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Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning www.publicspeakingproject.


was sponsored by a multi-

national distributor of wine. In
fact, the study in question was
published in a trade journal
targeted to wine and alcohol
retailers. If Shonda had taken a
few extra minutes to critically
examine the study, she may have
been able to avoid the dreaded

Shonda’s story is just one of many

ways that critical thinking impacts our
lives. Throughout this chapter we will
consider the importance of critical
thinking in all areas of communication,
especially public speaking. We will
first take a more in-depth look at what
critical thinking is – and isn’t.
Shonda was researching
information for her upcoming Before we get too far into the
specifics of what critical thinking is and The first key component of Dewey’s
persuasive speech. Her goal definition is that critical thinking is
how we can do it, it’s important to clear
with the speech was to persuade up a common misconception. Even active. Critical thinking must be done
her classmates to drink a glass of though the phrase critical thinking uses by choice. As we continue to delve
red wine every day. Her the word “critical,” it is not a negative deeper into the various facets of critical
argument revolved around the thing. Being critical is not the same thinking, we will learn how to engage
thing as criticizing. When we criticize as critical thinkers.
health benefits one can derive
from the antioxidants found in something, we point out the flaws and Probably one of the most concise and
errors in it, exercising a negative value easiest to understand definitions is that
red wine. Shonda found an
judgment on it. Our goal with offered by Barry Beyer: "Critical
article reporting the results of a criticizing is less about understanding thinking... means making reasoned
study conducted by a Dr. Gray. than about negatively evaluating. It’s judgments" (Beyer, 1995, p. 8). In
According to Dr. Gray’s study, important to remember that critical other words, we don’t just jump to a
drinking four or more glasses of thinking is not just criticizing. While conclusion or a judgment. We
wine a day will help reduce the the process may involve examining rationalize and justify our conclusions.
chances of heart attack, increase flaws and errors, it is much more. A second primary component of critical
levels of good cholesterol, and critical thinking defined thinking, then, involves questioning.
As critical thinkers, we need to
help in reducing unwanted fat. Just what is critical thinking then?
To help us understand, let’s consider a question everything that confronts us.
Without conducting further Equally important, we need to question
research, Shonda changed her common definition of critical thinking.
The philosopher John Dewey, often ourselves and ask how our own biases
speech to persuade her considered the father of modern day or assumptions influence how we judge
classmates to drink four or more critical thinking, defines critical something.
glasses of red wine per day. She thinking as: In the following sections we will
used Dr. Gray’s study as her explore how to do critical thinking
primary support. Shonda “Active, persistent, careful more in depth. As you read through
presented her speech in class to consideration of a belief or this material, reflect back on Dewey’s
waves of applause and support supposed form of knowledge in and Beyer’s definitions of critical
light of the grounds that support thinking.
from her classmates. She was
shocked when, a few weeks later, it and the further conclusions to
she received a grade of “D”. which it tends” (Dewey, 1933, p.
Shonda’s teacher had also found 9).
Dr. Gray’s study and learned it
Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

critical thinking traits Table 6.1 Traits of Critical Thinkers

and skills Open- Critical thinkers are open and receptive to all ideas and
Critical thinkers tend to exhibit Mindedness arguments, even those with which they may disagree.
certain traits that are common to them. Critical thinkers reserve judgment on a message until they
These traits are summarized in Table have examined the claims, logic, reasoning, and evidence
6.1 (adapted from Facione, 1990, p. 6): used. Critical thinkers are fair-minded and understand that a
message is not inherently wrong or flawed if it differs from their
Recall that critical thinking is an own thoughts. Critical thinkers remain open to the possibility
active mode of thinking. Instead of just of changing their view on an issue when logic and evidence
receiving messages and accepting them supports doing so.
as is, we consider what they are saying.
We ask if messages are well-supported. Analytic Nature Critical thinkers are interested in understanding what is
happening in a message. Critical thinkers ask questions of the
We determine if their logic is sound or
message, breaking it into its individual components and
slightly flawed. In other words, we act examining each in turn. Critical thinkers dissect these
on the messages before we take action components looking for sound logic and reasoning.
based on them. When we enact critical
thinking on a message, we engage a Systematic by Critical thinkers avoid jumping to conclusions. Critical thinkers
Method take the time to systematically examine a message. Critical
variety of skills including: listening,
thinkers apply accepted criteria or conditions to their
analysis, evaluation, inference and
interpretation or explanation, and self-
regulation (adapted from Facione, Inquisitive Critical thinkers are curious by nature. Critical thinkers ask
1990, p. 6) questions of what is going on around them and in a message.
Critical thinkers want to know more and take action to learn
Next, we will examine each of these more.
skills and their role in critical thinking
Judicious Critical thinkers are prudent in acting and making judgments.
in greater detail. As you read through
Critical thinkers are sensible in their actions. That is, they don’t
the explanation of and examples for just jump on the bandwagon of common thought because it
each skill, think about how it works in looks good or everyone else is doing it.
conjunction with the others. It’s
important to note that while our Truth-Seeking Critical thinkers exercise an ethical foundation based in
discussion of the skills is presented in a Ethos searching for the truth. Critical thinkers understand that even
the wisest people may be wrong at times.
linear manner, in practice our use of
each skill is not so straightforward. We Confident in Critical thinkers have faith in the power of logic and sound
may exercise different skills Reasoning reasoning. Critical thinkers understand that it is in everyone’s
simultaneously or jump forward and best interest to encourage and develop sound logic. More
backward. importantly, critical thinkers value the power of letting others
draw their own conclusions.

most basic, hearing refers to the other bodily functions, it happens

physiological process of receiving without our willing it to happen.
sounds, while listening refers to the Critical thinking requires that we
psychological process of interpreting or consciously listen to messages. We
making sense of those sounds. must focus on what is being said – and
Every minute of every day we are not said. We must strive not to be
surrounded by hundreds of different distracted by other outside noises or the
noises and sounds. If we were to try to internal noise of our own preconceived
make sense of each different sound we ideas. For the moment we only need to
would probably spend our day just take in the message.
Without an open-minded mind, doing this. While we may hear all of
you can never be a great success. Listening becomes especially
the noises, we filter out many of them. difficult when the message contains
~ Martha Stewart They pass through our lives without highly charged information. Think
further notice. Certain noises, about what happens when you try to
however, jump to the forefront of our discuss a controversial issue such as
listening consciousness. As we listen to them,
In order to understand listening, we abortion. As the other person speaks,
we make sense of these sounds. We do you may have every good intention of
must first understand the difference
this every day without necessarily listening to the entire argument.
between listening and hearing. At its
thinking about the process. Like many

