Critical Thinking—Best Book in This Category


Amazon

Amazon

I teach philosophy to graduate students. Many of these men and women are married. Wives of the married men often invite me to speak to their group. Some have told me how much they desire to understand what their husbands are studying, and, frankly, to be able to hold their own in argument when their husbands, by dint of their occupation, have a seeming advantage.

There’s one book I’ve been recommending to them. It’s an excellent general introduction to the skills we all need—both for gentle sparring and for serious debate, but also just for organizing our beliefs into cogent perspectives.

Written by D. Q. McInerny, it’s called Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking (2005). (I see that it’s also now available in a Kindle edition.)

Charles Osgood offers this poetic endorsement:

Given the shortage of logical thinking,

And the fact that mankind is adrift, if not sinking,

It is vital that all of us learn to think straight.

And this small book by D.Q. McInerny is great.

It follows therefore since we so badly need it,

Everybody should not only buy it, but read it.

That Bookshop in Portland

That Bookshop in Portland

* * *

What Others Are Saying:

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BlogLogic—Rumors of Sarah Palin’s Affiliation with the Alaska Independence Party


It’s been interesting to see how things have unfolded on the Mudflats blog, which purports to be “tiptoeing through the muck of Alaskan politics.”

The host goes by the handle “AKMuckraker.” Today she published a post titled “Palin – Republican Party Infiltrator? Damning Video.” With a title like that, you hardly need to read further to know what’s up:

There’s a video that incriminates Sarah Palin by showing her past ties to the Alaska Independence Party (AIP) and her secret plan to advance that party’s aims by infiltrating the Republican party.

That’s the muckraker’s thesis.

If you want to know what’s so damning about the video, or whether it’s damning at all, then you might want to read the post. The muckraker connects the dots that lead to her conclusion. And she’s remarkably confident of her conclusion.

The only problem is, her evidence doesn’t support her conclusion. Her argument is fallacious. If it’s not a specimen of conscious bias against Palin, it’s at least a case of wishful thinking gone awry.

The video features a small gathering of crazies scheming about how best to achieve the secessionist goals of the Alaska Independence Party. So we’re told. We have to take the muckraker’s word for it that this video is not a setup. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt here. We’re also told that a key participant seen and heard on the video is Dexter Clark, vice chairman of the Independence party. Fine. We’ll go with that.

The muckraker then provides transcripts of bits of the video. Since these are the portions she uses to make her argument, let’s assume that they are the most damning evidence in support of the muckraker’s conclusion.

The first excerpt shows Dexter Clark estimating the number of American soldiers and dependents who “could be eligible to vote” for Alaska “Statehood.” Of course, Alaska has been a state since 1959. Ah, but it isn’t yet a “State,” as in “independent nation state.” The excerpt doesn’t disambiguate for us, but I take it that Clark is referring to the independent-nation-state kind of state, and he’s calculating the number of votes his party might be able to count on in a referendum on Statehood.

OK?

Well, maybe not. The ensuing paragraph, where the muckraker explains things for us, leaves us in greater suspense. How is “Statehood” really being used here? It isn’t easy to tell.

It might not matter. The basic idea seems to be that the Independence party was shafted by a rigged vote about Alaska Statehood, and the desired result of the AIP went down in smoke.

We come, then, to the next excert, what the muckraker calls “the good part.” Here Clark lauds the election of Sarah Palin to become Alaska’s governor, even though she did so as a Republican. Clark explains why this is good news for his Independence party. Palin had once been a member of the party. The only reason she switched parties and became a Republican was to “get along and go along” (Clark’s words).

At this point, vagueness corrupts the argument. What does Clark mean by “get along and go along”? Presumably, he’s suggesting that at the time of Sarah Palin’s move to the Republican party, she was still an Independence party member at heart and that her new role as a town mayor might work out better if she had the appearance of being a Republican. She couldn’t have been much of a Republican, suggests Dexter Clark, since she discovered that “she all kinds of problems with their ethics.” This is clearly the message that muckraker gleans from Clark’s musings.

