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A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Phillip Shurtleff
September, 2010


This document is intended to read whenever hearing a persuasive argument and knowing that something
isn’t quite right about it but can’t think of what it is. It started out as just a set of notes to myself. Over
time I refined it into something that was readable for others and finally it became a small book I would
hand out to people. I offer it here as a document. It is a work in progress and subject to updating,
refinement and other changes as I find new ideas to add, and improve or modify old ones.

With the previous edition I had the good fortune of a friend who is a professional editor give it a quick read
and correction. She caught some wording issues and more silly errors. I also added in some persuasive
arguments, not edited by my friend, for the reader's practice and using as topics for debates. I rearranged
the order from previous editions. The argumentation primer is now first and the list of terms is at the end
just before the practice arguments. With this edition I’ve added in a few terms, expanded on my previous
comments on religion, did some minor rearranging, and still yet found some silly errors. The date under
the title notes the edition of this book.

I offer this book, without charge, for wide distribution with the hope that it will improve the overall critical
thinking skills of everyone. A truthful idea may be slow to travel the world but its intrinsic value will carry
it to wherever it's needed. I ask that anyone copying it and passing it on to not change it in any significant
way and, when appropriate, give me credit for this work. If it is necessary to modify it, please note that in
the modified work to prevent confusion with my original work here. Basically, I'm asking for simple
honesty when sharing this book.

There is evidence that well developed critical thinking skills will reduce psychologically based depression,
violence, lessen the impact of certain types of mental illness, and improve cooperation. Some of what I
have here is thousands of years old and some has been realized only within the last twenty years. The
overwhelming exposure to various types of propaganda; the technological abilities to exterminate whole
cities, if not nations; and that political change can be made before there is time to fully reveal and
deliberate all the facts has made critical thinking skills highly necessary, if not absolutely mandatory, for
the health and welfare of the human race and Earth itself. So please enjoy and learn from it and continue
learning by exploring the materials listed at the end of this book under "sources and recommended
reading." Share it with all those you wish in whatever way you feel proper.

It is not the purpose of this book to teach the complex science and art of argumentation. The materials
would be many times the size of this document. Nevertheless, some general pointers can be given that are
useful in making arguments until the reader can avail himself of a more in-depth education on the subject.
Argumentation is (take a deep breath for this sentence) the use of a priori and a posteriori knowledge by
means of deductive and inductive reasoning in a process of questioning and answering while being aware
of the influence of the medium and emotional states to cooperatively use conflict to find truths that were
previously unknown to one or more parties (whew!). Just as with the human affinity for mathematics, we
have an innate ability to understand argumentation but we must be formally taught. Specific training in
formal and informal logic, mathematics, dialectic, rhetoric, emotional intelligence, neurobiology and
psychology will be necessary. One may not need a doctorial degree in each of these areas but a good, solid
layman’s understanding is necessary.
A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