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

However, when the person says number of other health typical questions we may ask, along
something you feel strongly about you problems. When I was with an evaluation of the ideas in
start formulating a counter-argument in conducting research for my Shonda’s speech.
your head. The end result is that both
sides end up talking past each other
speech, I read somewhere that
without ever really listening to what the heart attacks are the number one Is the speaker credible?
other says. killer of men and the number two Yes. While Shonda may not be an
killer of women. Think about expert per se on the issue of health
that. My uncle had a heart benefits related to wine, she has made
analysis attack and had to be rushed to herself a mini-expert through
Once we have listened to a message, conducting research.
the hospital. They hooked him
we can begin to analyze it. In practice
we often begin analyzing messages up to a bunch of different
while still listening to them. When we machines to keep him alive. We Does the statement ring true or
analyze something, we consider it in all thought he was going to die. false based on common sense?
It sounds kind of fishy. Four or more
greater detail, separating out the main He’s ok now, but he has to take a glasses of wine in one sitting doesn’t
components of the message. In a sense, bunch of pills every day and eat seem right. In fact, it seems like it
we are acting like a surgeon on the a special diet. Plus he had to might be bordering on binge drinking.
message, carving out all of the different
pay thousands of dollars in
elements and laying them out for
further consideration and possible medical bills. Wouldn’t you like
action. to know how to prevent this from Does the logic employed hold up
to scrutiny?
happening to you? Based on the little bit of Shonda’s
Let’s return to Shonda’s persuasive
speech to see analysis in action. As speech we see here, her logic does
part of the needs section of her speech, If we were to analyze this part of seem to be sound. As we will see later
Shonda makes the following remarks: Shonda’s speech (see Table 6.2), we on, she actually commits a few
could begin by looking at the claims fallacies.
she makes. We could then look at the
evidence she presents in support of
these claims. Having parsed out the What questions or objections are
various elements, we are then ready to raised by the message?
evaluate them and by extension the In addition to the possibility of
message as a whole. Shonda’s proposal being binge
drinking, it also raises the possibility of
creating alcoholism or causing other
evaluation long term health problems.
When we evaluate something we
continue the process of analysis by
assessing the various claims and How will further information
arguments for validity. One way we affect the message?
evaluate a message is to ask questions More information will probably
about what is being said and who is contradict her claims. In fact, most
saying it. The following is a list of medical research in this area

Table 6.2 Analysis of Shonda’s Speech

Claims Evidence

 Americans are unhealthy  Some news stories about America

Americans today are some of the  America is the fattest country
as the fattest country
unhealthiest people on Earth. It  Americans suffer from many
 Research about heart attacks
seems like not a week goes by health problems  Story of her uncle’s heart attack
without some news story relating  Heart attacks are the number
how we are the fattest country in one killer of men
the world. In addition to being  Heart attacks are the number two
overweight, we suffer from a killer of women

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

contradicts the claim that drinking 4 or

more glasses of wine a day is a good
“Imply” or “Infer”?
For two relatively small words, imply and infer seem to generate an
inordinately large amount of confusion. Understanding the difference
Will further information between the two and knowing when to use the right one is not only a
strengthen or weaken the claims? useful skill, but it also makes you sound a lot smarter!
Most likely Shonda’s claims will be
weakened. Let’s begin with imply. Imply means to suggest or convey an idea. A
speaker or a piece of writing implies things. For example, in Shonda’s
speech, she implies it is better to drink more red wine. In other words,
What questions or objections are she never directly says that we need to drink more red wine, but she
raised by the claims? clearly hints at it when she suggests that drinking four or more glasses a
In addition to the objections we’ve day will provide us with health benefits.
already discussed, there is also the
Now let’s consider infer. Infer means that something in a speaker’s
problem of the credibility of Shonda’s
words or a piece of writing helps us to draw a conclusion outside of
expert “doctor.”
his/her words. We infer a conclusion. Returning to Shonda’s speech, we
can infer she would want us to drink more red wine rather than less. She
never comes right out and says this. However, by considering her
A wise man proportions his belief overall message, we can draw this conclusion.
to the evidence.
Another way to think of the difference between imply and infer is:
~ David Hume
A speaker (or writer for that matter) implies.
The audience infers.
inference and interpretation Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that Shonda infers we should
or explanation drink more rather than less wine. She implies this. To help you
The next step in critically examining differentiate between the two, remember that an inference is
a message is to interpret or explain the something that comes from outside the spoken or written text.
conclusions that we draw from it. At
this phase we consider the evidence and
the claims together. In effect we are you’re writing a speech on why we injuries. For example, if you’re in an
reassembling the components that we should wear our seatbelts at all times accident where your car is partially
parsed out during analysis. We are while driving. You’ve researched the submerged in water, wearing a seatbelt
continuing our evaluation by looking at topic and found solid, credible may impede your ability to quickly exit
the evidence, alternatives, and possible information setting forth the numerous the vehicle. Does the fact that this
conclusions. reasons why wearing a seatbelt can evidence exists negate your claims?
Before we draw any inferences or help save your life and decrease the Probably not, but you need to be
attempt any explanations, we should number of injuries experienced during thorough in evaluating and considering
look at the evidence provided. When a motor vehicle accident. Certainly, how you use your evidence.
we consider evidence we must first there exists contradictory evidence
determine what, if any, kind of support arguing seat belts can cause more A man who does not think for
is provided. Of the evidence we then himself does not think at all.
ask: ~ Oscar Wilde
1. Is the evidence sound?
2. Does the evidence say what the self-regulation
speaker says it does? The final step in critically examining
3. Does contradictory evidence a message is actually a skill we should
exist? exercise throughout the entire process.
4. Is the evidence from a valid With self-regulation, we consider our
credible source? pre-existing thoughts on the subject and
any biases we may have. We examine
how what we think on an issue may
Even though these are set up as yes have influenced the way we understand
or no questions, you’ll probably find in (or think we understand) the message
practice that your answers are a bit and any conclusions we have drawn.
more complex. For example, let’s say Just as contradictory evidence doesn’t

