Critical Thinking and Ethics. I’m working on a writing project and need a sample draft to help me understand better.
For the first essay assignment, read Section 6 of Study Guide 3. At the end of the section, there are twenty-six arguments (104-130) on a variety of moral issues. Choose an argument that advances a conclusion you disagree with and explain what you think is wrong with the argument. First, identify the argument (by number), then briefly explain what the argument is about, and then state your objection.
The purpose of this assignment is to see that you know how to raise a relevant objection to an argument. This is an essential critical thinking skill. As you learn from the study guide, a relevant objection to an argument is not that the conclusion is false. In writing your essay, then, you should not focus on the conclusion of the argument. If the conclusion is false, there must be something wrong with the argument leading to that conclusion: either it has a false premise, or the reasoning is flawed, or both. So, a relevant objection to an argument targets one of the premises or the reasoning, not the conclusion.
To receive full credit for this assignment, please follow the instructions below.
- Your essay should be no less than 200 words and no more than 300 words. This is a short essay, so be concise and to the point.
- Directly address the essay question, as explained above.
- Demonstrate that you can write at a college level. This is not a text message. You should write in standard English, using correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph construction.
- Submit your essay no later than 11:59 PM Friday, May 21. To submit your essay, click on “Essays” in the Blackboard menu. Then click on “Essay 1” and upload your essay into the system. It is important that your submission is a Word document. Otherwise, I may not be able to read it.
If you follow these instructions, you will receive 10 points for your essay; otherwise, points may be subtracted
.Section 6: Criticizing Arguments
In the previous sections of this study guide, we learned how to evaluate arguments. This, again, is an essential critical-thinking skill, but not the only one. Another, related skill is the ability to criticize arguments. If you disagree with the conclusion of an argument, how do you refute the argument? What counts as a good objection to the argument, or at least a relevant one? Recall that a sound argument meets two conditions: first, the conclusion logically follows from the premises; and second, the premises are true. If an argument meets these two conditions, the conclusion is true, and the argument proves this. So, if you disagree with the conclusion of an argument, you must show that the argument is unsound; that is, you must show that the argument is invalid or that it has one or more false premises. Any other objection you might raise is, from a logical point of view, irrelevant.
To appreciate what this means, consider the following defense of the conservative position on the abortion issue:
97. To have an abortion is to kill a living thing. It is always wrong to kill a living thing. Therefore, it is wrong to have an abortion.
Let us imagine that you are a liberal on the abortion issue: you believe that abortion is permissible (at least early in pregnancy). Thus, you disagree with the conclusion of the above argument. You raise the following objection:
98. What is wrong with the conservative’s argument is that it fails to take into account the rights of the mother. A woman has the right to decide what happens inside her own body. So, if she chooses to have an abortion, that’s her right.
Is this a relevant objection to the conservative’s argument? No, it is not; and this illustrates a common mistake. You disagree with the conclusion of the argument, and you explain why you disagree, but you do not explain what’s wrong with the argument. If there is nothing wrong with the argument—that is, if the argument is sound—then the conclusion is true regardless ofyour objection. To raise a relevant objection to the argument, you must focus on the reasoning or on the premises. To refute the argument, you must show that the reasoning is invalid or that the argument has a false premise. But the objection you raise here has nothing to do with the validity of the conservative’s argument or with the truth of the premises. Hence, far from being a good objection, it is not even a relevant one.
Suppose, on the other hand, you raise the following objection:
99. What is wrong with the conservative’s argument is that it has a false premise. It is true that a human fetus is a living thing, but it is not always wrong to kill a living thing. For example, it is not wrong to kill some things—at least plants—for food. It is not wrong to kill pests, such as mosquitos, flies, and roaches. It is not wrong to kill harmful parasites, mold, or bacteria. Therefore, it is not always wrong to kill a living thing.
This is a relevant objection to the conservative’s argument, and a good one. It refutes the argument by showing that it has a false premise. Certainly, killing is sometimes wrong but, as your counterexamples show, it is not always wrong. Because of this, the conservative’s argument proves nothing.
Now let us consider a revised version of the conservative’s argument:
100. To have an abortion is to kill a living thing. It is sometimes wrong to kill a living thing. Therefore, it is wrong to have an abortion.