The term argument applies to both a process and a product. It is the process of making and engaging in the
product of argument. It is a product when it is the specific premises and conclusions presented in the
course of a debate. An argument need not be presented to a particular audience but can simply be made in
its own right. In layman’s terms, argument has negative connotations that do not apply here. “I don’t want
to argue about it!” “Quit arguing with me and do what I ask!” “Did you hear those people arguing? I
thought I would have to call the police!” Restated, these phrases actually mean, respectively: “I don’t want
to have a hostile confrontation over this!” “Cooperate with me and do what I ask!” “Did you hear those
people being so verbally violent? I thought they would become physically violent and prompt me to call
the police!”
The goal of the arguer is to persuade the listener to accept his conclusions for the reasons presented under
the listener’s thoughtful, well-informed, freely given assent. In this sense, argumentation is a process of
cooperation that follows a specific discipline. In argumentation, formal and informal logic, rhetoric, and
dialectic merge into one endeavor. Emotional intelligence, neurobiology, and psychology also play a role.
Later in this document, principles of persuasion, communication, and constructive discussion are listed.
They have application in argumentation as well.
Without cooperation there is no arguing, yet cooperation can’t be compelled. To force cooperation is to
destroy freely given assent and the open mind that goes with it. However, any participant can cease to
cooperate for any reason, even capricious ones. Once that happens, the other participant has three options.
The option most commonly chosen is to isolate the other person and stop or limit contact: My home, your
home; my religion, your religion; my nation, your nation. Another option is to devalue oneself and submit,
which is often the goal of those who refuse to cooperate. The final option is to dominate, which can
involve the use of force.
In a just society, great effort is put into assuring the people’s free will; the government must use persuasion
to attain the people’s freely given assent. The challenge to the people is to maintain their ability to
dominate the government in the event that the government should cease to value the people’s freely given
assent. The government can’t be isolated, since its job is to regulate the people’s affairs. If the power of
domination is removed from the people, then the government, merely by refusing to cooperate, will leave
the people no choice but to submit. In such a world, there is no compelling reason for members of the
government to do the work of educating, informing, and gaining the people’s free willed cooperation. This
is especially true when members of the government are willing to enforce laws for the people’s “own good”
or who consider themselves to be of a superior class than the people, and hence entitled to impose or
control them. When the relationship between the people and the government is based on the rules of
argumentation, justice is more readily ensured. A just government will bow to a cogent argument even if it
is made only by a small child. The discipline of argumentation applies to relationships ranging from the
personal or romantic, to the commercial, to those between governments.
The Structure of an Argument
Argumentation starts from a place of agreement. If you are going to argue who is the best candidate for
President, you must first agree that there is a need for a President. To argue who would be a good President
for Great Britain makes no sense to a Londoner, as he wouldn’t agree that there’s need for a President. The
Londoner may ask, “Do you mean, who would be a good Prime Minister?” There is no sense in starting an
argument unless you first establish where there is agreement and build from there. When an argument
seems irresolvable, it may be because there is no basis for agreement to begin with. That particular debate
must be put on hold until common ground is found.
Matters of common knowledge, verifiable evidence, and subjective opinion or taste don’t lead to arguments
because there is no significant disagreement. The point in question is researched and answered. While you
may encounter people “arguing” over how good a steak tastes, these are nonsensical confrontations that fall
under the realm of irrational behavior. How good a steak tastes is a personal opinion independent of any
other opinion. Argument only occurs when some non-trivial disagreement exists. The freely given assent
of the other party is desired out of mutual respect and to assure more reliable acceptance of the conclusion.
The process of arguing consists of a series of three different arguments concerning the same topic. First,
evidence is presented and its validity is discussed. This is followed by a discussion on the meaning of the
accepted evidence. Finally, a discussion of appropriate behavior takes place. All too often in debates by

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

public officials and activists, a participant will hold back some critical evidence and then toss it out as a
trump card in the final discussion. This is really an act of sabotage. An important purpose of
argumentation is to use our conflicts in a cooperative manner to discover truth. The clash of different
perspectives, the wider search for evidence, and the variety of experiences broaden the knowledge of all
We also often see public debaters try to present evidence, make a claim about its meaning, and conclude
what behavior should follow in a single speech. This short-circuits the process and prevents proper
argumentation. Full discussion of the evidence, and only the evidence, builds that critical ground of
agreement. Should new evidence be discovered and brought into a later discussion, that discussion must
stop and only the new evidence should be discussed and balanced with the existing evidence. This builds
the foundation for understanding the meaning of the evidence—that is, what the evidence says about the
Once the evidence is agreed upon, agreement of its meaning is sought. The meaning of the evidence builds
the foundation for determining what behavior should follow. The purpose of the final debate is to agree on
what behavior should be engaged in, ending with the participants unified in action.
Types of Arguments
There are three types of arguments. Arguments of fact are relatively easy to resolve. Who has the highest
batting average? Simple research and presentation of the evidence quickly ends the argument. In some
cases, the argument must wait until research or experimentation produces the facts. Arguments of value are
more difficult because a value judgment must be made that may be dependent upon culture, experience,
and beliefs that are in conflict with those of the other party or parties to the argument. Arguments of value
are often revisited as technology, environment, or society changes. Then there are eternal arguments that
can’t be resolved: What is true love? What is God? These arguments can be settled only to a limited
extent, if at all.

Elements of Argumentation

The skills one needs to be effective in argumentation are in formal and informal logic, mathematics (which
is a form of formal logic), emotional intelligence, neurobiology and psychology, the creation of empirical
evidence, rhetoric, and dialectic. A person can get an extensive education in each of these skills. There’s
no way this document can do more than introduce their basic ideas and explain why they are needed.