The joy in seeing Sarah Palin become governor of Alaska is rooted in Dexter Clark’s perception that Palin remains sympathetic with the AIP cause. And this is based on two things, Palin’s prior membership in the AIP, and Clark’s perception that Palin isn’t a sincere Republican. Clark’s perception that Palin isn’t a sincere Republican is itself based, in part, on Palin’s past association with the AIP. Clark’s perception of Palin’s continued affinities for the AIP is reinforced by his perception of a clash between Sarah Palin and the Republican party over the ethics of the party.

The net effect is supposed to be that Alaskans now have an AIP governor, disguised as a Republican, who can be counted on to reintroduce the issue of Statehood and perhaps facilitate the achievement of the AIP’s primary objective. What makes the whole thing really rich is that, because governor Palin is such a popular figure in her state, many Alaskans would probably vote with the AIP and everything turn out hunky-dory for the AIP.

So strategists in the AIP propose to infiltrate the two mainstream parties, get these pseudo-members elected to municipal and state offices, and watch them use their positions—synchronizing their efforts, of course—to bring about independence for Alaska.

This seems to be the basic trajectory of Clark’s reasoning process.

And the muckraker is floored by this. The video excerpts are so unbelievably damning that the muckraker thinks her readers might want to sit down before they are presented with the evidence she presents.

What’s truly unbelievable is that the muckraker finds the argument so compelling. Indeed, to sort it out you might need to sit down for a spell.

Here’s the argument:

  1. Dexter Clark is the vice chairman of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP). [Fact]
  2. If Dexter Clark is the vice chairman of the AIP, then his proposed strategy for achieving independence has been adopted by the AIP and its members. [Assumption]
  3. Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence has been adopted by the AIP and its members. [MP, 1 and 2]
  4. Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence is for members of the AIP to switch to one of the two main parties, get elected to government positions, and use their new authority to sponsor independence for Alaska.
  5. Members of the AIP agree to switch to one of the two main parties, get elected to government positions, and use their new authority to sponsor independence for Alaska. [Conjunction of 3 and 4]
  6. No member of the AIP ever leaves the AIP except in pursuit of Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence. [Assumption]
  7. If a person who was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party, then that person has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence. [Direct implication of 6]
  8. Sarah Palin was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party. [Assumption or fact, as the case may be; that depends on the truth value of the first conjunct; we can safely believe that the second conjunct is true]
  9. Sarah Palin has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence. [MP, 7 and 8]
  10. If Sarah Palin has infiltrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence, then Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican. [Direct implication of 7]
  11. Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican. [MA, 9 and 10]
  12. If Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican, then Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United State. [Assumption]
  13. Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United States. [MP, 11 and 12]
  14. If Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United States, then we should not vote for John McCain in this year’s presidential election. [Assumption]
  15. We should not vote for John McCain in this year’s presidential election. [MP, 13 and 14]

Statements 10-15 do not appear in the muckraker’s post. They are gleaned from the tone and content of this and other posts at her blog, and my suspicion that she does not want John McCain to be the next President of the United States. In any case, we can dispense with them here.

The above argument can be simplified by extracting three of the numbered statements, 7-9. The resulting argument is as follows:

  1. If a person was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party, then that person has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for the independence of Alaska. [Assumption]
  2. Sarah Palin was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party. [Assumption or fact, as the case may be; that depends on the truth value of the first conjunct; we can safely believe that the second conjunct is true]
  3. Sarah Palin has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for the independence of Alaska. [MP, 1 and 2]

Notice three things about statement number 1.

First, it is an assumption that is never actually stated in the argument.

Second, it is crucial to the argument, since the muckraker never so much as hints that Sarah Palin was in the room when the video was shot, or even that Sarah Palin has unequivocally embraced Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving Alaska’s independence.

Third, it isn’t true.

How’s that for a specimen of BlogLogic?

* * *

Why have I written this post?

One should not infer from what I’ve said here that I support the McCain/Palin ticket. That would require another instance of specious reasoning.

I have two reasons for writing this post.

First, Sarah Palin should be defended against arguments that violate the principles of sound reasoning. So should any other candidate. But Palin has been the target of incessant, vicious attack with arguments constructed on manufactured evidence. This seems to be the current number one priority of the muckraker. (Again, that’s what muckrakers do.)

