• Thomas Mrak

    It’s really easy to fall into that trap, when so many people lack critical thinking skills, even if they possess a modicum of experience/education.

    I have been guilty of this, but I work to realize that, I too, am prone to fallacies due to flaws in neurology that all human beings possess.

    • http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com Kevin deLaplante

      It’s the critical thinker’s version of “original sin” :). We have to acknowledge that we’re all “sinners” in this respect. Half the battle is coming to appreciate just how prone we are to self-deception and overconfidence.

  • njschro

    This is great! Now I know why I was never invited to parties—or if I attended, was avoided at all costs. I agree that fallacies are not the only aspect of critical thinking; this partially echoes Charles Hamblin’s (1970) investigation of the standard treatment of fallacies. One of the things I learned from Kevin de LaPlante’s podcast series, Critical Thinker Academy, is that although literacy in fallacies and cognitive biases is important, those aren’t the only aspects of critical thinking. We want to make sure we’re learning and being reflective in our practice—whatever our practice is. Perhaps the Fallacy Bully should concentrate on (informal) fallacies of relevance, rather than being the cherry picker or pedant of potentially fruitful discussions. Question: How might we identify Fallacy Bullies and conduct conversation in a way that both retains literacy in fallacies, yet doesn’t employ such sensitivities in an unproductive manner? I think I’ve found some answers in van Emeeren & Grootendorst’s Pragma-dialectics (1992; 2004; 2006); so, I’ve been looking at how their “Rules for a Critical Discussion” can be contextualized as artifacts for communities/groups who need may need them… I’ve also been reading Douglas Walton (2008) and Jacob van Leet (2010), which are excellent sources, too. Question 2: Does anyone have other book recommendations for fallacies or case studies of critical thinking specific to organizations? Thanks! ~Nick

    • http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com Kevin deLaplante

      One of the risks of focusing so much on fallacies is that people don’t spend enough time thinking about what really constitutes good reasons for belief, and the values and attitudes that are required for constructive argumentation. The pragma-dialectical tradition captures many important elements of constructive argumentation. When I start the podcast up again this summer, one of the things I’d like to do is survey some of these different approaches to argumentation that the public never hears about and translate their key points into something that anyone can understand.

      Leo Groark’s article on informal logic in the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a nice survey of the historical development and main theoretical traditions of argumentation theory, and the references there are good: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-informal/.

      My own approach tends to downplay fallacy theory and places more emphasis on principles of rational persuasion that are empirically informed by what we’re learning about the psychology of belief and judgment. The question about the values that are implicit in genuine critical inquiry is something that hasn’t been discussed enough, in my opinion.

      • njschro

        “One of the risks of focusing so much on fallacies is that people don’t spend enough time thinking about what really constitutes good reasons for belief, and the values and attitudes that are required for constructive argumentation.” I entirely agree. Thank you!
        I just noticed that you are one of the people I cited as an influence for my understanding. It’s great to receive a response from you, Kevin! And thank you for giving me more resources!

        “My own approach tends to downplay fallacy theory and places more emphasis on principles of rational persuasion that are empirically informed by what we’re learning about the psychology of belief and judgment. The question about the values that are implicit in genuine critical inquiry is something that hasn’t been discussed enough, in my opinion.” Question: Where can I learn more about belief and judgment? I’m an avid reader of Kahneman’s works, but where should I go next?

        It’s interesting to note how people who value genuine critical inquiry might be outnumbered or outvoted in certain situations. For instance, Henry Fonda’s character in 12 Angry Men was outnumbered in the beginning; all the while he had to persuade jurors to understand AND accept his arguments regarding the proposition—boy killed his father. I did a brief study of 12 Angry Men (1957) wherein my colleagues and I rendered arguments according to Toulmin’s model and recorded other persuasive maneuvers such as tone of voice and gestures. We also looked at fallacies of relevance and attempted to explain why certain contributions were fallacious. In the end, we paid close attention to the turning points—where and why jurors changed their votes. Next, I want to implement pragma-dialectical methods like “Rules for a Critical Discussion” and “Stages of Argument” to see how it can be better rendered for audiences to understand relevance and when they should ask themselves questions, rather than assert their beliefs.

        I’ve also been experimenting with frameworks that allow these studies to be dynamic and participatory—where viewers can navigate the video being rendered with argumentation schemes, tag schemes according to theoretical ontologies, and render their own content according to separate video files.

        It seems we share interests in approaches to argumentation, teaching, and learning. Question: Would you be interested in collaborating with me on this platform?

        “When I start the podcast up again this summer, one of the things I’d like to do is survey some of these different approaches to argumentation that the public never hears about and translate their key points into something that anyone can understand.” I’m so happy you’re starting up the podcast again! I’ll definitely promote it!

        Thanks! ~Nick

        • http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com Kevin deLaplante

          What sort of platform are you thinking of, Nick?

          • njschro

            Well, the form and function of the platform depends on how I articulate the problem—I’m still working on that part. And much of that work is finding what already exists and how what exists achieves certain functions. Thus far, I’ve been keeping a running list of client-based and web-based platforms that allow people to render and evaluate argumentation. If you’d like to see the list, then I can send/share my bookmarks. My favorite client-based platform is Compendium; I use it for rendering rationale of design teams, which is very helpful for not forgetting the premises on which we are operating during prototyping processes. The type of platform I’m imagining is a web-based application using popcorn.js, an HTML5 media framework. Look at this example: http://www.rebelliouspixels.com/semanticremix/

            Where this becomes a really exciting point of convergence for the solution space is in the fact that many client-side platforms export to XML. Popcorn.js uses an XML parser to render data in accord with a timeline; however, the XML document must contain popcorn instances to render. Popcorn.js listens for the scrubber position (the playhead on the video) and renders according to that position. If I can find a way to automate the process of applying popcorn instances to XML files exported by argumentation software, then video and arguments can share the same data timeline—making a very interesting examination of argumentation in practice. In other words, the viewer can simultaneously watch a video of people debating a topic, while watching the visualized argumentation schemes unfold. They can also see the creator’s notes regarding the implicit issues with arguments put forward.