Dialectic is the process of discovering and testing knowledge through questions and answers which
provides for a cooperative exchange of ideas and a better understanding of the opposing viewpoint.
Understanding propaganda, the psychology of communication, and the neurobiology of perception come
into play.

Understanding propaganda comes into play with rhetoric as well. The medium of the message affects
comprehension of the message. How that message is constructed within the medium also affects
comprehension. Understanding something about linguistics can help in understanding rhetoric. The
psychology behind the principles of propaganda acceptance, listed earlier, is a factor too.

Neurobiology and psychology also come into play in the development of evidence, which is a priori and a
posteriori knowledge. How the brain develops and processes percepts affects how we understand the
world. How our sensory organs react to the world and interact through signals with the areas of the brain
where percepts are generated is equally important. Understanding the methods of rigorous scientific
observation and recording is critical to developing reliable evidence.

Formal logic is deductive reasoning. It always assumes the form of a syllogism, which consists of two
premises and a conclusion. Provided that both premises are true, the conclusion of a syllogism is certain to
be true. This certainty comes at the expense of new knowledge, however. Formal logic provides no new
information. For example:

Premise 1: All celestial objects are made of green cheese.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Premise 2: The moon is a celestial object.

Conclusion: The moon is made of green cheese.

The two premises provide the information that the moon is made of green cheese. Formal logic is used
independently of the external world and often uses symbolization. It can even be counterfactual, as the
example shows.

The advantage of formal logic is that it makes it possible to make definitive statements and deconstruct an
argument to discover where it is flawed. The conclusion of the example above makes a definitive
statement about the moon. Since it is a false statement, we can go backward in the argument and analyze
the premises. That the moon is a celestial object is an a posteriori fact, since you can simply see it in the
sky. To exercise formal logic, we would turn to Premise 1—that all celestial objects are made of green
cheese. This premise requires supporting evidence. We now know which element of the syllogism
requires scrutiny.

New information is attainable through informal logic, but at the expense of certainty. Informal logic is
inductive reasoning and is more commonly used in day-to-day thinking than formal logic. It is based on
probabilities rather than certainties. Due to accumulated experience, the rules of informal reasoning yield
conclusions with a high level of probability.

Informal logic is interlaced with the topic under discussion. It is not independent of the external world.
The argument “we cannot permit abortion because we would be playing God” perhaps could be framed as a
syllogism, but it would lose much of its meaning. The phrase “playing God” has cultural, moral, and
metaphorical meanings necessary to the reasoning of the argument. Changing the word permit (for
example) to allow, endorse, condone, or approve slightly changes the meaning and therefore the reasoning
of the argument. Similarly, replacing the nouns with symbolic lettering makes it nonsensical: “we cannot
permit A because we would be B.” Contrast this with a syllogism of formal logic about cats: All fur is soft
to the touch. Cats have fur. Cats are soft to the touch. All A is B. C have A. C have B. The logic of the
argument isn’t lost. In fact, in heated debates where bias runs rampant, it may be helpful to make
arguments in formal, symbolic terms.

The advantages of informal logic are that it is more practical than formal logic and may be able to yield
new information. Sorting through the scientific, moral, legal, and cultural background to address an issue
can reveal new relationships or spark discovery. Very little of day-to-day reasoning is, or even can be,
broken down into syllogisms with symbolic expression.

Questions of Fact Versus Questions of Value

The topic of a complex controversy can be broken down into questions of fact and questions of value.
Questions of fact are relatively easy to answer; ideally, it’s just a matter of doing some research. However,
other relevant questions and issues may arise along the way. Often questions of fact are answered after a
long debate about definitions and relevant issues.

An example of a complex controversy would start with the question, “What is the national budget?”
Simple research would lead to an answer such as, “The Senate Finance Committee says it’s $1 trillion.” But
in order for that information to be meaningful, one may also need to find out how the national budget is
determined; whether or not it includes “black ops” expenses; or whether it takes into account only persons
directly working for the government, or also private businesses serving on government contracts.

