18. Dr. E's Basics of Reasoning

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Instructions for Lesson 18

1. Read this page.
2. Submit your Research Narrative Essay (as assigned in Lesson 14).
3. For those who wish to push ahead with the research project,
    the research report assignment (that will be due in Lesson 22)
    is described below.


Module 1

1: Orientation  
2: Goals   

Module 2

  3: Euthyphro  
     4: The Library
 5: The Apology   
    6: Citation   
    7: Crito
    8: Phaedo  
    9: Exam Prep   
10: Plato Exam

Module 3

11: Research Project 
12: Research 101   
13: Books   
14: the Librarian   
15: the Web   
16: conferences  
17: Joy of Research 
18: Reasoning 

Module 4

19: Outlines 
20: Review the Plan:
21: Language 
22: Dr E's Grammar
23: Peer Review  
24: Hit Parade 

Module 5

25: About the Exam
26: Mock Final 
27: Exam Prep
28: Graduation 



As we complete our search for truth, it's time to think seriously about the "O" in our COW, organizing our research. Our "W" won't be a simple summary of the research, as the research journal has been; instead, it will be a persuasive essay. That is, it will state a claim and support it with reasoning and evidence. We will discuss "O" more fully in Lessons 19-20, but Dr. Elizabeth Gutchess' guest lecture below provides essential background for understanding persuasion and for planning our research reports.

1. Inductive and deductive reasoning

The more you know about inductive reasoning the more you will appreciate the sources that you'll find in scholarly journals, and the more you will want to use them in your researched papers. This kind of reasoning is used in scientific method. It starts from specific observations and tries to move from those specifics to a generalization or conclusion about them. For example:

Observation: Jenn is usually late for class, late for dates, and late with assignments.

Conclusion: Jenn, therefore, is a tardy person.

Inductive reasoning comes into sharper focus if contrasted with deductive reasoning, which starts with a general presumption (or principle) and then applies it to a specific situation. Our unscientific, everyday thinking tends to be deductive. For example:

Presumption or principle: Itís always wrong to take a human life.

Conclusion: Execution of Saddam Hussein is wrong. Alternate conclusions: mercy killing is wrong, abortion is wrong, all wars are wrong, self-defense using deadly force is wrong.

By contrast, an inductive approach to capital punishment would examine the issue from the ground up; it would try to reach conclusions by studying specific examples of capital punishment and trying to figure out what (if anything) they mean.

Reasoning of any complexity is often a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning, so being able to sort out the strands of each and assess their logical strength or validity is an essential skill to have, if you are going to analyze arguments. We can sum up the basic rules very simply:

Plausible inductive conclusions have logical strength.

Deductive conclusions have, or don't have, validity.

How does a deductive conclusion have validity? The conclusion must exemplify the principle (Saddam's must be a "human life," and execution must "take" it) and of course the principle must be right. But since the principle is presumed and not proved to be true, only those who already believe in the principle are likely find that the conclusion is valid. Somebody who does not agree that "it's always wrong to take a human life" won't agree, on that basis, that "execution of Saddam Hussein is wrong." This is a serious limitation on the persuasive power of deductive reasoning.

How does a plausible inductive conclusion have logical strength? Rules for generalizing (for reasoning inductively) are pretty basic, and somewhat intuitive:

1. The sample (of instances or subjects) should be numerous and varied. For example, If you were going to draw general conclusions about most TC3 students, your sample would have to include the recent high school grads, the returning students, online students, local students, foreign students, and other representative types of TC3 students.

2. You should look for disconfirming as well as confirming instances of a generalization-- that is, look for counter-examples. For instance, if you were going to make a claim about Far View residents in general (e.g., that they tend to be party-driven), what kinds of disconfirming evidence might you find?

In other words, when you are reasoning inductively, when you are looking at data on which to base a conclusion, the rule is the more the merrier: your conclusion will gather logical strength from the number and variety of the examples on which it's based. However, the inductive conclusion is always something of a leap because it is based on samples, not complete sets of data. While careful thinkers instinctively follow the above common-sense rules for generalizing, the temptation to jump to a premature conclusion is hard to avoid.

Indeed, HASTY GENERALIZATION, generalizing from inadequate or anecdotal evidence, is probably the most common form of faulty reasoning. Here are some examples:

"Everyone who teaches at Ithaca College is ultraliberal. Iíve taken courses from three Ithaca College profs, and they all were."

"The roads in this state are terrible. Just as soon as we crossed the state line, the pavement on this road turned real crummy."

"Heís been calling me every day, but he didnít call yesterday or today. He doesnít love me any more."