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

automatically negate our claims or Table 6.3 thought, we know intuitively that
invalidate our arguments, our biases simply buying a product will not
don’t necessarily make our conclusions Universal Standards of Reasoning magically change our lives. Even if we
wrong. The goal of practicing self- All reasoning has a purpose. can’t identify the specific fallacy at
regulation is not to disavow or deny our work in the argument (non causa in this
opinions. The goal is to create distance All reasoning is an attempt to case), we know there is some flaw in
between our opinions and the messages figure something out, to settle the argument.
we evaluate. some question, to solve some
By studying logic and fallacies we
can learn to formulate stronger and
All reasoning is based on more cohesive arguments, avoiding
assumptions. problems like that mentioned above.
The study of logic has a long history.
All reasoning is done from some
We can trace the roots of modern
point of view.
logical study back to Aristotle in
All reasoning is based on data, ancient Greece. Aristotle’s simple
information, and evidence. definition of logic as the means by
which we come to know anything still
All reasoning is expressed
provides a concise understanding of
through, and shaped by, logic (Aristotle, 1989). Of the classical
concepts and ideas. pillars of a core liberal arts education of
All reasoning contains inferences logic, grammar, and rhetoric, logic has
or interpretations by which we developed as a fairly independent
draw conclusions and give branch of philosophical studies. We
meaning to data. use logic everyday when we construct
statements, argue our point of view,
All reasoning leads somewhere and in myriad other ways.
or has implications and Understanding how logic is used will
consequences. help us communicate more efficiently
the value of critical thinking and effectively.
In public speaking, the value of being
a critical thinker cannot be logic and the role of defining arguments
overstressed. Critical thinking helps us arguments When we think and speak logically,
to determine the truth or validity of We use logic every day. Even if we we pull together statements that
arguments. However, it also helps us have never formally studied logical combine reasoning with evidence to
to formulate strong arguments for our reasoning and fallacies, we can often support an assertion, arguments. A
speeches. Exercising critical thinking tell when a person’s statement doesn’t logical argument should not be
at all steps of the speech writing and sound right. Think about the claims we confused with the type of argument you
delivering process can help us avoid see in many advertisements today – have with your sister or brother or any
situations like Shonda found herself in. Buy product X, and you will be other person. When you argue with
Critical thinking is not a magical beautiful/thin/happy or have the your sibling, you participate in a
panacea that will make us super carefree life depicted in the conflict in which you disagree about
speakers. However, it is another tool advertisement. With very little critical something. You may, however, use a
that we can add to our speech toolbox. logical argument in the midst of the
As we will learn in the following
pages, we construct arguments based
on logic. Understanding the ways logic
can be used and possibly misused is a
vital skill. To help stress the
importance of it, the Foundation for
Critical Thinking has set forth universal
standards of reasoning. These
standards can be found in Table 6.3.

When the mind is thinking, it is

talking to itself.
~ Plato

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

3. Therefore, Sydney should clean is therefore stuck with scrubbing the

the bathroom. toilet.

Harrison’s argument here is a form of

deductive reasoning, specifically a
syllogism. We will consider syllogisms
in a few minutes. For our purposes
here, let’s just focus on why Harrison’s
argument fails to persuade Sydney.
Assuming for the moment that we
agree with Harrison’s first two
argument with your sibling. Consider
premises, then it would seem that his
this example:
argument makes sense. We know that
Brother and sister, Sydney and Sydney is a girl, so the second premise
Harrison are arguing about is true. This leaves the first premise
that girls are better at cleaning
whose turn it is to clean their bathrooms than boys. This is the exact
bathroom. Harrison tells Sydney point where Harrison’s argument goes
she should do it because she is a astray. The only way his entire
girl and girls are better at argument will work is if we agree with defining deduction
cleaning. Sydney responds that the assumption girls are better at Deductive reasoning refers to an
cleaning bathrooms than boys. argument in which the truth of its
being a girl has nothing to do premises guarantees the truth of its
with whose turn it is. She Let’s now look at Sydney’s argument conclusions. Think back to Harrison’s
reminds Harrison that according and why it works. Her argument can be argument for Sydney cleaning the
to their work chart, they are summarized as follows: bathroom. In order for his final claim
responsible for cleaning the 1. The bathroom responsibilities to be valid, we must accept the truth of
bathroom on alternate weeks. alternate weekly according to the his claims that girls are better at
She tells him she cleaned the work chart. cleaning bathrooms than boys. The key
2. Sydney cleaned the bathroom last focus in deductive arguments is that it
bathroom last week; therefore, it must be impossible for the premises to
is his turn this week. Harrison, week.
3. The chart indicates it is be true and the conclusion to be false.
still unconvinced, refuses to take The classic example is:
Harrison’s turn to clean the
responsibility for the chore. All men are mortal.
bathroom this week.
Sydney then points to the work 4. Therefore, Harrison should clean Socrates is a man.
chart and shows him where it the bathroom. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
specifically says it is his turn this
week. Defeated, Harrison digs Sydney’s argument here is a form of We can look at each of these
out the cleaning supplies. inductive reasoning. We will look at statements individually and see each is
inductive reasoning in depth below. true in its own right. It is virtually
Throughout their bathroom For now, let’s look at why Sydney’s impossible for the first two
argument, both Harrison and Sydney argument succeeds where Harrison’s propositions to be true and the
use logical arguments to advance their fails. Unlike Harrison’s argument, conclusion to be false. Any argument
point. You may ask why Sydney is which rests on assumption for its truth which fails to meet this standard
successful and Harrison is not. This is claims, Sydney’s argument rests on commits a logical error or fallacy.
a good question. Let’s critically think evidence. We can define evidence as Even if we might accept the arguments
about each of their arguments to see anything used to support the validity of as good and the conclusion as possible,
why one fails and one succeeds. an assertion. Evidence includes: the argument fails as a form of
testimony, scientific findings, statistics, deductive reasoning.
Let’s start with Harrison’s argument. physical objects, and many others.
We can summarize it into three points: Sydney uses two primary pieces of A few observations and much
1. Girls are better at cleaning evidence: the work chart and her reasoning lead to error; many
bathrooms than boys. statement that she cleaned the
observations and a little reasoning
2. Sydney is a girl. bathroom last week. Because Harrison
has no contradictory evidence, he can’t to truth.
logically refute Sydney’s assertion and ~ Alexis Carrel