Questions of value are more difficult to answer and sometimes are left to personal choice. Is it acceptable
to be gay? A devoutly religious fundamentalist may say no, whereas an atheist following the prescription
that everything is acceptable as long as there is no harm might say yes. Such issues are usually resolved by
the participants’ receding into their respective ideological communities and avoiding each other. Questions
of value can be resolved by agreement, but only if the participants share the relevant values.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

It isn’t uncommon for an argument to start with a question of fact and end with an assertion of value.
“Pete’s Restaurant uses fresh peppers. They make a really good chili!” The restaurant using fresh peppers
is a statement of fact. This doesn’t necessarily support the value judgment that the chili is good. One
person’s taste may not match another’s, or the peppers, while fresh, may not have the right spiciness.
Sometimes a fact is assumed to automatically lead to a value. Freshness is usually associated with good
food. Such an assumption, though, is not necessarily supported by a causal relationship. A questionable
value can be slipped into an assertion by leaping from a fact to an assumption.

Using Emotions in Reasoning

Emotions are interactions with the world around us. They have evolved over time and give us information.
Certain emotions are instinctive. A tasty species of animal that impulsively bolts at a shadow passing over
it will survive longer than animal species that looks around for a few moments to determine if that shadow
is really something worth worrying about. The reason we often see emotions as irrational and interfering
with valid reasoning is that we don't know to what the emotion is responding.

An emotion is a story. We don't just feel fear or love but rather a whole set of expectations and conclusions
that lead to fear or love. The story of the tasty animal is that another animal big enough to overshadow it
can eat it. Better to bolt now and think later. Overhead shadow means … bigger animal, which means …
one that can eat me, which means … I’d better get out of here!

When generating an emotion, we make decisions so quickly that we’re not even aware of it. If you could
slow down the process and think through those two tenths of a second preceding the reaction triggered by
fear, you'll get a story line of serial conclusions that lead to the fear.

That story line is a reasonable or an unreasonable argument. An unreasonable emotional reaction does not
contain a well-reasoned argument in its story line. Such reactions usually arise because one hasn't paused
to carefully think the process through. While emotions seem to instantly generate, deciphering their true
source is a time consuming process. This is why those who wish to mislead inflame the emotions and press
for immediate action. With practice and training, a person can learn to understand his or her own emotions
and identify what it is that a strong emotion is actually responding to.

There are those who seem to have little or no emotion, possibly due to some kind of brain damage or a
genetic anomaly that prevents typical brain development. Such people can't make truly rational decisions.
A soldier who is not afraid in battle doesn't duck quickly enough to avoid getting shot. Good critical
thinking skills require a balance of emotions. With too little emotion, you can't prioritize or evaluate risk
sensibly. Too much emotion interferes with a clear understanding of all the evidence. Contrary to what is
depicted by Spock, our favorite Vulcan of the Star Trek series, purely logical thinking doesn't make you
rational. So the claim that the ability to focus on logical arguments makes a person more intelligent and
rational is a myth based on a lack of understanding of the role of emotions in thinking and on the false
assumption that emotions and reasoning are in conflict. They are actually symbiotic.

In short, emotions and logic are not mutually exclusive but symbiotic. Emotions supply information and
logic explores it. Emotions place value and logic prioritizes it. Too much or too little of either, and critical
thinking suffers.

We often speak of emotions as if we had only one emotion at a time. “I’m sad.” “I’m in love.” “He’s
angry.” Most of us do recognize that we feel several emotions at once. “I’m sad because I’m disappointed,
tired, and feeling at a loss.” “I’m in love because I’m feeling appreciated, attracted to, and have someone
to care about.” “He’s angry because he feels cheated and helpless.” Few of us realize that we constantly
experience at least three levels of emotions, with several emotions at each level. We have a set of emotions
that are in reaction to the situation at hand; a short-term mood that acts as an undercurrent, lasting from a
few hours to several days; and a basic emotional personality.

I think of it as three different orchestras playing different music, but each influencing the others. The first
level is those emotions that are fleeting and of the moment. A pretty woman with a sweet scent of perfume

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

walks by and my heart begins to race, my attention is caught, I experience a sense of pleasure, and a desire
for romantic companionship courses through my mind. Additional emotions can appear as well. If I’m a
bachelor with no companion, a sense of loneliness can be piqued. If I have a less than satisfying
relationship, a desire to be free may emerge. Raw eroticism causes me to wonder what she looks like nude
or what her hair feels like, and to crave the warmth of her touch. I may have religiously inspired guilt that
tries to extinguish those same feelings. Aggravation may come up if I no longer intellectually agree with
those early engrained religious attitudes and internally counter them. The longing for knowledge comes
into play if I don’t know how to introduce myself to a stranger. An instant later, all of these emotions are
quashed as the woman throws her arms around her husband, both in an obviously happy, monogamous

