Ethical Realism

July 16, 2013

The Appeal to Authority

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 11:21 pm
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Should we ever trust anyone’s expertise? The “appeal to authority” is a well-known fallacy (nonrational way to reason) and some people claim that all appeals to authority are fallacious. I was once told that my religion is science because I trust the expert opinion of scientists, so apparently that person doesn’t think scientists should be trusted. I will explain why we should often trust expert opinion and we have little choice but to often do so. (more…)

May 13, 2013

Logically Valid Arguments

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 10:28 pm
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A formal logic class or textbook should teach us ways to know when an argument has a valid argument form, and that can take a significant amount of time to learn. I encourage everyone to learn formal logic one way or another because it is of central significance to rational argumentation, and it is not something we spontaneously understand instinctively or through personal experience. Perhaps the first philosopher to understand formal logic and the importance of validity was Aristotle, and philosophers would have liked to understand it sooner. It was a great achievement because it can be so difficult to figure out on our own. Even so, we can learn a lot about valid argument form very quickly. I will explain why we need to make sure our deductive arguments are valid, give examples of valid argument forms, and explain how we can improve our arguments. (more…)

February 26, 2013

Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?

Filed under: epistemology — JW Gray @ 1:26 am
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Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Is there a burden of proof against extraordinary claims? Should we literally assume that something extraordinary doesn’t exist until it is proven to exist?

Many people say that those who claim that bigfoot, ghosts, and gods exist are making “extraordinary claims” and we should reject the existence of these things because we don’t have enough evidence for them.

What does ‘extraordinary’ mean? It refers to claims that conflict with what we think we know about the world. Many claims are extraordinary because they are extreme (likely false) or potentially impossible. (more…)

September 9, 2012

My Reply to Neo of The Skeptic Arena: Are All Good Arguments Logically Sound?

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 9:05 pm
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Neo of The Skeptic Arena read two of my posts: “Not All Good Arguments Are Logically Sound Part 1” and “Not all Good Arguments Are Logically Sound Part 2.” (At first he only read Part 2, which might have led to confusion.) We had an email conversation that he decided to post on his website for educational reasons. Go to his website to see for yourself. He concludes the following:

Against my better judgment I went ahead and read part 1. As I expected, it was pretty much the same drivel I put up with in Part 2. It was a waste of time. Since he is obviously unable to defend his assertions, continuing the email exchange would also be a waste of time.

(more…)

May 15, 2012

Do Default Positions Exist?

The term “default position” refers to a belief (or lack of belief) that is preferable prior to debate or before any evidence is considered. Many people claim that some belief (or lack thereof) are default positions, so everyone who disagrees with those positions has the burden of proof. What exactly is a default position, and do default positions exist? (more…)

May 6, 2012

What is the Burden of Proof?

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:52 am
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One of the most confusing topics regarding argumentation and rationality is what we call the “burden of proof.” What is it? Who has a burden of proof? I will argue that there are two kinds of burden of proof—(1) a principle of debate and (2) a principle of rationality. These two principles are similar but there are important differences. As a principle of debate, the burden of proof determines who needs to prove their assertions. As a principle of rationality, it determines what beliefs are irrational without further evidence in their favor. (more…)

April 27, 2012

Introduction to Argument Mapping & Critical Thinking (Ebook/PDF, updated 12/5/2012)

You can download a free short introduction to critical thinking & argument mapping. Go here for more information.

I have made a comprehensive introduction to argument mapping and critical thinking in the form of an ebook. There is evidence that argument mapping is the most effective way to learn critical thinking. Argument maps are visual representations of arguments that help us understand how arguments work, and what it takes to make a good argument.

This ebook is no longer available for free on the website because I am considering publishing it. If you would like to use it for free to teach a class, you can send me a message with information about who you are, the school you work at, and how you plan on using it in the class. I would also require that you give me feedback. You can send me a message using the form below.

(more…)

April 16, 2012

Argument Mapping Classes Are The Most Effective At Improving Critical Thinking

According to a meta-analysis of existing studies, argument mapping classes are by far the most effective at improving critical thinking.

Claudia María Álvarez Ortiz completed an in-depth analysis regarding the most effective forms of critical thinking education in 2007. Her MA thesis was Does Philosophy Improve Critical Thinking Skills? It can be downloaded for free right here in PDF format. She wanted to know how effective philosophy classes are at teaching critical thinking compared to other classes. Her study provides evidence for the following conclusions: (more…)

February 2, 2012

Beliefs Are Innocent Until Proven Guilty Part 2

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 9:10 am
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This is part 2. You should read part 1 first.

