premise arguments . . . and major and minor premise arguments.
    Dave: Side-by-side arguments are the easiest to understand. Here’s a simple example: “This morning on television, the weather report predicted rain all day. I looked outside and it’s raining. Today is June 30th, the height of the rainy season in Japan. Therefore, I need an umbrella today.”
    Nick: Those are three very good reasons why you need an umbrella, but I can think of one more.
    Dave: Sure you could probably think of a hundred more.
    Nick: Yes, but I’m thinking of the unstated premise, the premise that you haven’t mentioned.
    Dave: Oh, I get it. I think I know it. You mean this premise: “I am going out today.”
    Nick: That’s it. Clearly, if you’re not going out, you won’t need an umbrella.
    Dave: Of course. But as for these other reasons, you said there are three good reasons that I will need an umbrella. But really wouldn’t any one of these be a good reason to take an umbrella. I mean, if the weather report predicts rain and you look outside and it’s not raining, what are you going to do?
    Nick: Well, what I’m NOT going to do is to assume that just because it’s not raining now that it won’t be raining later. I’m going to trust the weather report.
    Dave: And what if the weather report says the whole country will remain sunny all day, but you look outside and it’s raining.
    Nick: Well first I’m going call the television station and demand that they get a new weather reporter! And after that, I’m going to take my umbrella with me.
    Dave: And what if you didn’t see the weather report? You look outside and it’s not raining, but you look at your calendar and realize that it’s June 30th, the height of the rainy season.
    Nick: That’s a tough question. I might or might not take an umbrella, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see other people with umbrellas.
    Dave: Sure. So in other words, each of these reasons are independent of the other reasons. If only one of these is true, that would probably be enough to convince you to take an umbrella.
    Nick: Yes, that’s right. Although, in my opinion the third reason on its own is the weakest, but sure, any of the three would be a good reason to take an umbrella. Side-by-side premises are indicated by words like “first”, “second”, “furthermore”, and “finally”.
    Dave: Okay, so I think everybody understands side-by-side premises. Now let’s look at chain premises. Can you give us an example of an argument that looks like this?
    Nick: Sure. Chain arguments often use what is sometimes called the if/then statement.
    For example, how many times have you heard a teacher say, "If you read the book, you'll pass the test." ? What they are actually saying is, “If you read the book, then you're ready for the test. And if you're ready for the test, then you'll pass it.
    Dave: So the argument is composed entirely of conditional claims. The ‘if’ plus a premise, and the ‘then’ followed by a conclusion.
    Nick: Yes, the argument is arranged so that the conclusion of the first argument becomes the premise of the next. This "linking" by repeating information is why it's often called a chain argument.
    Dave: So the argument will have as many premises as there are "links" in the chain.
    Nick: Right, but what is important here, is that the word ‘if

    • 7 min

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