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

or soundness.
Another significant difference
between deduction and induction is
inductive arguments do not have a
standard format. Let’s return to
Sydney’s argument to see how
induction develops in action:
1. Bathroom cleaning
responsibilities alternate weekly
according to the work chart.
2. Sydney cleaned the bathroom last
3. The chart indicates it is
Harrison’s turn to clean the
bathroom this week.
4. Therefore, Harrison should clean
the bathroom.

What Sydney does here is build to

her conclusion that Harrison should
2. The terrorists hated existence of a fallacy in an inductive
clean the bathroom. She begins by
America. argument weakens the argument but
stating the general house rule of
does not invalidate it.
alternate weeks for cleaning. She then 3. Therefore, all Muslims (or
adds in evidence before concluding her Arabs or Middle Easterners) It is important to study fallacies so
argument. While her argument is hate America. you can avoid them in the arguments
strong, we don’t know if it is true. you make. Studying fallacies also
There could be other factors Sydney provides you with a foundation for
has left out. Sydney may have agreed Clearly, we can see the problem in evaluating and critiquing other
to take Harrison’s week of bathroom this line of reasoning. Beyond being a arguments as well. Once you start
cleaning in exchange for him doing scary example of hyperbolic rhetoric, studying and thinking about fallacies,
another one of her chores. Or there we can all probably think of at least one you’ll find they are everywhere. You
may be some extenuating counter example to disprove the could say that we live in a fallacious
circumstances preventing Harrison conclusion. However, individual world!
from bathroom cleaning this week. passions and biases caused many
otherwise rational people to say these The study of fallacies can be dated
things in the weeks following the back to the start of the study of logic.
You should carefully study the Art In ancient Greece, Aristotle classified
of Reasoning, as it is what most attacks. This example also clearly
illustrates how easy it is to get tripped fallacies into two categories – linguistic
people are very deficient in, and I and non-linguistic. Within these two
up in your use of logic and the
know few things more importance of practicing self- categories, he identified 13 individual
disagreeable than to argue, or regulation. fallacies. Through time we have
even converse with a man who has reclassified fallacies using various
no idea of inductive and deductive typologies and criteria. For our
purposes, we will focus on formal and
philosophy. understanding fallacies
When we form arguments or examine informal fallacies.
~ William John Wills
others’ arguments, we need to be
cognizant of possible fallacies. A
Let’s return to the world stage for fallacy can be defined as a flaw or error
another example. After the 9/11 in reasoning. At its most basic, a
attacks on the World Trade Center, we logical fallacy refers to a defect in the
heard variations of the following reasoning of an argument that causes
arguments: the conclusion(s) to be invalid,
1. The terrorists were Muslim unsound, or weak. The existence of a
fallacy in a deductive argument makes
(or Arab or Middle Eastern).
the entire argument invalid. The

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

formal fallacies require a certain look or the ability to conclusion is necessarily true. Even if
A formal fallacy exists because of an put together interesting outfits. (Just Ginny did steal Chris’s car, this fact
error in the structure of the argument. look around your campus or workplace doesn’t make the conclusion true. The
In other words, the conclusion doesn’t and you’ll probably see how true this existence of this fact cannot be
follow from the premises. All formal is.) As such, the reasons for presumed to change what Chris told the
fallacies are specific types of non concluding the new faculty member police.
sequiturs, or arguments in which the should be fired are bad. We commit a
conclusions do not follow from the fallacy if the conclusion to fire him is
premises. Formal fallacies are also bad or wrong. While the given
identified by critically examining the reasons don’t necessarily support the
structure of the argument exclusive of conclusion, there may be others that
the individual statements. As you read do.
through the following types of formal
fallacies and examples, this definition
will become more clear. Bad reasoning as well as good
reasoning is possible; and this
fact is the foundation of the
bad reasons fallacy
practical side of logic.
(argumentum ad logicam)
In this fallacy, the conclusion is
~ Charles Sanders
assumed to be bad because the Peirce
arguments are bad. In practice, a
premise of the argument is bad and masked man fallacy fallacy of quantitative logic
therefore the conclusion is bad or (intensional fallacy) Fallacies of quantitative logic revolve
invalid. This fallacy is seen often in The masked man fallacy involves a around the grammatical structure of the
debate or argumentation. We substitution of parties. If the two things proposition. The focus is on the use of
summarize the fallacy as: He gave bad we substitute are identical, then the some sort of quantifying word such as
reasons for his argument; therefore, his argument is valid: “all” or “some.” Consider this
argument is bad. Consider the example:
following claim: Rosamond Smith wrote the book
Nemesis. All philosophers are wise.
Rosamond Smith is an alias for
Joyce Carol Oates. We can show the flaw in this
Joyce Carol Oates wrote the statement by simply finding a counter-
example. And since the fact of being
book Nemesis. wise is abstract, how do we truly know
if one is wise or not? Consider how the
This argument is valid because statement changes with the use of a
Rosamond Smith is in fact an alias for different quantifier:
Joyce Carol Oates, so there is no flaw
in the structure of the argument. Some philosophers are wise.
Consider the following example:
This statement is stronger because it
Chris told police that a red- allows for the possibility there are
haired woman stole her car. counter-examples. However, the error
Ginny is a red-haired woman. arises from the fact that it is not a
Therefore, Chris told police that known quantity. We must infer from
the statement that some philosophers
Ginny stole her car. are not wise.
The new employee is too quiet Let’s look at another example:
The fallacy in this example occurs
and has no sense of style. We between the second premise and the
should fire him. All conservatives are
conclusion. Looking at each premise Republicans.
individually, we can see that each is
The problem here should be obvious. true. However, simply because each
Therefore, all Republicans are
To be a good employee does not premise is true doesn’t mean the conservatives.

