Note: I’ve included some thinking exercises in this piece, toward the second half of the blog. Please participate in completing those and leaving your answers in the comment section.
I hope you don’t feel that I’m beating a dead horse here, talking so much and with such passion about thinking. It’s just that I’m reminded that Marcus Aurelius once said: “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”
Just think about that for a moment. Our happiness, whether we experience it or think of it as the highest sort or not, depends on what takes place in our heads and how skilled we are in our intellects. I believe we too often associate happiness with emotionality, but Aurelius challenges that. His argument is premised on the fact that if we make bad decisions, aren’t intellectually capable of understand ourselves or others, and can’t reason our way toward finding good solutions to those things that vex us, we aren’t terribly likely to feel at peace in the world or to find the sort of enjoyment in life we call “happiness.” In other words, happiness starts and finishes in the mind.
I’m a politics junkie. I’ve been spending lots of time reading the pundits and their analyses of what’s taking place right now in America and how the upcoming elections might play out. Many experts make arguments that should be listened to rather closely. If one does this, one discovers that the analysts are asserting that Democrats need to make pitches that Americans can understand if they want to win at the polls. They need to build simple, persuasive arguments that don’t require the populace to think too much. They advise politicians not to argue about the value of preserving democracy—democracy is too abstract; we certainly can’t spend it or eat it— but to focus on how much a loaf of bread costs. Don’t talk about the need to build a more inclusive world as America inexorably becomes a more diverse place, talk to the voters about the price of a gallon of gas.
Here’s the thing. Voters remain uneducated about things if politicians don’t help them learn. When our children go to school, teachers don’t just repeat lessons kids already know and discuss easy stuff they “can handle”; their job is to make students stretch, to help them expand their understanding.
Americans don’t need to be talked down to; they need to be coached up.
One way to get smarter is to look at my first installment and to think about the nature of argumentation and the role reason and arguments play in helping us make sense of just about everything. In that first piece, I wrote a lot about claims and how to make them. In this final installment, I’d like to talk about the nature of evidence and how to use it in support of claims.
By the way, facts and evidence (when fully understood and used well) are fatal to conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking.
The following is an argumentative claim that is followed by evidence.
COVID vaccines are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. I know this is true because my Uncle Frank, who knows quite a few doctors, told me all about what’s really going on with those vaccinations. He told me that they did the vaccine research fast. As everyone knows, everything done fast is done poorly.
The claim is “COVID vaccines are dangerous and should be avoided.” The evidence is the information offered by the claimant’s Uncle Frank who has doctor friends.
What’s wrong with this argument (if anything)? If there is a question about the argument, do we take issue with the claim or the evidence or both. (You can put your thoughts in the comments section below.)
What about the following arguments?
- People from Africa don’t assimilate very well in places like Europe, North America, Australia, and such. In my city, there have been problems with migrants from Africa recently. They just don’t seem to fit in. They eat strange foods, have unusual cultural practices, and some of the women even cover their hair which means they are not free and are under the thumb of men. They just aren’t cut out to live in the modern world.
- Abortion should be banned in all cases. Life begins at conception. The holy books tell us this. Common decency is on our side.
- All conservatives pretty much want to curtail the rights that open societies cherish. I’ve been paying attention to what’s going on in places like Hungary, Russia, and North Korea. If we’re not vigilant, we could become just like them.
We hear arguments like these all the time. They all consist of both claims and evidence. What are your thoughts about these arguments? Do they have strengths or weaknesses? I’m curious what you have to say, so please post your thoughts below.
By the way, there are some interesting rules that govern the use of evidence. I’ll post these rules in the comments section after readers have had a time to reflect and post their thoughts.
Thanks for reading and participating.