Ethical Realism

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…)

February 12, 2013

Arguments Are Important

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 1:38 am
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At some point you are likely to hear about how giving arguments is rude and we would all get along better without arguing. Arguing is often thought to be a shouting match or hostile disagreement of some sort. However, argumentation is central to thinking rationally and critical thinking. The success of natural science could not exist without it. Yes, some arguments are disrespectful, but not all of them are. (more…)

September 9, 2012

10 Myths About Logic

Logic is greatly misunderstood. Not only do very few people understand logic properly, but even critical thinking educators believe false things about logic. I will discuss ten myths (false beliefs) I believe many people have about logic. (more…)

August 13, 2012

Not All Good Arguments Are Logically Sound

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 11:53 pm
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More than one person has believed that all good arguments are logically sound, but this is a mistake. Not all good arguments are logically sound. Even so, understanding why not all good arguments are logically sound can help us better understand what good arguments are. I will discuss what good arguments are, I will explain what it means for an argument to be logically sound, explain the distinction between deductive and inductive arguments, and present an argument that proves that not all good arguments are logically sound. (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 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…)

January 18, 2012

Beliefs are Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Many people equate “justified” with “justification”—they think beliefs are justified if and only if we give a good justification for them. A sign of this attitude is found in statements such as, “We should only believe something if we can observe it’s true.” I will explain that not all our beliefs require justifications to be justified because (a) we have justified beliefs that we can’t give justifications for, (b) such an assumption is self-defeating, and (c) such an assumption would lead to an infinite regress or vicious circularity. (more…)

December 20, 2011

Five Tips For Better Debates

Debate can be an educational opportunity (for hopefully at least one participant), but many people find it to be a “waste of time.” This is likely due to the fact that many people have bad habits and know very little about how to debate well. Nonetheless, the Internet gives us new opportunities to debate using message boards, blogs, and so on. I want to encourage people to debate informally in everyday conversation whether face-to-face or online, and I will discuss five argumentative virtues that can help us have better debates—charity, relevance, clarity, modesty, and justification. These virtues apply to any sort of debate including philosophical essays, but I will also discuss certain flaws I’ve encountered in informal debates. (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 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…)

April 20, 2011

Three Types of Intuitive Arguments

Our arguments depend on assumptions. We prefer these assumptions to be intuitive and coherent with our other justified beliefs rather than counterintuitive and incompatible with our other justified beliefs. We might not be able to fully explain how we know “1+1=2” but we find it to be an intuitive belief, and we think it’s absurd (and perhaps incoherent) to deny that it’s true. Intuitive arguments are not only very common in philosophy, but it’s possible that all our justifications are grounded in intuition in one way or another. (more…)

March 31, 2011

Arguments for Intuition

Philosophers often discuss what beliefs are intuitive or counterintuitive to support their conclusions. I will argue that we should prefer theories and beliefs that are intuitive or sensitive to our intuitions rather than ones that aren’t.1 The fact that a theory or belief is intuitive isn’t conclusive proof and a theory or belief being counterintuitive isn’t a conclusive refutation, but it is one important element when evaluating the plausibility of a theory or belief. Intuitive beliefs range from things we know with high degrees of confidence—such as “at least two people exist”—to beliefs that are merely plausible enough to take seriously as possibly true. When a theory isn’t intuitive, then we call it counterintuitive, absurd, or revisionistic. I will argue that, all else equal, we should prefer that our theories are intuitive rather than revisionistic for at least the following three reasons: (more…)

March 26, 2011

Is Knowledge Impossible?

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 12:13 am
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Some people have thought that knowledge is impossible. It might seem implausible to think knowledge is impossible, but there are important philosophical concerns we can have about knowledge and challenges to the possibility of knowledge can be illuminating. First, I will discuss what ‘knowledge’ means and suggest three different definitions: (a) justified true belief, (b) certainty, and (c) a deep understanding. Second, I will discuss why the belief that knowledge is impossible seems to be self-defeating. Third, I will discuss an argument against the possibility of knowledge known as the Münchhausen Trilemma and explain where it might go wrong. The Trilemma supposedly shows how unsatisfying any proof is in order to show that none of our beliefs are proven—and knowledge is taken to be impossible as a result. I reject the Trilemma because it is too demanding about what counts as a justified belief. Perhaps proof or evidence is not always necessary to have a justified belief. (more…)

December 27, 2010

Raising Children, Education, and Indoctrination

Are we educating and raising children properly or indoctrinating them? Most people seem to assume that children are educated pretty well, and they assume that they raise their own children pretty well—but almost everyone admits that at least some people indoctrinate their children by using manipulative or disrespectful tactics. Many people worry that parents or educators pass on their beliefs to children no matter how horrible the beliefs are. Many people think it’s wrong for racists to teach their children to be racists, communists to teach their children to be communists, and even religious people to teach their children to have a particular religion. (more…)

December 12, 2010

Honor Killings, Moral Education, Justified Punishment, Justified War, and Dehumanization

An examination of honor killings will reveal the importance of philosophical, logical, and moral education; the inappropriate treatment of criminals; the inappropriate dehumanization of our enemies; and the use of poor reasoning to justify war. (more…)

February 4, 2010

A Moral Realist Point of View Part 2

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:23 am
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In this installment, I will discuss how the following moral concepts can relate to moral realism:

  1. Universality
  2. Responsibility
  3. Rationality


November 10, 2009

Objections to Moral Realism Part 4: Moral Beliefs Can’t Motivate

There is evidence that moral values involve desires. When we say “human life has intrinsic value,” we expect a desire to promote human life and a pro-attitude towards human life. The connection between moral beliefs and desires is not clear, and some people have argued that morality is only about desires. If morality is only about desires, then we should reject the existence of intrinsic values because our intrinsic value beliefs would merely state our desires. These concerns reflect Humean psychology, which states that there are beliefs and desires, and beliefs can’t motivate. Mark Platts, John Searle, and others have disputed Humean psychology. Although not all philosophers agree with Humean psychology, I will not question it here. Instead, I will attempt to prove that Humean psychology is compatible with moral realism. (more…)

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