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

Without thinking too hard you can Jane: Well, you’re a big jerk
probably think of one counter-example.
Let’s try one more:
and don’t know anything, so we
don’t have to go back to class.
Some doctors are not MDs.
Therefore, some MDs are not If we examine this exchange we can
see that Bill’s arguments are sound and
doctors. supported by what appears to be good
evidence. However, Jane ignores these
While the first premise is true (there and focuses on Bill’s supposed
are other types of doctors), the second character – he’s a big jerk. The fallacy
is clearly not true. happens when we connect the truth of a
The fallacy here should be clear. I
love dogs and coyotes, but I don’t proposition to the person asserting it.
know that I would want a coyote for a
pet. The fallacy in this case could be
easily fixed with the use of a simple
qualifier such as the word “some.” If
we changed the first premise to read
“Some dogs make good pets,” then we
can see how even if the second premise
is true it doesn’t automatically lead to
the stated conclusion. The basic
problem here is that a sometimes true
statement is assumed to be universally
informal fallacies true.
An informal fallacy occurs because Let’s consider a more serious
of an error in reasoning. Unlike formal example that we see in many political
fallacies which are identified through I do personal attacks only on campaigns. We can map out the fallacy
examining the structure of the people who specialize in personal as follows:
argument, informal fallacies are attacks.
identified through analysis of the My opponent has trait X.
content of the premises. In this group
~ Al Franken Therefore, she is not qualified to
of fallacies, the premises fail to provide do the job.
adequate reasons for believing the truth genetic fallacy
of the conclusion. There are numerous (ad hominem) The focus here is on the individual’s
different types of informal fallacies. In The ad hominem fallacy occurs when trait, even when the trait in question has
the following, we consider some of the we shift our focus from the premises nothing to do with the job. We saw this
more common types. and conclusions of the argument and fallacy in play in the early days of the
focus instead on the individual making 2012 U.S. presidential campaign:
accident the argument. An easy way to
(sweeping generalization) remember this fallacy is to think of it as We will never get out of debt if
A fallacy by accident occurs when a the personal attack fallacy. It is the we allow a Democrat to remain
generally true statement is applied to a weak form of arguing that many of us
specific case that is somehow unusual as president.
employed on our elementary school
or exceptional. The fallacy looks like playgrounds such as this exchange:
this: The focus here has nothing to do with
Bill: I think we should go back any individual candidate’s skills,
Xs are normally Ys. Z is an (ab- to class now. experience, or abilities. The focus is
normal) X. Therefore, Z is an Y. solely on their political affiliation.
Jane: I don’t think we need to
worry about it.
Let’s look at a specific example to Bill: Well, the bell rang a few
see how this fallacy can easily occur: There is no greater impediment to
minutes ago. We’re going to be the advancement of knowledge
Dogs are good pets. late. than the ambiguity of words.
Coyotes are dogs. ~ Thomas Reid
Therefore, coyotes are good pets.

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

ambiguity fallacies of appeal proposition with the person stating it.

(equivocation) This type of fallacy is actually a Instead of considering the strength of
Fallacies caused by ambiguity occur, group of fallacies. At its most basic, the argument and any evidence
not surprisingly, when some ambiguous the truth of the argument rests on associated with it, we focus solely on
term is used in the argument. An reference to some outside source or the individual.
ambiguous term is one that has more force. We will consider four of the It can be easy to fall into the trap of
than one meaning. The structure of the most popular appeal fallacies – appeals this fallacy. For many of your
argument may be clear, and there may to authority, emotion, ignorance, and speeches, you will be asked to research
be solid evidence supporting the pity. the issue at hand and present supporting
propositions. The problem arises from evidence. This is a prime place for the
having nothing solid on which to base fallacy to occur. While it is important
our conclusion. We saw this fallacy in appeal to authority to support your arguments with outside
play during the Clinton/Lewinsky (ad vericundiam) research, it is also important to
investigations. If you recall, when When we appeal to authority we critically evaluate all aspects of the
questioned about his relationship with claim the truth of a proposition is information. Remember the example
Monica Lewinsky, President Clinton guaranteed because of the opinion of a of Shonda’s speech that opened this
responded that he never had “sexual famous person. Appeals to authority chapter? Her blind reliance on the
relations” with that woman. The look like this: research of Dr. Gray is an example of
phrase “sexual relations” can include a the appeal to authority fallacy.
whole range of sexual behaviors. Authority figure X says Y.
Therefore, Y is true.
Let’s look at a more recent example:
Anyone who conducts an
We won’t be safe until we win We see this fallacy in play regularly
argument by appealing to
the war on terrorism. in commercials or other advertisements
featuring a doctor, lawyer, or other authority is not using his
professional. Think about, for example, intelligence; he is just using his
ads for the latest weight loss memory.
supplement. A doctor will discuss the ~ Leonardo da Vinci
science of the supplement. At times
she will mention that she used the
supplement and successfully lost appeal to emotion
weight. Even though we do learn This fallacy occurs with the use of
something about the specifics of the highly emotive or charged language.
supplement, the focus is on the doctor The force of the fallacy lies in its
and her implied authoritative ability to motivate the audience to
knowledge. We are to infer that the accept the truth of the proposition
supplement will work because the based solely on their visceral response
doctor says it will work. to the words used. In a sense, the
audience is manipulated or forced into
accepting the truth of the stated
Can you spot the ambiguity? conclusions. Consider the following
Actually there are two: safe and example:
terrorism. What is safe to one person is
much less so to another. Likewise, Any campus member who thinks
behaviors that appear terrorist-like to clearly should agree that Dr.
one person are simply impassioned acts Lenick is a flaming, radical,
to another. feminist, liberal. Dr. Lenick has
made it clear she believes that
equal rights should be granted to
An appeal to the reason of the
everyone without regard to the
people has never been known to
traditions and history of this
fail in the long run.
campus or this country.
~ James Russell Lowell
Therefore, Dr. Lenick is a bad
teacher and should be fired
The fallacy in this type of reasoning
occurs when we confuse the truth of the immediately.

