PHL110 -- Critical Analysis
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS: A Guide to Critical Thinking
are the Issue and the Conclusion?
- What are the
- What Words or Phrases
- What are the Value
Conflicts and Assumptions?
- What are the
- Are There any Errors
- How Good is the
- Are there Rival
- Are the Statistics
- What Significant
Information Is Omitted?
- What Reasonable
Conclusions are Possible?
1. What are the Issue and the
- What is the question being answered? (issue)
- What is the writer trying to prove? (conclusion)
2. What are the Reasons?
- Why does the writer believe that?
3. What Words or Phrases are
-- in the reasons and conclusion
- What does the author mean by that?
- What "could" be meant?
- Why do the ambiguous words harm the reasoning?
4. What are the Value Conflicts and
--in prescriptive arguments
--in the movement from reasons to conclusions
- see p. 55 for list of common values
- see p. 57 for typical value conflicts
- What values are being upheld by this position and what values
are being depreciated?
- What is the value priority assumed by the writer?
5. What are the Descriptive
- On what basis can that conclusion be drawn from that
- Is there any basis for accepting the assumption?
- If the reason is true, what else must be true for the
conclusion to follow?
- Supposing the reason(s) were true, is there any way in which
the conclusion nevertheless could be false?
6. Are There any Errors in
- What reasons would be adequate to support this position?
- Do the reasons state an advantage or disadvantage?
- If the reason were true, what would one have to believe for it
to logically support the conclusion, and what does one have to
believe for the reason to be true?
- Do these assumptions make sense?
- Reasoning Errors
- attacks a person or a person's background?
- faulty dilemma?
- diverts attention from issue?
- appeals to questionable authority?
- confuses "What Should Be" and What is?"
- confuses naming with explaining?
- reflects a search for perfect solutions?
- begs the question?
- Are there good reasons to consider such appeals as persuasive
7. How Good is the Evidence?
- What is the evidence? What is the source?
- Are there any other kinds of evidential support for this
- Appeals to Authority
- Why should we believe this authority?
- How much expertise or training does the authority have on
- Was the authority in a position to have especially good
access to pertinent facts?
- Is there good reason to believe that the authority is
relatively free of distorting influences?
- Has the authority developed a reputation for frequently
making dependable claims?
- Have we been able to rely on this authority in the
- What was the experience like for those whom we have not
- Does the person providing the testimony have a relationship
with what she is advocating such that we can expect a strong
bias in her testimony?
- Personal Observations
- Case Studies
- Is the example typical?
- Are there powerful counterexamples?
- Are there biases in how the example is reported?
- Research Studies
- What is the quality of the source of the report?
- Are there other clues included in the communication
suggesting the research was well-done?
- Has the study been replicated?
- How selective has the communicator been in choosing
- Is there any evidence of strong-sense critical
- Is there any reason for someone to have distorted the
- Are conditions in the research artificial and therefore
- Are there any biases or distortions in the surveys,
questionnaires, ratings, or other measurements that the
- Research sample
- How many events or people did they sample?
- How much breadth did the sample have?
- How random was the sample?
- Biased Surveys and Questionnaires
- How were the survey questions worded?
- Is there a build-in bias?
- --To Analyze--
- What are the two things being compared?
- Of these, which is familiar, and which are we learning
- In what respects are the two things alike?
- What else is known about the familiar thing?
- What is the conclusion of the argument?
- --To Evaluate--
- Are the similarities relevant?
- Are the differences relevant?
8. Are there Rival Causes?
- Are there other ways to interpret the evidence?
- What else might have caused this act or these findings?
- If this interpretation is incorrect, what other interpretation
might make sense?
- Are there rival causes that could account for the event?
- Is there any evidence that the explanation has been critically
- Is it likely that the hypothesis may be biased by social,
political, or psychological forces?
- What rival causes have not been considered? How credible is
the author's hypothesis relative to rival causes?
- Is the hypothesis thorough in accounting for many puzzling
aspects of the events in questions?
- How consistent is the hypothesis with all the available
9. Are the Statistics Deceptive?
- What relevant information is missing?
- Unknowable Statistics
- How did the author arrive at the estimate?
- Concluding One Thing, Proving Another
- What statistical evidence would be helpful in proving
- What is the appropriate conclusion to be drawn from
- Omitting Information
- What further information do you need before you can
judge the impact of the statistics?
- Absolute numbers on which the percentages are based
- Relevant comparisons
10. What Significant Information Is
- Has the writer left out any other information that is needed
before the quality of reasoning can be judged?
- Common counterarguments?
- What reasons would someone who disagrees offer?
- Are there research studies that contradict the studies
- Are there missing examples, testimonials, or analogies
that support the other side of the argument?
- Missing definitions?
- How would the arguments differ if key terms were defined
in other ways?
- Missing value preferences or perspectives?
- From what other set of values might one approach this
- What kinds of arguments would be made by someone
approaching the issue from a different set of values?
- Origins of "facts" alluded to in the argument?
- Where do the "facts" come from?
- Are the factual claims supported by well-done research
or by reliable sources?
- Details of procedures used for gathering facts?
- How many people completed the questionnaire?
- How were the survey questions worded?
- Alternative techniques for gathering or organizing the
- How might the results from an interview study differ
from written questionnaire results?
- Missing or incomplete figures, graphs, table, or data?
- Would the figure look different if it included evidence
from earlier or later years?
- Has the author "stretched" the figure to make the
differences look larger?
- Omitted effects, both positive and negative, and both
short-and long-term, or what is advocated an what is opposed?
- Has the argument left out important positive or negative
consequences of a proposed actions?
- Do we need to know the impact of the action on any other
the following areas: political, social, economic,
biological, spiritual, health, or environmental?
- Context of quotes and testimonials?
- Has a quote or testimonial been taken out of
- Benefits accruing to the author from convincing others to
follow her advice?
- Will the author benefit financially if we adopt her
- What are the potential long-term negative effects of the
- Which segments of society do not benefit from a proposed
actions? Who loses? What do the losers have to say about
- How does the proposed action affect the distribution of
- Does the action influence the extent of democracy in our
- How does a particular action affect how we view the world:
what we think, how we think, and what we know and can
- What are the action's effects on our health?
11. What Reasonable Conclusions are
- What conclusions would be possible in response to the
- When is the conclusion accurate?
- Where is the conclusion accurate?
- Why or for what purpose is the conclusion accurate?
- What conclusions are possible?
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