Critical thinking in critical moments

Right after I’d arrived and we’d exchanged greetings one of the members of the group asked if he could read something before we got started. He explained that he had put pen to paper since at the end of our meetings, when ideally we’d do some wrap up, instead usually whoever is speaking is cut off literally mid sentence by the blaring AV call back. And Boom! everyone jumps up and files out (because they are afraid of the COs). I only remember the first point because what followed segued quite naturally into our regular discussion of the logic text: he thanked me for taking the time and effort to come meet with them, month after month, year after year, which he said they value and learn from. Sigh.

As it happens this week we were talking about fallacies of acceptability — begging the question, inconsistency, equivocation, and false dichotomy — and I was struck once again by this group’s readiness with good examples; a show of creative application of the concepts. I had just finished grading the final exam for a terrific critical thinking course in which students were nevertheless all too quick to repeat examples (or good or bad thinking) I’d used in class in answer to short essay questions calling for original examples. Some of the contrast may be time pressure and test anxiety and possibly even having to write down rather than just say the answer. And some of it may be differences in maturity. But there is something really interesting going on with willingness in this group to take risks, and to question authority, in part by going with their own instincts. Saying that they trust their own philosophical instincts is not quite right though. One man talked about the ritual of the parent telling the two kids that one of them can split the popsicle and the other gets to choose his half as betraying a recognition of the falseness of the dichotomy. Cool! But he introduced the clever example by first reminding us, again, that he had not even graduated from high school, so, for what it’s worth… The group’s expression of genuine appreciation of such an example goes a long way.

Begging the question: the ACLU’s case against capital punishment with the conclusion being a strident claim that it is fundamentally at odds with our most cherished democratic values…and most of the premises likewise relying on comparable value laden language.

Inconsistency: thoughts about the difference between proclamation and behavior, vs. contradiction at the strict linguistic level. J talked about a piece he’d read about how until 45 it was acceptable journalistic practice to quote a lone inanimate thing, “The White House…” In this case, there is no “The White House” that has the authority to speak for the president, indeed, of course, the Comey firing aftermath has been a riot of inconsistency, which again, is a concept we *can* make sense of across speakers who can usually be counted on to speak with one voice. Many more Trumpisms. Low hanging fruit, but really, still in contrast with my class of 18-22 year olds, and also, well, surely irresistible at this moment on this topic.

Equivocation: a great example of an argument conflating the various meanings of “innocent”: actually innocent vs. materially innocent, legally innocent, exonerated because of a procedural error, and so on.

False dichotomy: the old, flawed ACA vs. the AHCA.

Filing out everyone thanked me for coming, and wished me a good week *as usual* (as I’d claimed at the beginning)!


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