The next level is the “mood of the day,” although it can last much longer or shorter than a day. We’ve all
heard the phrase “got up on the wrong side of the bed.” Stressful events like losing a job, having excess
debt, an illness, or a change in life will have ongoing emotions associated with them. Depression and
worry over not having a job will hang around until a new job is found. That depression may be
accompanied by a sense that unemployment is an opportunity to do something different, or by the optimism
of imagining a good job just around the corner. The loss of self-worth brought about in reaction to the last
employer is countered by the self-promotion being made to potential employers. The worry of having to
provide for the family is tempered by the closeness that binds people together during hard times.

The final level is ingrained into one’s personality. It’s a product of genetics, life experience, and the way
an individual balances them. We all have a mix of optimism and pessimism. Some will lean toward
pessimism to such a degree that no one really likes to party with them. Others will lean so heavily toward
optimism that no one considers their advice to be rational. Those raised in violent environments tend to see
enemies around every corner. Being too quick to assume insulting intentions in the actions of others makes
a person “thin-skinned.” A life spent experiencing subjugation causes a sense of lowered self-esteem.
These are more permanent, lasting emotional states that affect one’s world view and filter down to the
perceptions of the moment. While momentary emotions can change in an instant, these personality-based
emotions are very hard to change. They are integrated into the way we perceive the world. They can
create perceptions that reinforce an emotion in a self-perpetuating cycle. We’ve all met those who see only
the bad in things. Their way of perceiving the world encourages them to see even more of that badness,
which in turn encourages them to continue to perceive the world in a negative light. It takes a lot of work
to break out of that cycle.

These three levels of emotion are in constant play. Each affects the other. A string of fortuitous events that
create a number of momentary emotional states of happiness and pleasure can become a life experience that
alters the emotional personality. A good night’s sleep helps one start the day in an upbeat mood that can be
infectious to others and lead to a greater number of happy moments. A shift in the emotional personality
can cause a whole new perspective on life and on one’s personal history, resulting in very different
momentary emotions and moods.

Each emotion of each level has its own story. That story consists of information about experience,
learning, and perception. When clearly understood, that information becomes integral with reasoning and
aids in reaching the most rational conclusion possible.

The Ideal Versus the Practical

Ideally, every argument would follow the pattern described thus far. However, the world often doesn’t
allow for the ideal. Time being short, education lacking, egos and tempers flaring, expected human error,
and a myriad of other obstacles make strict adherence to the procedures outlined here nearly impossible.
The practical use of any ideal is to guide us to the best results with whatever resources we have. Rather
than demand that people strictly adhere to the rules outlined in this document, keep the rules in your own
mind to guide yourself. You can’t control the thoughts or actions of others, but you can control your own.
Common courtesy and tact are important skills in encouraging rational behavior.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Even those best trained in argumentation can make embarrassing mistakes, just as Einstein occasionally
messed up his math. Allow yourself and others to make mistakes. Don’t use errors to “win” an argument.
Correct errors to improve understanding and facilitate use of the conflict to gain truthful knowledge.
Remember that the goal is to use our conflicts to reveal truths that are unknown to everyone participating in
the argument. Some people will need help in making a good argument.

Errors in Procedure

Unless you’re debating someone well trained in argumentation, it’s unlikely that the proper procedure of
argumentation will be followed. If your opponent has held out on evidence with the intention of trumping
an argument, stop the debate and press for a discussion of that evidence in light of all other evidence.
When your opponent refuses to answer a proper question, note it as a refusal to cooperate in the argument,
thus ending the exchange of ideas. If a person presses for agreement without allowing time for
thoughtfulness, hold out for the time. If a person demands to argue at an improper place or time, tell them
you are willing to argue but only at a time and place that will do you both justice. Often people will engage
in improper argument out of ignorance rather than maliciousness. Polite suggestions can guide them to
proper behavior. A crooked salesman may continue to push for an improper argument procedure, but that
will tip you off to his unethical intent.