This argument is not susceptible to the objection raised above, because now both premises are true. But does this make it a good argument? No, it does not, as you might show by raising the following objection:
101. Even though the premises of the conservative’s argument are true, the reasoning is invalid. To see this, compare the conservative’s argument to the following one: “To kill a vicious animal in self-defense is to kill a living thing. It is sometimes wrong to kill a living thing. Therefore, it is wrong to kill a vicious animal in self-defense.” The premises of this argument are true, but the conclusion is false. Therefore, the logical form of this argument is invalid. But the logical form of this argument is the same as that of the conservative’s argument. Therefore, the conservative’s argument is invalid.
This refutes the argument by showing that the reasoning is invalid. Notice that in refuting the argument, your aim is not to show that the conclusion is false. This is why it is a mistake to focus on the conclusion in developing an objection to the argument. Your aim is to show that whether or not the conclusion is true, the argument does not prove that it is true. To show this you must focus on the reasoning or on the premises.
Let us now take a close look at a different moral issue to illustrate what is involved in developing a criticism of a moral argument. This has to do with transgenderism and the obligation to acknowledge people’s gender identity.
Most people’s gender identity—whether they see themselves as men or as women—matches their biological sex as male or as female, but not always. “Transgender” people are people whose gender identity differs from their biological sex. This raises an important question. Is there an obligation to treat people as men or as women (or perhaps as some non-binary gender) because this is how they see themselves, regardless of their biological sex? For example, is there an obligation to refer to a transwoman has “she” and to a transman as “he”? Should transgender people be allowed to use public restrooms which match their gender identity? Should transwomen be permitted to participate in women’s sports? One argument in support of an affirmative answer to these questions is following:
102. There is an obligation to affirm how people see themselves and treat them accordingly. Therefore, there is an obligation to affirm how transgender people see themselves and treat them accordingly.
We might call this the argument from “self-identification.” It makes sense to say that we should affirm how transgender people see themselves rather insisting that they conform to our perceptions of them. But an implication of this argument is that public attitudes towards analogous groups of “trans” people—the transracial, the transspecies, the transabled—may well have to change. Let us consider this implication more fully.
Rebecca Tuvel, a philosophy professor, wrote what quickly became a scandalous article in defense of transracialism. The article focused on the case of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who identified as black. Tuvel compared the case to that of Bruce Jenner, who identified as a woman and transitioned into Caitlyn Jenner. Popular attitudes towards these two cases could not have been more different. While Caitlyn Jenner was celebrated for her bravery—appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair and selected by Glamour magazine as Woman of the Year—Rachel Dolezal was publicly disgraced and lost her position as an official of the NAACP. Tuvel argued that nothing justified such strikingly different attitudes. “Since we should accept transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes,” she argued, “we should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races.”
Transspecies people (or “otherkins,” as they are also called) are people who do not identify as human but rather as a different species. They see themselves as lions or foxes, for example, or sometimes as mythical creatures, such as dragons or unicorns. Some otherkins undergo extensive body modification (involving plastic surgery, tattooing, or dental work) to bring their outward appearance into closer alignment with their inner sense of who or what they are. One article mentions the case of Luis Padron, who identifies as an elf. So far this young man “has spent more than £25,000 on surgery including liposuction on his jaw, a nose job, full body hair removal and operations to change his eye colour.” The same article says that Padron “is planning surgery to make his ears pointed, hair implants for a heart-shaped hairline and a limb lengthening operation to make him 6ft 5in tall.” It is easy to laugh at such people or to dismiss them as delusional. But should we? According to one article, “a significant percentage of otherkin are also transgender, and there are many forums online arguing that if you support transgender rights, you ought to support the rights of otherkin.”
Transabled people are people who strongly identify as disabled—as blind, for example, or as wheelchair bound. They feel disassociated from their able bodies, and some have gone so far as to inflict crippling injuries on themselves. One such woman is Jewel Shuping. We learn from one article that “Jewel, with the help of her therapist, poured drain cleaner into her eyes and refused to seek medical treatment, blinding herself permanently. She did this because she believed that she was actually disabled and that her able body prevented her from being who she truly was.” If we agree that Caitlyn Jenner is truly a woman because this is how she sees herself, shouldn’t we also agree that Jewel Shuping was always disabled and that it was only her able body that prevented her from expressing her true identity?