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

definitively that ghosts don’t semester. If I don’t play, the

exist. Therefore, ghosts are real. team will lose. Will you please
make sure that you give me at
Though rather simplistic, this least a C for my final grade?
example makes clear the thrust of this
fallacy. The focus is not on supporting
evidence, but on a blatant lack of
evidence. While ghosts may exist, we
don’t know for sure they do – or don’t
for that matter. As such, we could also
argue that because we can’t prove that
ghosts are real they must not exist.

The student here acknowledges he

does not deserve a grade of C or higher.
He has missed assignments, failed the
The thrust of this argument revolves midterm, and accrued a number of
around two interrelated components – absences. His argument asks the
Dr. Lenick’s advocacy of equal rights professor to ignore these facts, though,
for all and her alleged disregard for and focus on the fact that without him
tradition and history. The emotional the team would lose. In other words,
appeal rests in the phrase “flaming, he hopes the professor will feel sorry
radical, feminist, liberal” – words that for him and ignore the evidence.
indicate ideological beliefs, usually
beliefs that are strongly held by both
sides. Additionally, hot button words begging the question
like these tend to evoke a visceral (petitio principii)
response rather than a logical, reasoned A begging the question fallacy is a
response. appeal to pity
form of circular reasoning that occurs
(argumentium ad when the conclusion of the argument is
misericordium) used as one of the premises of the
The highest form of ignorance is Appeals to pity are another form of argument. Arguments composed in this
pulling on the emotions of the way will only be considered sound or
when you reject something you
audience. In the appeal to pity, the strong by those who already accept
don't know anything about. argument attempts to win acceptance
~ Wayne Dyer their conclusion.
by pointing out the unfortunate
consequences that will fall upon the
appeal to Ignorance speaker. In effect, the goal is to make
us feel sorry for the speaker and ignore
Dilbert: And we know mass
(argumentum ad
contradictory evidence. This form of creates gravity because more
When we appeal to ignorance, we fallacy is used often by students. dense planets have more gravity.
argue that the proposition must be Consider this message a professor Dogbert: How do we know which
accepted unless someone can prove recently received at the end of the planets are more dense?
otherwise. The argument rests not on semester: Dilbert: They have more gravity.
any evidence but on a lack of evidence.
We are to believe the truth of the I know I have not done all the
work for the semester and have To see how begging the question
argument because no one has disproven develops as a fallacy, let’s turn to
it. Let’s look at an example to see how been absent a lot. However, I
standard arguments in the abortion
appeals to ignorance can develop: am the key point guard for the debate. One of the common arguments
basketball team. If I get any made by those who oppose legalized
People have been seeing ghosts grade lower than a C, I will not abortion is the following:
for hundreds of years. No one be able to play basketball next
has been able to prove

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

Murder is morally wrong. two possible alternatives, when in fact

more than two exist.
Abortion is murder.
Therefore, abortion is morally Returning to the abortion debates, we
wrong. can see a form of this fallacy in play by
simply looking at the way each side
refers to itself. Those who oppose
Most people would agree with the legalized abortion are Pro-Life. The
first premise that murder is morally implication here is that if you are for
wrong. The problem, then rests in the abortion then you are against life. The
second premise. Not all individuals fallacy in this case is easy to figure out
would agree that abortion is murder. – there are many facets of life, not just
However, as presented, the premise abortion. Those who favor legalized
creates a presumption it is valid in all abortion are Pro-Choice. The
cases. implication here is that if you are
Those who advocate for legalized against abortion, then you are against
abortion are not immune from this choices. Again, the reasoning is faulty.
fallacy. One of their standard
arguments is:
To make this fallacy more clear, let’s
There is no black-and-white look at a humorous, though not so
The Constitution guarantees
situation. It's all part of life. appetizing example:
Americans the right to control
Highs, lows, middles.
their bodies. I like smoothies for breakfast
~ Van Morrison
Abortion is a choice affecting because I can drink them on the
women’s bodies. run. My favorite breakfast foods
Therefore, abortion is a Let’s look at another hot button topic
to see how this fallacy develops in are scrambled eggs, fresh fruit,
constitutional right. action. In recent years many family bagels with cream cheese, soy
advocacy groups have argued that, sausage links, cottage cheese,
Like the previous example, the what they call, the “liberal media” has oatmeal, cold pizza, and triple
second premise generates a potential caused the rapid moral decline of
stopping point. While the choice to
espressos. Therefore, I would
America. They usually ask questions
have or not have an abortion does like a breakfast smoothie made
like: Do you support families or moral
clearly impact a woman’s body, many depravity? This question ignores the of scrambled eggs, fresh fruit,
individuals would argue this impact is whole range of choices between the bagels with cream cheese, soy
not a deciding issue. two extremes. sausage links, cottage cheese,
oatmeal, cold pizza, and triple
This fallacy occurs when we assume If you’re not feeling too nauseated to
that if all the parts have a given quality, keep reading, you should be able to see
then the whole of the parts will have it the composition fallacy here. While
as well. We jump to a conclusion each of these breakfast items may be
without concrete evidence. We see this appetizing individually, they become
fallacy at work in the following much less so when dropped into a
example: blender and pureed together.
All of the basketball team’s
players are fast runners, high division
jumpers, and winners. The opposite of the composition
Therefore, the team is a winner. fallacy, a division fallacy occurs when
black-or-white Fallacy we think the parts of the whole contain
(bifurcation) The problem here is the individuals the same quality as the whole. Let’s
This fallacy is also known as an turn to another food-based example to
must work together to make the team a
Either/or fallacy or False Dichotomy. see how this fallacy occurs:
winner. This might very well happen,
The thrust of the fallacy occurs when
but it might not.
we are only given the choice between