Errors of Emotion

It would be great if we could all accept being proven wrong as easily as we accept that we can make minor
mistakes. However, ego, pride, self-worth, reputation, punishment, loss, and other concerns can get in the
way. Argumentation has the goal of discovering the truth through rhetoric and dialectic. Approach the
discussion with the attitudes that truth is of greater value than ego and that being dedicated to the truth is
something to be proud of. Having the humility to admit one’s errors and improve oneself enhances one’s
self-worth and reputation. Unless you’re in an argument about culpability, as in a criminal trial, not
admitting the truth can lead to harsher consequences than admitting a mistake. Knowing the truth can stop
real and future loss. If someone seems over-reactive to a bit of evidence or an assertion, explore how his or
her levels of emotions are impacting judgment. Constructing your argument to address your opponent’s
emotional state can help bring a proper emotional balance to the debate.

Errors in Attitude or Beliefs

The basic premise of argumentation is that there are causal factors of existence. Argumentation is a way to
use our differing perspectives to learn what these factors are through the exchange of ideas. Some people
react negatively when they are pressed to support their assertions or told that they can’t be considered valid
without support, and they typically respond that they can think anything they want to. Setting aside sheer
snobbery, many may sincerely believe this due to a confusion between free speech and causality. If a
person can really think anything he wants to, then he should be able to flap his arms and fly around the
room. Yet the described laws of physics prove that a person can’t fly solely by flapping his arms. This
doesn’t mean that a person can’t argue that he can do it. The prescriptive laws of the United States
guaranteeing free speech protect a person from legal prosecution for expressing objectionable things. So a
person is free to think anything they want relative to the laws of the state, but not relative to the laws of

In an attempt to be non-prejudicial, many people will demand that any and all ideas be respected.
Argumentation does respect all ideas in that any idea supported by a cogent argument deserves respect.
Many people, however, define respect as treating all ideas as having equal truth value. According to this
definition, any assertion, regardless of cogency, should be treated as true for the person who believes it.
This viewpoint is another denial of causality. It is an example of the subjectivist fallacy. We are entitled to
our own opinions but not to our own facts or rules of existence. Cogent arguments do deserve respect.
Arguments proven false deserve to be treated as invalid, and arguments not provable either way are simply

Complex Issues

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

A significant knowledge base is required to address complex issues. When trying to argue a complicated
issue, dumping large amounts of instructional material on your opponent is usually ineffective. No one has
the time to read someone else’s towering stack of evidence. A disinterested or unaware audience won’t
feel the need to process large amounts of information just to understand the argument. The axiom to say
nothing unless the idea can be delivered in one sentence is good advice.

Deconstruct the issue until you have an assertion whose supporting evidence is already understood by the
audience. It may take several discussions over a long period of time, but limiting the issue to what can be
understood or learned in one to five minutes can lead to greater acceptance. Keep in mind that no matter
how expert you may become, you will never get to be an unquestionable authority. A true expert can teach
even if the recipient doesn’t know he’s learning. A goal of argumentation is to have your assertion
accepted for the reasons you give, through the other person’s thoughtful, well-informed, freely given
assent. Overwhelming the audience with massive amounts of data simply overloads their minds and causes
them to close. References to experts, studies, or experiments with which the audience is unfamiliar simply
leave them questioning the validity of the claims.

It’s Not About You

While the objective of argumentation is to get your ideas accepted, the real work lies in understanding your
audience. Talking outside the audience’s experiences will keep them from relating. Using phrases that
don’t match their language discourages listening. Addressing them as if they were inferior elicits
rejection. Understanding your audience’s emotional and intellectual states enables you to tailor your
message to get better acceptance. Knowing the audience’s world view helps you start the argument where
there's already agreement. Argumentation uses our conflicts to reveal truths that were unknown to all
parties. You can’t find the whole truth on your own. It takes all of us cooperating together to raise
ourselves to our highest level.

* An asterisk preceding the bold titles marks those terms as not being found anywhere I know of, but
coined by me as I recognized them as forms of acts or logic but could not remember the names. It may be
that these forms are not formally named yet or that my studies up to this point have been lacking.


I thought up these principles (or perhaps I should say gathered them together because none of them are
originally mine) to provide a test of the validity of any belief system whether it be political, religious,
philosophical, or otherwise. Any belief system that doesn’t satisfy all of these principles will be flawed. If
there are other principles, I haven’t found them yet.