            Why is this important? Why does this matter? Who is this for?

            Imagine an educator wants to supply their students with real world examples of critical thinking, or examples of uncritical thinking. By rendering these schemes in tandem with videos available on YouTube or their own video archive, the educator can pinpoint and show students important components of argumentation, logic, rhetoric, as they appear in the video. Given that popcorn.js already has a set of plugins useful for linking people to relevant content, these plugins could also be used linking users to explanatory content. Then, students can find an example of their own to work from and share with the educator—maybe for an assignment or something like that…

            Why is this exciting?
            What I just described can be part of a larger learning management system (LMS) dedicated to critical thinking.

            There’s a web application that attempts what I’m planning, but it has some bugs and interactions that are problematic and therefore need to be resolved: https://popcorn.webmaker.org
            My friend (a law student) and I have been using it to analyze and annotate videos of Fox News segments available on YouTube.

            I have a mockup of what this would look like. Would you like me to share that so you can better visualize what I’m talking about? We can also share those Fox News videos we annotated with you, too.

            Cheers, ~Nick

          • http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com Kevin deLaplante

            I’m impressed! Is this part of a SCAD thesis project or an entrepreneurial side project (it could be both, of course …)?

            Please do keep me updated on how this develops. Feel free to use ordinary email (kdelapla – at – gmail – dot – com).

          • njschro

            Thank you, Kevin! The platform I described is more of a hobby right now. However, it could definitely become an entrepreneurial project. I’ll respond to you in email and share with you some cool stuff…
            Cheers, ~Nick

  • Chris

    Kevin I hope you can answer a question for me. Is it a valid argument to judge people doing the Ice bucket challenge comparining it with kids in africa with no drinking water?

    • http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com Kevin deLaplante

      I’ve seen an internet meme with an African kid asking “So, let me get this straight. You waste clean water as a challenge, in order to avoid raising money for charity?”. There’s a criticism hidden in there somewhere, but it’s not explicit. You really need to ask what this sort of comment this is trying to say.

      The only people I’ve heard really comment on the wasting water issue are people from California who are currently suffering from a drought and water use restrictions. You can be fined up to 500 dollars for violating the water use rules. So in that context, seeing people dump buckets of water might be agitating.

      The more interesting part of that comment is that pointing out the fact that the original ice bucket challenge was intended to use the ice as a punishment for not donating to a charity (either you donate money to a charity, or you get the ice bucket). As the ALS campaign has caught on, some people are forgetting this and just posting videos of themselves dumping water on themselves, and never bothering to mention ALS, or whether they are still planning to donate money to ALS or not. On the face of it, unless you intend to do both (donate money and get iced), posting a video of yourself getting iced isn’t something you’re supposed to be proud of, since (originally) it signified that you were choosing NOT to donate any money to a charity.

      So I think it’s a fair criticism that the viral spread of the ALS challenge has diluted the original intent and has evolved into something that only tangentially has anything to do with supporting ALS research. Yet in spite of this, it has raised a good chunk of money, which isn’t a bad thing.

  • commentman

    Kevin, this is great. I am a logic teacher, and I have seen this kind of thing many times (often from people who are very unsubtle in their interpretation of fallacies). Many of the types of inferences commonly associated with fallacies have legitimate applications as well (e.g. appeals to authority, appeals to pity, and slippery slopes). The principles of logic (both formal and informal) cannot be applied blindly, but must be applied with a kind of wisdom.

    • http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com Kevin deLaplante

      Thanks! I put up a video version of these slides on YouTube too. It’s generating some interesting comments. One of the issues that came up is how to think about what critical thinking “advocates” are doing when they intentionally intervene in debates with express intent of showing another position to be wrong, from the outset (they’re interested because that’s how they see themselves) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvdjdJDo5B4

  • Andrew Old

    I can’t help but find myself entertained by fact that this argument against pointing out fallacious reasoning is a) ad hominem and b) a tu quoque. I suppose if you think that it is wrong to point out fallacious arguments than there’s a certain consistency in using fallacious arguments, but what you haven’t done is given anyone a positive reason for accepting fallacious arguments. Roughly speaking, a fallacious argument is one that is indifferent to truth. It can be used with equal validity to support what is untrue. Now you can caricature anybody who cares about truth as thinking everyone else is a liar, or that only they know the truth, but that doesn’t actually establish any good reason why anyone should be indifferent to truth. And if one isn’t indifferent to the truth, then there is no good reason why one should accept fallacious arguments.

    • http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com Kevin deLaplante

      Wow. How did you infer from this that I’m against pointing out fallacious reasoning, or that it’s wrong to point out fallacious reasoning? And why would you think that I think people should accept fallacious arguments? None of that is true (frankly, it’s absurd, given the commitments of a site like this, that is devoted to critical thinking). I’m sure I could be clearer, but what do you think is the main thrust of this cartoon post?

      • Andrew Old

        I’m assuming that you are against bullying.

        • http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com Kevin deLaplante

          Sure, but to say that I’m against this kind of bullying is not to say that I’m in favor of letting bad arguments go unchallenged. That doesn’t follow. The argument against this kind of bullying is that (a) it’s not conducive to a genuinely productive dialogue that is aimed at getting to the truth (because it’s more about “winning”), and (b) the bully isn’t properly aware of their own cognitive biases and how they can interfere with getting to the truth. But I’m all for engaging people argumentatively and calling attention to fallacies.