Second, I can at least hope that exposing the barrenness of a BlogArgument—or Blogument, if you will—is a contribution to the common good, as a call to sound reasoning in the public square.

Babies, Lies & Scandal?


What in the world has happened to journalism in America? US Magazine’s new issue features a picture of Sarah Palin and this essay title in large, bold letters: “Babies, Lies & Scandal.” Read more of this post

Sarah Palin and the Abuse of Blog Power


The social media that permeate the blogosphere have changed the way politics unfolds in this country. It is more difficult now than ever before to get solid, reliable information about the character of presidential candidates, for example. Today, rumors about Sarah Palin are flying with fury and labels are being applied as if these are factually established and relevant.

Anti-Palin bloggers are pumping out bile with the unrelenting force of an Alaskan gusher. These people are using their blog-power to influence voters. Nothing wrong with that. But fomenting discontent on the basis of rumor alone is an abuse of that power.

We need an example. One blogger who illustrates this obsessive, vicious lampooning of Sarah Palin (and John McCain) is “AKMuckraker” at Mudflats. On one post she insinuates that Sarah Palin is John McCain’s latest “trophy girl.” In another, she rolls out all the labels she can contrive—”Trooper-Gate,” “Baby-Gate,” “Bridge-Gate,” and “Veep-Gate”—and wails to the world that the GOP campaign will come unraveled in the days left before the election. Many who chime in with comments at her posts exhibit an astonishing willingness to believe on the basis of ethereal fumes. (One shining exception is Gerri; she candidly states that she’s pro-Obama, but says she wants proof because she doesn’t like rumors and blatant lies. Way to go, Gerri.)

I have four guidelines to recommend to blog browsers whose eyes are burning from all this smoke. If you find that rumor is beginning to influence your outlook, you might find these helpful.

1. Chase the rumor to its source and investigate the source.

The “scandal” that’s all the rage today swirls around allegations that Sarah Palin’s youngest child, an infant with Downe syndrome, is not her own child but the child of her 17-year-old daughter, and the spectacle of much handwringing about the news that Palin’s daughter is pregnant now and will soon marry the father.

Who’s behind the effort to bring this to national attention? The advertised culprit is Andrew Sullivan, of TheAtlantic.com, a leftist blogger and adoring fan of Obama, who seems to have proven that he can be truly unscrupulous if it will help the liberal cause. Norman Podhoretz explains what is worse than despicable about Sullivan’s behaviour here and here. This criticism extends to Sullivan’s channelers throughout the blogosphere.

2. Listen carefully to the tone of the blogger.

Is the blogger being sarcastic? Does the blogger rely on sarcasm to make the “argument”? Is it plausible to suppose that the blogger is being objective? That the blogger is willing to give the candidate the benefit of the doubt? That the blogger is sincere about relying on bullet-proof evidence when evaluating the candidate’s character and motives?

Does the blogger consider counter-evidence or counterarguments? Are these treated fairly?

Does it sound like the blogger is preaching to the converted? If so, then she probably is.

A muckraker is someone seeks out and publishes alleged scandals in an underhanded way. The writer at Mudflats calls herself “AKMuckraker.” Enough said?

3. Step back and remember what governing this country is about.

Don’t lose sight of the issues. This goes to the question, How relevant is the rumor, even if true? What aspect of prudent national leadership is threatened? Make a list the most important foreign and domestic policy issues facing this country. Then ask, How will the candidate who’s been smeared address those issues? Does the candidate act consistently with his or her declared principles?

4. Don’t expect the candidate to answer every scandalous charge of scandal with counter-evidence.

Putting an opponent on the defensive by making frivolous charges is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If Sullivan or someone else broadcasts an allegation, forbear not to believe it, or even to give it another thought, unless and until the sponsor of the claim presents compelling evidence. That is his or her responsibility, if a case can be made.

No one should be distracted by, and still less should one believe, a baseless allegation made by a scurrilous troublemaker who is ultimately indifferent about truth.