*1. Any premise of an argument supporting a sound, valid and valuable philosophy should reduce to
something that is self-evident. That way there is no question as to the validity of the premise. That
premise should be as a priori as the statements; “one plus one is equal to two” and “one minus one is equal
to zero,” which are the premises of all mathematics and consequently, much of science and technology. A
posteriori evidence would be something self-evident only by demonstration as in pointing to the color red.
This a priori and a posteriori requirement applies to the remaining six fundamental principles as well.

*2. It must address both the mundane and the extremes in life. A philosophy that addresses events and
issues that occur only under normal conditions leaves a person helpless in the face of some extremity. A
philosophy that copes only with extreme or unusual events cannot guide one toward functional behavior in
day-to-day situations. A philosophy must be able to describe any and every event that is reasonably
possible for a person to experience.

*3. It must have practical value. A philosophy that feels good but doesn't provide guidance through the
serious issues of life is fluff. Fluff may be entertaining and worthwhile in releasing stress or provoking
thought as all forms of entertainment can provide, but it remains nothing but another form of entertainment

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

and of no greater value. The philosophy must be able to address issues such as the death penalty, the goals
of one's life and even what food to eat.

*4. The arguments describing the philosophy must follow the rules of argumentation. No conclusion
forming an element of the philosophy can depend upon fallacious reasoning. Nearly every psychologically
disturbed person whose brain is physiologically healthy has a world view that is based upon some set of
fallacies. This means that prior to creating a philosophy one will need an education in argumentation in
order to properly construct the philosophy.

*5. The limits of the philosophy must be well defined. Many philosophies use self-sealing arguments,
circuitous arguments, self-fulfilling actions and the like in order to create the illusion that their set of beliefs
provide the answers to all possible situations. This leads to a rigid, simplistic thinking because it ignores the
existence of the unknown. Whenever a new technology, or new fact is discovered, such philosophies often
fall apart, propelling its adherents into cognitive dissonance. If the philosophy is not debunked the devotees
will develop a rationalization trap. The presence of the unknown must be considered by the usable
philosophy so that it can be a malleable set of beliefs that will provide guidance through problems that are
still hidden.

*6. The philosophy must yield successful results for the believer regardless of whether anyone else
believes in the philosophy. Many dysfunctional doctrines are offered as solutions if only everyone
believes in it. This implies that if you don't believe in the philosophy, it's your fault that it failed, which is
an attempt to create a false dilemma between accepting the philosophy and feeling guilty that it has failed.
It is highly unlikely that all members of any community, to say nothing of the billions that inhabit the
world, will ever have the same beliefs. A functional philosophy works for any individual that holds it, even
if he is the only one to believe.

*7. At its most abstract level a philosophy must have universal application. The belief that gravity pulls
objects down toward a planet's surface has greater credibility because a ball will fall straight down toward
the ground no matter who drops it. The laws of gravity, when written in their most generalized form, seem
to apply to any and all planetary bodies throughout the known universe. People may disagree over specific,
environmentally dependent details and out of this create the illusion of a philosophical difference, yet,
when the environmentally or culturally specific definitions are generalized, the resulting abstract elements
that form a functional philosophy will hold true across various cultures and environments.


We are always pursuing the truth whether we know it or not. What is the truth about this diet, political
agenda, religion, quality of this car, value of this company stock and so forth? Whenever you are looking
for the truth you need to be aware of a minimum of seven different truths and how to recognize and apply
them. The first three I call the constructive truths because they are used to gather the facts and construct the
fourth truth: the working truth, which can be defined as the conclusions we live by. The fifth truth provides
the concept of an unattainable ideal to which the fourth truth strives. The sixth and seventh truths are
applications of the fourth truth.

I. The truth is to not tell a lie, to be factual. It is to say that you saw John break into a house if in fact that
is what you saw.

II. The whole truth is to say everything that is pertinent to the story. You saw John break into the house at
the same time there was smoke pouring from a window. A minute later several people in pajamas and John
ran back out of the house.

III. Nothing but the truth is to not speculate, surmise, insinuate or otherwise add anything that is not true,
not relevant or didn’t actually happen. You can't say that John might have set the fire because he always
talks of wanting to be a hero. You can say that previously he has talked of wanting to be a hero if, in fact,
he has.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

IV. *The best approximation of the absolute truth with respect to a perspective is the most we can
achieve. It is the result of the combined use of the first three truths with respect to a certain point of view.
The first three truths are part of the oath taken by a witness during court proceedings. When these truths are
applied in the context of determining whether or not a person has violated a law, the "best approximation of
the absolute truth" is referred to as justice. For the sake of brevity, I call it the working truth,
representative truth or perspective truth. All religion, science, philosophy, politics, ideologies and more
fall under this truth.