Look at how easy it is to commit hasty generalization on the following limited data or anecdotal evidence:

Mike doesnít like classical music. He doesnít like hard rock or country either. Mike (therefore) ________________________.

When I walked into the cafeteria the other day, a lot of the students were ______________. So most students at TC3 must be _____________________.

The logical strength of an inductive inquiry will always be a matter of degree. Think back to Jenn. Do we really have enough evidence to conclude that she's a tardy person? Maybe when Jenn is doing the million other things a person can do besides coming to class, being ready for dates, or handing in papers, she's right on time. In short, the logical strength of a piece of inductive reasoning depends on the quantity and variety of the data it rests on. Try to avoid 'hasty generalization' or jumping to a conclusion based on too little evidence.

Studies in scholarly journals and university presses usually are researched thoroughly, and their conclusions usually are based on adequate evidence, as evaluated by experts in the field. Struggle to understand and make use of them not only as sources but as models for your writing.

2. Claims and reasons

All arguments have the same two ingredients: (1) a claim, and (2) reasons supporting it. A good argument can be defined as a set of reasons that persuasively add up to a claim. If you are assigned to write an argumentative paper, or to give an argumentative speech, you are being asked to make a claim and to provide supporting reasons for the claim.

I should clarify here that these two terms--reasons and claim--are terms used in the field of rhetoric (in writing class or speech class). If we want to define "argument" from the field of logic (in philosophy class) we'd say that an argument is a set of propositions (statements), some of which--the premises--are presented in support of another--the conclusion.

This definition from the field of logic is important. Your claim (the debatable statement you make in an argument) is really a conclusion that comes last in the process of inductive reasoning. It is based on previous statements and evidence. It comes last when you reason, but you put it first in a written essay or report. That is, you place it early in the writing--normally in the first one or two paragraphs. This claim or conclusion will be your thesis statement, and you'll use the rest of the essay or written report to defend it , by citing the reasons which support it, or the premises on which it is based. Just remember that this thesis statement (this claim) must be based on a process of looking at premises (in logic) or reasons (in rhetoric). If you start with a claim and then try to muster reasons to support it, chances are that you will argue something that is obvious or you will over-generalize by straining to make the facts fit your preconceived conclusion.

Better example of thought process:

premise or reason 1.........................Because I've finished all my work,
premise or reason 2.........................because I've cleaned my apartment,
premise or reason 3.........................and because I've done all the shopping for the week,
conclusion/claim...............................I should celebrate tonight.

Worse example:

conclusion/claim..............................I think that I should celebrate tonight,
premise or reason 1.........................because life is short,
premise or reason 2........................ because my work more or less can wait,
premise or reason 3.........................and because if I don't celebrate, who will?

Notice a few things here:

(1) Argument is a reason-giving activity.

(2) A whole argument can be summed up in one sentence.

(3) Reasons (or premises) are often introduced with cue words like ''because.''

(4) The conclusion (or claim) can be signaled with a cue like the word ''should."

(5) There's an active leap from the premises (the reasons) to the conclusion. This leap is the conclusion-drawing mechanism in your thinking; it's the work of logic, giving argument an inner energy that other types of writing don't have.

If any of this is confusing to you, consider the following sample argument summaries.

The Lord of the Rings should be named best film of the year (claim) because of its powerful story (reason 1) , its fine casting (reason 2), and the amazing locale in which it was shot (reason 3).

The Lord of the Rings is a vile movie that should be forgotten as soon as the commercials stop running (claim) because it is full of repetitive violence (reason 1), because it is too long by an hour (reason 2), and because its screenplay reduces Tolkein's sophisticated novel to a trite melodrama (reason 3)

Because compact cars have relatively low price (reason 1), impressive gas mileage (reason 2), and maneuverability (reason 3), people should buy them (claim).

Because SUV's are safer if you crash (reason 1), provide drivers with better views of the road (reason 2), and are roomier for comfort and storage (reason 3), people should buy them (claim).

Any of these examples could be an appropriate claim for you to argue--and appropriate arguments for you to make, but you still would need to prove that the arguments are true. You would need to produce hard, persuasive evidence about the gas milage of compacts, the storage capacity of SUV's and whatever facts you rely on in your arguments.

3. Types of claims

What kinds of claims can you make? Here's a quotation from a college writing textbook that may help you understand how to form your own claims--and how to understand when somebody else is making a claim.

The position or stand you take is the main idea, or thesis of your argument. This idea is called the claim or the proposition. Your claim states what you want your audience to accept or do. Make your claim clear to your audience.