If there is a general obligation to acknowledge how people see themselves, then just as Caitlyn Jenner should be acknowledged as a woman, Rachel Dolezal should be acknowledged as black. And just as transgender people should not be denied gender confirmation surgery, neither should transabled people be denied amputations or other forms of disabling surgery. But, presumably, it would be wrong to acknowledge how some “trans” people see themselves—most clearly, in the case of the transabled. If so, then there is no general obligation to acknowledge how people see themselves. With this background, we can formulate the following objection to the argument from self-identification:
103. If there is a general obligation to affirm how people see themselves and treat them accordingly, then there is an obligation to affirm how all “trans” people see themselves and treat them accordingly. There is no obligation to affirm how all “trans” people see themselves and treat them accordingly. Indeed, in some cases, it would wrong to do so. Therefore, there is no general obligation to affirm how people see themselves and treat them accordingly.
Again, the aim in refuting an argument is not to show that the conclusion is false; it is to show that the argument does not establish that conclusion. There may well be an obligation to treat transwomen as real women and transmen as real men. But, as the above objection shows, this is not established by the argument from self-identification.
To summarize the main ideas of this section: A relevant objection to an argument is one that targets either the reasoning or the premises. An objection is irrelevant if it targets the conclusion. A good objection is one that refutes the argument, and this is done either by showing that the reasoning is invalid or that the argument has a false premise. To refute an argument is not to show that the conclusion is false; it is to show that the argument fails to establish or rationally support that conclusion.
Below are more than two dozen arguments on a variety of moral issues. For each argument, if you disagree with the conclusion, raise a relevant objection to the argument (and try to raise a good objection).
- No one is obligated to donate blood or organs to needy people even if they would otherwise die. But donating blood or organs is no different than donating money. (Your blood is your blood, your kidneys are your kidneys, and your money is your money.) Therefore, no one is obligated to donate money to needy people.
- It is irresponsible for people to have children unless they can afford them. No one should have to pay for someone else’s irresponsibility. Therefore, wealthy people should not have to pay for the irresponsibility of poor people who have children they cannot afford.
- 106.It is wrong to cause pain and suffering for trivial reasons. The practice of eating meat causes pain and suffering to farm animals for trivial reasons. Therefore, the practice of eating meat is wrong.
- Meat production is one of the principal causes of water pollution, the depletion of natural resources, deforestation, topsoil erosion, the loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental harms. People have a moral obligation to live an environmentally conscientious lifestyle. Therefore, people have a moral obligation to become vegetarians.
- Every year more than three million children die from hunger and nearly 800 million do not have enough to eat. According to some estimates, we lose on average 90 percent of the protein we invest in converting grains and soybeans into meat products. In fact, it has been estimated that the amount of food wasted in the conversion of vegetable protein into animal protein would be enough to feed everyone now facing starvation. People have an obligation to combat the problem of hunger. Therefore, people have an obligation to become vegetarians.
- The consumption of animal products is linked with cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood-pressure, osteoporosis, and other serious health conditions. People ought to live healthy lifestyles. Therefore, people ought to become vegetarians.
- In the Bible, it explicitly states that God gave us animals to eat. To Noah and his family God said: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Genesis 9:1-3). If God permits us to eat meat, it can’t be wrong.
- It is natural for human beings to eat meat. If it is natural to eat meat, then it cannot be wrong. Therefore, it is not wrong to eat meat.
- It is morally acceptable for wild animals to kill prey. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with human beings eating meat.
- Marriage has traditionally been an arrangement between a man and a woman. Therefore, same-sex marriage is wrong.
- Marriage is, by definition, a union between a man and a woman. Therefore, same-sex marriage is wrong.
- Homosexuality is morally wrong because the Bible condemns it.
- Homosexuality is morally wrong because it is unnatural.
- Nothing that occurs between consenting adults is morally wrong. Therefore, a gay or lesbian relationship between consenting adults is not morally wrong.