***

Bottom Line: It’s time to shut the Rumor-Gate and get down to the business of sorting out the kind of national leadership, in both foreign and domestic policy areas, that is really needed. Maybe the concentration of muckraking in one party gives us a clue.

Related Posts:

Child Crusaders in the Anthropogenic Global Warming Campaign


Sometime soon, the Climate Cops may be pounding on your door, if not breaking your windows, to make you answer for your anthropogenic global warming (AGW) misdeeds. Who are these Climate Cops? Three animated kids named Skye, Will, and Oscar, and a polar bear called K’eyush—together with their recruits from the world of real children.

To join the Climate Cops Academy, your children are urged to go to climatecops.com. There they will meet Charlie, Chief Instructor of New Recruits. To become a member of the elite group of cadets, they must first complete three missions. As the Training Site says, “Only the best make it into the Academy. Prove

your worth by completing these three missions.” Each mission is played online.

I learned about this from a post by Anthony Watts, titled “Hey Kids! Be a ‘Climate Cop’—rat on your family, friends, and classmates.” Watts re-posts an item from the EU Referendum blogspot. This item, titled “Climate Nazis,” reports on full-page ads that appeared in Britain’s Sunday papers yesterday.

To their credit, the EU Referendum and Anthony Watts have posted these items to make people more aware of the ludicrous, and indeed shameful, effort to lure children into a campaign to spy on family members and others. They are truly alarmed by this, drawing analogies with Hitler’s propaganda campaign Deutsches Jungfolk. And the folks at the EU Referendum are answering the newspaper ads with an official complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK.

The ASA describes its mission as follows:

“The ASA is here to make sure all advertising, wherever it appears, meets the high standards laid down in the advertising codes. Our website will tell you more about the rules for advertising, let you complain online, and explain how the ASA is working to keep UK advertising standards as high as possible.”

It is heartening to see the many comments responding to these posts by Anthony Watts and the EU Referendum. Most express disenchantment with the Climate Cop concept and the whole AGW paranoia for which we can thank former Vice President Al Gore.

I believe our schools are deliberate accomplices in the effort to stigmatize the behavior of parents. This is a serious matter. It requires the substitution of education with indoctrination. It feigns respect for critical thinking, but reinforces sloppy and irresponsible judgment.

This presents parents with an unprecedented responsibility and a severe dilemma. Parents cannot count on the schools to educate children in the skills of critical thinking. It is now their responsibility to instill virtues of the intellect, without the help of our educational institutions. Here’s the dilemma. If parents educate their children to be critical thinkers, their children will begin to wonder why they’re being sent off to school, where the values of critical thought are disregarded, if not distorted.

Quotations: The Intellectual Life


“. . . the history of thought is the laboratory of the thinker . . . .”

—Eugene R. Fairweather

“So I’m not educated. I learned my stuff. I’m a heart surgeon, sure, but I’m just a mechanic.”

—Character named Mel, in Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

“The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes./. . . . The history of my stupidity will not be written./For one thing, it’s late. And the truth is laborious.”

—From Czeslaw Milosz’s poem, “Account,” in New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001

“Most of us hate to think. Five minutes of thought can be more terrifying, more energy-draining than days and days of routine or habitual activity. Your mind is intrinsically thrifty, and prefers to do things the way it has done them before. It sees its primary business as establishing effective channels for action, and resists altering a channel that has become established, to say nothing of constructing a new one that causes anxiety.”

—Kenneth Atchity, A Writer’s Time

“I’m a stenographer of my mind.”

—Allen Ginsberg, poet (1926-1997)

“Your best thought is imbedded [sic] in chunks of your worst thought.”

—Mark Levy, Accidental Genius

“Friends of the human race and of what is holiest to it! Accept what appears to you most worthy of belief after careful and sincere examination, whether of facts or rational grounds; only do not dispute that prerogative of reason which makes it the highest good on earth, the prerogative of being the final touchstone of truth.”

—Immanuel Kant, “What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?”

“Most evidently, we cannot give up on the principle of non-contradiction, bold but wayward logicians notwithstanding.”

—Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan, The Agnostic Inquirer: Revelation from a Philosophical Standpoint

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