Claims vary in extent; they can be absolute or moderate, large or limited. They also vary in kind. Rhetoricians traditionally recognize three kinds of claim.

(a) Substantiation claims assert that something exists. Without making a value judgment, a substantiation claim makes an assertion that can be supported by evidence. For instance:

Graduates of our law school often have difficulty finding a job.

There is bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 94 during rush hour.

(b) Evaluation claims assert that something has a specific quality. According to an evaluation claim, something is good or bad, effective or ineffective, attractive or unattractive, successful or unsuccessful.

Our law school is failing to produce well-trained attorneys.

Our current transportation system is inadequate.

(c) Policy claims call for a specific action. When making policy claims, writers call for something to be done.

We must find the funds to hire better faculty for our law school.

We need to build a light-rail system linking downtown with the airport.

Policy claims typically draw on substantiation and evaluation claims; you cannot persuade an audience to do something without first demonstrating that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. In some college essays, you may need to make only a substantiation or evaluation claim. When writing about literature, for example, you might need only to evaluate a character. (Harbrace College Handbook 406)

4. Poor reasoning: 
the logical fallacies

Logical fallacies are classic ways that people argue without sound reasoning. Plato's student Aristotle was the first to point them out. We've already looked at one kind of fallacy in inductive arguments--hasty generalization or generalizing based on inadequate evidence. Hasty generalization can be an innocent mistake, but other fallacies are simply deceptive ploys used to "win" an argument by unfair means. Some of them have been around for a long time--they have ancient Roman names--and they are very common not only in popular writing but in everyday speech as well. Think of political rhetoric, comedians' jokes, or student conversations that you have heard that fit these descriptions:

1. ad hominem, "a personal attack on an opponent," the usual form of illogic in politics. Here's an example: ''Of course Reginald's ideas about the missile defense system are stupid because, let's face it, the guy's a real blip-head.'' This statement pretends to be an argument about Reginald's ideas, but its conclusion is based only on Reginald's personality or blip-headedness. Even if the speaker can prove that Reginald is a blip-head, this proof will not be valid evidence that Reginald's ideas about missile defense systems are wrong. Negative political campaign ads usually fall into this category. They often signify desperation of the attacker.

2. tu quoque (literally, "youíre another," meaning "look who's talking"). This counterfeit argument is a special case of ad hominem. It tries to refute an argument simply by saying that the person making the argument is a hypocrite. Here are a few examples:

"How can you say that animals have rights--you eat meat !"

"How can you say that I'm a workaholic ? Youíre the biggest workaholic Iíve ever seen."

"Senator Brown attacks the cost of my proposed budget, but sheís been the biggest spender in the Senate for years."

3. poisoning the well: another special case of ad hominem, this fallacy tries to refute an argument by saying that the person making the argument has a vested interest in it. For instance:

"We all know why Steve Forbes wants a flat tax. Isnít he a millionaire?"

"Why should Congress consult the joint chiefs of staff about military spending? Obviously the generals will want all the money that they can get."

"Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream." (Rush Limbaugh has given the world this interesting combination of ad hominem and poisoning the well. )

4. false alternatives (saying "sink or swim" when there's a boat available). This one sets up only two alternatives when in fact there are other possibilities to choose from.

Wife to husband: ''We either buy this house I picked out or we live in a shack. Itís up to you.''

Parent to child : ''Either wear this dress I picked out for you, or look like a slob. Itís up to you.'' (faulty reasoning and bad parenting)

Politician to voters: "If you don't vote for me, you're voting for bad government."

5. the red herring argument is a diversionary tactic; it ignores the real issue by raising some other, superficially-related issue. A common variation on this strategy is called the straw man argument. A straw man argument first pretends to paraphrase the opposing position by giving a distorted and grotesque version of it, and then it argues against that distorted version (a version which will be as easy to knock down as a man made of straw). Here's an example of straw man, again from Rush Limbaugh:

And these women [of NOW] think they are representing the mainstream? . . . My friends, if this isnít men vs. women, at least as far as these freak feminists are concerned, then what is it? I, for one, have had it with this creeping philosophy which says that men, in their natural state are all rapists, molesters, and reprobates. Thatís what these dimwits really believe, and I resent it .

Here, Rush represents feminist thinking in such a way that it's a real cinch to knock it down. He also sports some good ad hominem: 'freak feminists' and 'dimwits.' (But in all fairness I have to say that Rush isn't only a real fountainhead of logical fallacies, he's also astute at spotting them in his opponents.)

Here's another example of a straw man argument. Notice how grotesquely Parent B distorts the position of Parent A:

Parent A: ''Well, I think Ginny could stay out till 11 tonight. It is her junior prom.''