- If same-sex marriage is permitted, there is no reason why polygamy or incestuous marriage should not be permitted. (What can be said in defense of same-sex marriage that cannot be said in defense of polygamy or incestuous marriage? What can be said against polygamy or incestuous marriage that cannot be said against same-sex marriage?) It would be wrong to permit polygamy or incestuous marriage. Therefore, it is wrong to permit same-sex marriage.
- Domestic violence is wrong. Spanking children is a form of domestic violence. Therefore, spanking children is wrong (and is especially wrong because it is directed at the most vulnerable family members.)
- Parents have always spanked their children. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with the practice.
- Spanking children is an effective means of disciplining children and motivating them to behave appropriately. Therefore, parents are justified in spanking their children.
- There is no difference between your striking an adult because that person has disobeyed you or acted inappropriately and your striking a child for this reason. It would be wrong for you to strike an adult because that person has disobeyed you or acted inappropriately. Therefore, it would be wrong for you to strike a child for this reason.
- We are justified in using violence only in response to someone else’s violent behavior. Naughtiness and disobedience are not forms of violence. Therefore, parents are not justified in using violence against their children (by spanking them) because they have been naughty or disobedient.
- 124.All cultures are equal—that is, no culture is better than or preferable to any other culture. Therefore, even if America was culturally transformed as a result of liberal immigration policies, this would not be a bad thing.
- 125.All races and ethnicities are equal. All talents and abilities are equally distributed across the different races and ethnicities, and so there is no important sense in which one race or ethnicity is “superior” to any other. Therefore, even if the white race were to disappear, this would not be a bad thing. Humanity would not be losing anything of unique or distinctive value.
- 126.The United States is a nation of immigrants. Therefore, it is wrong for Americans to bar other immigrants from entering the country.
- 127.No nation has the right to prevent people from leaving the country. But people cannot leave a country if other nations close their borders to them. Therefore, every nation should open its borders to immigrants.
- 128.People have the human right to live in whatever country they choose to live in. Therefore, no country has the right to restrict immigration.
- 129.The territory of the United States does not belong to Americans because it was stolen from the native people. Therefore, Americans have no right to restrict immigration to this country.
- Strangers may want to enter your home, but your home belongs to you, and so you have the right to bar them from entering. You don’t even need to have a good reason. You may simply not want to associate with them. Can’t we say the same thing about immigrants? There are many foreigners who would like to move to the United States. But whose country is this? America belongs to Americans. Just as homeowners have the right to bar strangers from entering their homes, Americans have the right to bar foreigners from entering their country.
Additional Study Questions
131. When does the conclusion of an argument logically follow from the premises?
132. What does it mean to say that an argument is “valid”?
133. Can an argument can be valid even though it has false premises and a false conclusion?
134. What is meant by saying that an argument is “sound”?
135. If an argument is sound, must it have a true conclusion?
136. What is a relevant objection to an argument?
137. What is a good objection to an argument?
Answers to Selected Exercises
9. Argument. Conclusion: What is floating in my soup is not a spider. Conclusion follows.
11. Explanation, not an argument.
13. Argument. Conclusion: The butler did it. The conclusion does not follow. Given how rare pink fedoras are, the premises provide some support for the conclusion, but not much. Would this be sufficient evidence to convict the butler?
17. Argument. Conclusion: All dogs have tails. Conclusion follows.
22. Argument. Conclusion: Raul doesn’t wear Birkenstock Sandals. Conclusion follows.
24. Report, not an argument.
25. Explanation, not an argument.
38. Nothing follows.
40. More than one conclusion follows. One is that no birds are lizards (or, equivalently, that no lizards are birds). Another is that no lizards have feathers. Yet another is that no birds are reptiles (or, equivalently, that no reptiles are birds).
46. Two conclusions follow. One is that the gardener didn’t do it. Another is that the butler did it.
48. All scientists are atheists.
51. There are no mountains in Miami.
52. Whatever the Pope says is true.
56. No jocks are stoners (or, equivalently, that no stoners are jocks).
82. Modus Ponens.
85. Undistributed Middle Term.
87. Affirming the Consequent.
89. Denying the Antecedent.
90. Modus Tollens.