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

Blueberry muffins taste good. Accidental or coincidental practice of dragging a dried smoke
connection occurs when we assume a herring across the trail so as to throw
Therefore, the individual connection where one might or might off the hound from the scent. In logical
ingredients comprising blueberry not exist. We say event C caused event reasoning, the red herring fallacy works
muffins also taste good. E when we have no clear proof. Here’s in much the same way. No, this
an example: doesn’t mean you make the argument
while smelling like an old fish. What it
Yesterday Jen went out in the does mean is that we attempt to distract
rain and got soaked. The next the audience by introducing some
day she was in bed with the flu. irrelevant point, such as this:
Therefore, the rain caused her to
get sick.
Each year thousands of people
Most of us probably grew up hearing
die in car accident across the
statements like this without ever country. Why should we worry
realizing we were being exposed to a about endangered animals?
logical fallacy in action. Flu is caused
On the surface, this argument may by exposure to a virus, not to bad This argument is trying to get us to
not appear to be problematic. weather. focus on dead people instead of
However, think about the individual The other type of causal fallacy animals. While car accidents and the
ingredients: blueberries, raw eggs, occurs with a general causation deaths resulting from them are a serious
flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, oil, and between types of events. For example, issue, this fact does not lessen the
vanilla. Of these, blueberries are the we know that drinking excessive
only items that generally taste good on amounts of alcohol leads to alcoholism
their own. I don’t know about you, but and cirrhosis of the liver. However, not
sitting down to a bowl of baking soda every individual who drinks
doesn’t sound too appetizing. excessively develops either of these
Here’s one more example to make diseases. In other words, there is a
the fallacy clearer: possibility the disease will occur as a
result of excessive drinking, but it is
Women in general make less not an absolute.
money than men. Therefore,
Brenda Barnes, CEO of the Sara
Lee company, makes less money importance of worrying about
than the male delivery drivers endangered animals. The two issues
who work for the company. are not equated with each other.
Political campaigns are a fertile
Common sense will tell you the CEO ground for growing red herring
of a company makes more money than fallacies. If you think back to the 2004
the hourly delivery drivers. Presidential campaign you will find a
Additionally, a few quick minutes of number of red herrings. For example,
research will confirm this inference. at one point we were inundated with
ads reminding us that John Kerry’s
wife was heir to the Heinz ketchup
false cause fortune. The implication was that by
(non causa, pro causa) extension John Kerry was a rich elitist
Sometimes called a Questionable incapable of understanding the plight of
Cause fallacy, this occurs when there working class and middle class
exists a flawed causal connection individuals.
between events. The fallacy is not just red herring
a bad inference about connection (Irrelevant thesis) slippery slope
between cause and effect, but one that This fallacy occurs when we This fallacy occurs when we assume
violates the cannons of reasoning about introduce an irrelevant issue into the one action will initiate a chain of events
causation. We see two primary types argument. The phrase “red herring” culminating in an undesirable event
of this fallacy: comes from the supposed fox hunting later. It makes it seem like the final

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

event, the bottom of the slope, is an follows Islam and identifies as Muslim house I was looking at was an older
inevitability. Arguments falling prey to they clearly can’t be American or house needing some TLC. I asked how
the slippery slope fallacy ignore the interested in America. While there are old the roof was and the real estate
fact there are probably a number of many potential flaws in this argument agent responded:
other things that can happen between as presented, for our purpose the most
the initial event and the bottom of the obvious is that there are many I don’t know for sure, but it’s
slope. Americans who are Muslim and who either 10 or 20 years old. You
We hear examples of the slippery are quite interested and concerned know, though, I put a roof on a
slope fallacy all around us: about America. house similar to this when I was
younger and we haven’t had to
If we teach sex education in worry about it. It’s been over 20
school, then students will have years now.
more sex. If students have more
sex, we will have a rash of Ignoring for the moment that there’s
unplanned pregnancies and a big difference between a 10-year-old
sexually transmitted diseases. roof and a 20-year-old roof, the real
Students will be forced to drop estate agent mistakenly assumes that
out of school and will never have his roof and the roof of the TLC house
are the same. They both provide a
the chance to succeed in life. covering for the home, but that’s about
where their similarities end.
Clearly, just learning about sex false analogy
doesn’t automatically mean that you When we use analogies in our
will engage in sex. Even more unlikely reasoning, we are comparing things. A conclusion
is the fact that merely learning about fallacy of weak analogy occurs when In this chapter we have examined
sex will force you to drop out of there exists a poor connection between what critical thinking is and how it
school. examples. Structurally, the fallacy involves more than simply being
looks like this: critical. Understanding critical
thinking helps in formulating and
strawman A and B are similar. studying arguments. We see arguments
This fallacy occurs when the actual A has characteristic X. every day in advertising, use arguments
argument appears to be refuted, but in Therefore, B has characteristic to persuade others, and we use them to
reality a related point is addressed. The X. benefit us. The overview of fallacies
individual using a strawman argument showed not all arguments are valid or
will appear to be refuting the original even logical. Always critically think
This fallacy often occurs when we try
point made but will actually be arguing and examine any argument you
to compare two things that on the
a point not made in the original. The confront, and remember that if it
surface appear similar. For example:
best strawman arguments will argue the sounds too good to be true, it probably
new point to a conclusion that appears Humans and animals are both is a fallacious argument.
solid; however, because their point is living, breathing beings. We practice critical thinking on a
not the original point, it is still a
fallacy. Humans have civil rights. daily basis, often without any extra
Therefore, animals have civil effort. Now that you know a bit more
Examples of the strawman fallacy are rights. about how to do these things better, you
everywhere and can appear to be quite should find that you can put together
persuasive: more persuasive arguments that avoid
The problem in this argument is that
the pitfalls of fallacious thinking. More
President Obama cannot truly while humans and animals are alike in
importantly, when you hear a statement
have American interests in mind their living and breathing status, there
such as, “You should drink at least four
are numerous other ways they differ.
because he’s not truly American glasses of wine per day,” you’ll know
We commit a fallacy when we infer
but Muslim. that based on this initial similarity, they
that something isn’t right. And if you
do hear a statement like this, you will
are similar in all other ways as well.
Statements similar to this were quite be prepared to think critically about the
prevalent during the 2008 Presidential The other day while looking at statement, and will be in a position to
election and still appear on occasion. houses, I heard another version of this make a more educated decision about
The assumption here is that if a person argument from a real estate agent. The the information.

