Critical Thinking across the Curriculum: A Brief Edition of Thought and Knowledge

By Diane F. Halpern | Go to book overview

4
Reasoning: Drawing Deductively Valid Conclusions

As far as Joan's opponent was concerned, the debate wasn't going well. It was clear from the sea of nodding heads and sounds of "uh huh" and "yeah" that Joan was scoring points and convincing the audience; whereas, he seemed to be losing support every time he spoke. He wasn't surprised; he had been warned. Joan had studied reasoning and now knew how to make people believe anything. Soon she would have everyone convinced that the war was justified and what was wrong was right. The way she's going, she could probably make people believe that day is night. It certainly wasn't fair, but what can you expect from someone who studied reasoning?

This fictional vignette was taken from a real-life incident. I was present at a debate where one debater accused the other of cheating by using reasoning. At the time, I thought that this was pretty funny because I had come to think of reasoning as an important critical thinking skill--the sort of skill that you would use to make valid conclusions when dealing with information that is complex and emotional. To the losing side of this debate, it was a trick. Trick, skill, or strategy, reasoning is the best way to decide whom and what to believe.


LOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL

The trick, of course, is to reason well. It isn't easy and it isn't automatic. -- Kahane ( 1980, p. 3)

Reasoning is often taken to be the hallmark of the human species. Colloquially, reasoning tells us "what follows what." When we reason, we use our knowledge about one or more related statements that we can reasonably believe are true to determine if another statement, the conclusion, is true. A conclusion is an inferential belief that is derived from other statements. The ability to reason well is a critical thinking skill that

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