I have argued that beliefs are innocent until proven guilty and various objections have been raised to this position and my arguments. I will provide some clarification and respond to various objections here. (more…)

June 19, 2011

Proving an Argument Is Logically Valid

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 9:05 am
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I have discussed the importance of understanding logical form and how to create formal counterexamples. Understanding logic well is a lot easier when we know something about logical validity, and one way to better understand logical validity is to consider an argument that proves an argument to be valid. If we can know why an argument can be valid, then we can know more about logical validity in general. I will now produce a proof of logical validity here. It can take some time to understand the proof, so you might want to take your time to read it carefully. (more…)

June 17, 2011

Logical Validity & Counterexamples

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:36 am
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I have already described formal logic and explained why it’s important for proper reasoning. One of the best ways to learn formal logic is to take a logic class. However, we don’t have to take a class just to learn the basics and improve our intuitive grasp of formal logic. What I want to do here is explain how to use counterexamples to prove an argument to be logically invalid. This can help improve our understanding of logic and help us prove arguments to be logically invalid. (more…)

June 16, 2011

Examples of Errors in Reasoning

One common way to learn about good reasoning is to pick apart arguments by spotting errors in reasoning and applying our knowledge of epistemic principles in various contexts. In other words, we can improve our rational thinking through practice. Once we can better criticize other people’s arguments, we can learn to better criticize our own. I will describe twenty examples of poor reasoning and one example of good reasoning, but I won’t immediately explain why I think the examples use poor reasoning. Instead, my answers will be listed in a separate section. You are encouraged to think about why each of these examples are examples of poor or good reasoning before reading my answers. If two arguments are presented in an example, then consider why there are errors in the reasoning of the objection rather than the positive argument. It is possible that my answers are mistaken or incomplete, but I will defend them. It’s possible for more than one error to be made, but my focus will be on the most serious failings of each argument rather than the less serious ones. Additionally, the focus here is not on false premises or conclusions as much as poor reasoning. That’s not to say that false assumptions don’t play an important role in poor reasoning in general. (more…)

June 14, 2011

Philosophical Thought & an Illustration of a Supporting Argument

It’s often a lot easier to pick apart someone else’s argument than to come up with a supporting argument of your own. Additionally, it’s usually a lot harder to present a philosophical argument for a controversial position than an uncontroversial one. It’s not as hard to argue that bread is nutritious or that killing people is wrong than it is to argue that God exists or abortion is wrong. One way to learn more about how to create supporting arguments of your own is to read philosophy and examine the thoughts of a philosophical thinker who develops such an argument. It’s a good idea to pay close attention to the kinds of questions and answers a philosophical thinker comes up with. I will try to do that here and present the thoughts involved with developing a supporting argument. In particular, I will discuss an argument against the existence of ghosts. (more…)

June 7, 2011

Philosophical Thought & An Illustration of An Objection

We can learn how to think more like a philosopher by engaging in philosophical debate, reading philosophy, thinking about the nature of philosophical argumentation, and examining the thought process of philosophers. A philosophy professor can be very helpful as a guide to help people engage in philosophical argumentation by helping them verbalize their arguments and avoid fallacious reasoning. Since I am writing about philosophical argumentation, I am not able to help guide your philosophical thoughts as you engage in philosophical debate. However, I can help you peer into the thoughts of someone who engages in philosophical thought. In particular, I will discuss the thinking involved with constructing a philosophical objection. (more…)

June 2, 2011

Writing Philosophical Arguments

Filed under: epistemology,ethics — JW Gray @ 4:38 am
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Philosophy isn’t just a form of creative writing. It’s an attempt to use good reasoning, and writing good philosophical arguments requires an understanding of good reasoning. Most people have an intuitive grasp of what good reasoning is, but this intuitive grasp is often insufficient. Our reasoning can be improved from experience and philosophy education. Experience writing philosophical arguments can help us think more philosophically. I will discuss three steps of writing good philosophical arguments: (more…)

June 1, 2011

Four Argument Strategies

Argument strategies are various ways we present our arguments and justifications. Some arguments are simple deductions and generalizations based on our experiences. However, there are a variety of other argument strategies, and a better understanding of them can help us learn to argue more effectively. Argument strategies are usually compatible, and we can often present our justifications using a variety of argument strategies. I will discuss four argument strategies and give examples of these strategies used within the philosophical literature : (more…)

July 30, 2010

10 Myths About Beliefs

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 10:00 am
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There are many myths and misunderstandings that prevent clear thinking, good debate, and proper argumentation. I will discuss ten myths about beliefs, but first I will describe knowledge. (more…)

March 5, 2010

How to Become a Philosopher Free Ebook (Updated 11/26/2013)

I have made a free ebook that discusses the the basics you need to know to think philosophically. Want to improve your thinking? Attain a sort of critical thinking far beyond what most teachers understand? Live a life concentrated on what is most important? If so, philosophy is a good start. (more…)

March 3, 2010

How to Get an A in a Philosophy Class

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 9:09 am
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Even if you aren’t in a philosophy class, the advice I give can be relevant to attaining a greater understanding of philosophy in general. Although some philosophy professors are easy, not all are. In other words, you probably can’t get an easy A in philosophy. Nonetheless, I have a great deal of advice that can help raise your grade. Here is my current advice: (more…)

February 26, 2010

Four Terrible Ways to Argue

Philosophers have mentioned thousands of fallacies (errors in reasoning), but I will discuss four more in detail that I find to be very common. These fallacies are terrible ways to argue. I have already discussed several other fallacies, but here are four more that everyone needs to know about. Understanding these fallacies can help us develop better argumentation, and they can help us identify errors in reasoning given by others. The four fallacies are the following:

  1. Appeal to Ignorance
  2. Equivocation
  3. Reversal of Burden of Proof
  4. Begging the Question

(more…)

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