Some random thoughts.
- The basic concept of critical thinking is simple. It’s the art of taking charge of your own mind.
- Critical thinking is disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.
- Critical thinkers are by nature skeptical. They approach texts with suspicion.
Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that undermine the logic of an argument.
1. Begging the Claim: The conclusion that the writer should prove is validated within the claim. Example:
Well-conceived (lexically-informed) coursebooks help learners learn better than badly-conceived (grammar-informed) coursebooks.
The conclusion that should be proved is already assumed in the claim.
2. Circular Argument: This restates the argument rather than actually proving it. Example:
Coursebooks present a well-organised sequence of classroom practice and a well-organised sequence of classroom practice is good.
The conclusion and the evidence used to prove it are basically the same idea. Specific evidence is needed to support either half of the sentence.
3. Ad hominem: This is an attack on the character of a person rather than his or her opinions or arguments. Example:
Universal grammar is wrong because Chomsky is rude about those he criticises.
Obviously fallacious but very common (BTW; I challenge anybody to find examples of ad homminen arguments on my blog).
4. Ad populum: An emotional appeal that speaks to positive or negative concepts rather than the real issue at hand. Example:
If you were less interested in proving yourself right by giving obscure academic references, you would appreciate what I’m trying to say.
Obviously fallacious, but a common ploy used in those replying to my criticisms of their work.
5. Red Herring: A diversionary tactic that avoids the key issues, often by avoiding opposing arguments rather than addressing them. Example:
What you say about my inability to put together a coherent argument in well-formed sentences may have some justification, but what’s important is that you resort to gratuitous insults.
The author switches the discussion away from the point in question and talks instead about another issue.
6. Straw Man: This move oversimplifies an opponent’s viewpoint and then attacks that hollow argument.
Jane says “In CELTA, I think we should look at alternatives to the current end of course exams, such as portfolios .”
John says “If you abandon the established and proven ways of objectively assessing students’ knowledge and competencies, then you undermine the high standards we’ve set for the course.”
Jane didn’t suggest abandoning all assessment. John is not treating the argument fairly, or refuting Jane’s position.
7. Moral Equivalence: This fallacy compares minor misdeeds with major wrongs. Example
Your suggestion that I write badly and can’t put together a coherent argument is as deplorable as a fundamental attack on human rights.
The author compares the relatively harmless actions of an outspoken critic with a serious attack on decent values. This comparison is unfair and inaccurate.
When studying for an MA or when walking through life, one of the very best things you can do is keep your atenna up and, to mix metaphors, sniff out bullshit. Bullshit is everywhere, and lots of it is used to defend the status quo.
Thinking critically involves never believing what you’re told without question. Sniffing out fallacies is one of the best mental exercises there is and you should make it a habit. Whenever you read a text, particularly if it’s the work of anybody in authority (academic, political, whatever), first check for logical fallacies. Then, try to detect the assumptions which inform the argument: what does the argument rest on? While there are some excellent scholars and some excellent teachers with little academic inclination writing fantastic stuff that we would do well to take notice of, there are also a bunch of fools (more and more of them teaching in universities) talking crap. We need to hone our critical thinking in order to push ahead.