Parent B: ''I canít believe youíre saying this. I canít believe you think itís OK for her to stay out all night and get pregnant at 16, and have to face an abortion, or have a baby ! What will we do with a baby ? Do you really think itís a good idea for us to take care of another baby at our age? Where are you going to find time to take care of a baby?''

6. An appeal to ignorance argues that a proposition is valid because there is no evidence on the other side

''Extra-terrestrials are planning to conquer earth.'' (There's no proof to the contrary!)

"All living things are made of protoplasm." (This lie was taught in US schools from about the 1930's until the 1970's. It had a long life only because nobody could disprove it.)

7. A false cause or post hoc argument claims that if one thing precedes another, then the first thing has caused the second. Obviously, the timing of any two events may be coincidental; that one causes the other requires proof of actual causation. (The Latin phrase is post hoc, ergo propter hoc, meaning ''After this, therefore because of this.'') History books are riddled with fallacies of this sort:

'Sex education was responsible for the rising rate of teen pregnancy. The pregnancy rate among teens shot up soon after the introduction of sex education in the schools.''

8. An appeal to majority, sometimes known as "the bandwagon," is a fallacy that's easy to commit because everybody does it! It's frequently used in democratic societies where the majority is supposed to be right. Actually, a quick reflection on history can be a pretty good demonstration that the majority can be wrong. For instance, think about the vast numbers of people who throughout history have thought that slavery was perfectly legitimate. Many folks still believe that the sun comes up in the morning and goes down at night. Be suspicious of any appeal to the majority that you yourself are tempted to make or that someone else is asking you to believe. ("The many" are not experts, as Socrates' observed.)

9. An appeal to tradition is similar to an appeal to majority. This fallacy says: "Because we've always done X, we should keep doing X." There can be a some degree of truth in this kind of argument, or in any of the other logical fallacies, but weak arguments like these can indicate claims that lack valid reasoning or clear evidence. Consider the logic and likely outcome of this conversation:

"My tradition says that thieves shall have their right hands cut off."

"My tradition says that it's barbaric to chop off anybody's hands. It's cruel and unusual punishment."

The frequent use of logical fallacies in everyday speech must mean that these unfair arguments work at least some of the time. This does not mean that they should work or that they are appropriate for academic writing.

[P.S. from Dr. G: consider your research report in light of Dr. E's lecture. What "claim" will you make in your report, and what "arguments" will back up that claim? Is there any danger that your claim will be a "hasty generalization"? Will you successfully avoid the "logical fallacies"?]

Assignment: the Research Report
due in Lesson 22 

The culmination of the research project is the research report, which is to be submitted twice, first (in Lesson 22, worth 15 points) for review and critique by the class, then in revised form (in Lesson 25, worth 15 points) for final grading. Your critiques of classmates' research projects (in Lessons 23 and 24) are worth a total of six points.

The initial "draft" submitted should not be a rough draft or incomplete or unfinished work.
Document specifications for the both the initial and the final research report are the same. Both versions of the report must meet the following minimum specifications: 

in depth treatment of a narrowly defined subject matter, with a word count of at least 1500 words (2000 words or more are preferred);

2. proper in text citations of no fewer than eight published sources (more than eight sources are preferred);

3. strong emphasis on academic and/or professional print sources; in fact, no more than four popular sources will be counted toward the eight required citations; the term "popular sources" includes all publications that lack citations, all broadcast media, and all internet sources except those under dot-edu or dot-org domain names that use citations.

4. use of MLA manuscript format and citation form, including works cited list, as described in Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual ;

5. use of American standard English, also as described in Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual;

the investigation of source materials underlying the report will include at least fifteen sources, as reflected in the research journal. (That is, the journal must have 15 sources, though the research report can have as few as 8 citations. The idea is that you will not write about everything that you have seen in your research; you will write about only those sources that are connected to a narrowed research question that you have developed during your investigation.)

A report that doesn't meet these standards will be rejected until such time as it meets the standards.

The initial and revised research reports will be graded using the score sheet discussed earlier. You will note from the score sheet that it's possible to earn more than 15 points for the draft and more than 15 points for the final report. These are "extra credits" for truly outstanding work, and they represent a chance to elevate your course grade and make up for points that were lost earlier.

Left: Dr. Elizabeth Gutchess

We come now to the end of Module 3, the Search for Truth. It's time to ask why we have not found it. Have we been, like Socrates, relentless in our questioning? skeptical toward even the experts? passionate about finding wisdom?


gutchess@englishare.net                    Academic writing home page                    Gary Gutchess © 2003