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

chapter review questions and activities

review questions

1. Explain the difference between critical thinking and being critical. Why should we care?

2. Explain how listening differs from hearing and why listening is the first component of practicing critical

3. List and discuss at least three ways that we use logic and argumentation in our daily lives.

4. If I say, “There is plenty of pasta, so you should have some more,” am I implying or inferring that you have
not eaten enough?

5. What are a fallacies and why is it important that we study them?

6. Television commercials that use pictures of starving children and sad music as a way to get you to donate
money are an example of what type of fallacy?

7. Name, define, and give examples of three different fallacies you have heard recently.


1. Throughout this chapter, we have turned to the abortion debates for examples. In order to practice critical
thinking in action, spend some time researching the major arguments each side uses. Because the debates in this
area are so complex, you might want to narrow your focus just a bit. For example, you could focus on the issue
of minors consenting to abortion or abortion in the case of rape or other sexual assault. Compile a list of the
most common arguments used by each side. Your list should include: any evidence used to support claims, a
list of the major claims, any conclusions. Return to the core critical thinking skills and critically evaluate how
each side forms arguments and uses evidence. How do your own biases and thoughts on the issue of abortion
influence your evaluation? If you were an advisor, what advisee would you give to each side to make their
arguments stronger and more logically sound?

2. Your local newspaper’s Letters to the Editor section is a prime spot to find logical fallacies in action. For
several days, read the Letters to the Editor and identify all of the fallacies you find. Keep a log of the specific
fallacies you find, dividing them by type. Once you have compiled a variety of example, take a step back and
evaluate them. Questions that you might want to ask include: what fallacy or fallacies seem to be most
popular? Why do you think this is? Pick a few of the most egregious fallacies and rewrite them correcting for
the flaw in reasoning.

3. Throughout this chapter, we have studied arguments by looking at their various parts. In practice, arguments
occur as part of larger statements or speeches making their analysis a bit more complicated. To understand the
ways arguments occur in daily life, visit the American Rhetoric page ( On this
page you will find a number of political, activist, movie, and other speeches. Pick one and try to identify the
major arguments that are set forth. What are the main claims? What are the sub-claims? What sorts of
evidence or support are provided? Are there any fallacies present in the argument? If you were a speech writer,
what advice would you give to improve the argument?

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning


Accident Fallacy
A fallacy that occurs when a Begging the Question: Fallacy of Quantitative Logic:
generally true statement is A fallacy that occurs when the A fallacy that occurs when we
applied to a specific case that conclusion of the argument is misuse quantifying words such
is unusual. also used as one of the as “all” or “some.”
Ambiguity Fallacy Black and White Fallacy False Analogy
A fallacy that occurs when a A fallacy that occurs when the A fallacy that occurs when
word having more than one audience is only given two there exists a poor connection
meaning appears in the choices. between two examples used in
argument. an argument.
Composition Fallacy
Analysis A fallacy that occurs when we False Cause:
The process of asking what is assume that traits inherent in A fallacy that occurs when
happening in a message the parts are also present when there exists a flawed
through breaking it into its the parts are combined into a connection between two
individual components and whole. events.
asking questions of each
section. Critical Thinking Genetic Fallacy:
Active thinking in which we A fallacy that occurs when the
Appeal to Authority evaluate and analyze individual is attacked.
A fallacy that occurs when the information in order to
truth of a proposition is determine the best course of Hearing:
thought to rest in the opinion action. The physiological process of
of a famous other or authority. receiving noise and sounds.
Appeal to Ignorance An argument in which the Imply:
A fallacy that occurs when we truth of the premises of the To suggest or convey an idea.
argue something must be argument guarantee the truth
accepted because it cannot be of its conclusion. Induction:
proven otherwise. An argument in which the
Division truth of its propositions lend
Appeal to Pity A fallacy that occurs when we support to the conclusion.
A fallacy that occurs when an assume that the trait of a whole
argument attempts to win occurs when the whole is Infer:
acceptance by focusing on the divided into its parts. To draw a conclusion that rests
unfortunate consequences that outside the message.
will occur if it is not accepted. Evaluation
The process of assessing the Interpretation:
Argument various claims and premises of Explaining and extrapolating
Statements that combine an argument to determine their the conclusions that we draw
reasoning with evidence to validity. from a statement.
support an assertion.
Evidence Listening:
Bad Reasons Fallacy: Research, claims, or anything The psychological process of
A fallacy that occurs when else that is used to support the attaching meaning to the
then we assume the conclusion validity of an assertion. sounds and noises we hear.
of an argument to be bad
because a part of the argument Fallacy:
is bad. A flaw or error in reasoning.

Chapter 6 critical thinking & reasoning

Masked Man Fallacy: Red Herring Fallacy Strawman Fallacy

A fallacy that occurs when we A fallacy that occurs when an A fallacy that occurs when the
substitute parties that are not irrelevant issue is introduced actual argument appears to be
identical within an argument. into the argument. refuted, but in reality a related
point is addressed.
Non sequitor Self-regulation
An argument where the The process of reflecting on Syllogism
conclusion may be true or our pre-existing thoughts and A form of deductive argument
false, but in which there exists biases and how they may in which the conclusion is
a disconnect within the influence what we think about inferred from the premises.
argument itself. an assertion. Most syllogisms contain a
major premise, a minor
Premise Slippery Slope Fallacy premise, and a conclusion.
A proposition (statement) A fallacy that occurs when we
supporting or helping to assume one action will initiate
support a conclusion; an a chain of events that
assumption that something is culminate in an undesirable
true event.


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Smith). Cambridge, MA: Hackett Publishing.
Beyer, B. K. (1995) Critical thinking. Bloomington, eID=527&CategoryID=68
IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation. Facione, P. A. (1990). Critical Thinking: A
Dewey, J. (1933). Experience and education. New Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes
York: Macmillan, 1933. of Educational Assessment and Instruction,
Elder, L. & Richard, P. (1996). Universal Intellectual The Delphi Report (Executive Summary).
Standards. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.

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