Evaluating Arguments

An arguments conclusion rests on claims to knowledge that something is, or ought to be, true. The claims to this knowledge should be backed by evidence, otherwise known as the warrant, for the conclusion. the evidence may vary from literature of various sorts, to research findings, your own experience, or a theoretical idea. As a critical reader your job it to recognise that evidence, in of itself, is not truth, but a warrant to support an argument that something is true. Therefore in critically evaluating an argument you are both evaluating the quality of the logic used and the credibility (and appropriateness) of the evidence provided to support the argument.

There are parallels in the challenge that buyers have trying to establish the authenticity of say a piece of antique furniture. One could get an expert opinion on the piece or trace its provenance (ownership) over time. Both are acceptable ways of warranting that it is an antique, but neither of them are necessarily truth. The challenge for the buyer or buyers expert is to establish the strength of the claim based on the evidence provided. Multiple evidence pointing to the same conclusion or evidence pointing to different conclusions will be weighed up. It is of course always possible that the same evidence will be use with different logical arguments to make alternative claims. It is the job of the expert ‘reader’ of the argument to critically evaluate it all. 

Below are a few videos describing means of creating arguments. They move from the simplest to the more complex, so watching in sequence is probably helpful.

As you will notice in the following video it is not Hollywood quality, however the arguments are very well made, so suspend your creative judgement and let your critical analysis kick in.

 

One of the issues you face when evaluating arguments is the problem of black, white, and the more troublesome grey findings. Some arguments are black and white like, Apple Inc was profitable in 2013. Other arguments are less clear like, Apple Inc’s products improve the human race. The difference comes from thinking about the difference between something that is

a) logically valid or invalid, which is a sharp black and white distinction based on solid evidence and

b) something that is an argument based on a premise that is on a scale of weak to strong.

So you need to think about the nature of your argument. Are you stating it as a logical fact or as an arguable premise. If it is the latter what is the basis of your (or their) premise and how strong is it?

 

This following video is a slightly longer review and discusses arguments based on evidence. If you want to read more about this as a mechanism look up Toulmin argumentation which the concepts presented are based on.

The model presented here has two uses. The obvious one is to help you make your own arguments. The other use is to use it as a tool to evaluate the arguments of others. Have they presented any evidence in support of a claim in support of their position. This can be a useful, if mechanical, way of entering a critique. You will be surprised how little of what we write is a properly supported argument. When we build up a web of critiqued arguments from multiple sources we can begin to infer findings based on the review.

 

Finally, here is  a deeper review of the Toulmin model.

 

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