Our human limitations restrict what we can comprehend. Similarly, those limitations also confine us to a
certain perspective derived from our unique set of experiences. So the representative truth is always
mentioned in conjunction with the perspective from which it is created. These limitations also result in
there being truth and falsity in each person, including oneself. It stands to reason that if one is loyal to the
truth wherever it may be and against falsity wherever it may be, then one must be loyal to everyone and
loyal to no one, including oneself, at the same time. That’s hard to do. It’s a balance one spends a lifetime
trying to achieve.

There are those who disagree that religion should be categorized as anything less than the absolute truth. It
is not my desire to make any specific argument about the legitimacy of any religion. I think it’s self
evident to any reasonable person that it has never been adequately proven that there is a God. If it had been
there wouldn’t be so many religions. That religion is a matter of faith is an acknowledgement of its
unproven nature. Nor has it been proven that there is no God. When something is neither proven true nor
proven false, its truth value is simply unknown. However, I’d like to take time to address religion, since it
involves strong convictions.

Let’s set aside any argument that God’s existence is unproven and assume, instead, that it is. That doesn’t
change the fact that the holy texts are written in symbols that are created by man. Those symbols, written
language, represent ideas and are interpreted by the reader as he or she is taught by others. The same is
true of some guru telling people God’s Word. Regardless of how divinely he is inspired that divinity stays
within the guru. The moment he speaks he is using the symbols of a spoken language that are interpreted
by the listener as he or she is taught. If God’s Word is heard within oneself as a language, it still holds true
that the language will consist of interpreted symbols. This also holds true if one reads text actually written
by God itself. If God’s Word is felt or sensed in some extraordinary manner, it is still only comprehended
within the limits of human capacity. So God’s Truth is still represented to any given human being only
within the limits of that human being.

Instead of seeking the one true religion, one should simply seek what is true. If God is the source of all
truth, then anything you do toward discovering and retaining the truth along with exposing and eliminating
that which is false will be a path to God. Becoming totally dedicated to that which is true will result in
being dedicated to God. Since falsity will lead one away from the truth, eliminating it will stop that which
guides one away from God.

V. The Absolute Truth is unattainable. It is the "true truth," "God's truth," or the perfect truth. It lies
beyond comprehension and is not defined or known. It provides the concept of an unattainable ideal for
which we strive. What we do is try to describe observable events. The law of gravity is merely a
description based upon careful, verifiable observation of how a ball falls toward the earth; hence it is a
descriptive law. We know our descriptions to be true when they yield reliable predictions, ranging from
simple ones, such as how long it will take for the ball to fall to the ground to highly complex ones such as
how a space craft will navigate through the solar system.

To better understand this truth consider that any sort of relationship between two things actually involves
three things; the two things in question and the rules that govern the relationship. A good marriage is one
in which both partners agree on the rules of the marriage. Issues of monogamy or non-monogamy,
communication styles, and division of labor pose no danger to a marriage, in and of themselves.
Disagreement and refusal to behave in agreement are dangers to a marriage. Two rocks on the ground
maintain their position and move according to the rules of nature. Birds flying in a formation follow rules
of speed, distance, and leadership. The nature of a relationship, abstract or concrete, is determined by

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

rules. We have a relationship with whatever constitutes our existence: therefore, there are rules that govern
that relationship.

Much of existence is beyond our understanding and we are continuously discovering it. Laws that we
describe, such as the law of gravity mentioned above, are labeled “described laws” or “descriptive laws.”
The rules that we are not aware of can be labeled “describable laws” on the presumption that eventually we
will become aware of them. Described laws can’t be broken the way prescriptive laws (such as highway
speed limits) can. When a described law is “broken,” it’s because the description of the law wasn’t
accurate. Researchers respond by working to discover why it was broken, advancing our understanding of
natural world. When a prescriptive law is broken, the law breaker is punished.

All sets of rules must have come into being somehow and must be maintained. Therefore, it follows that the
rules of our existence somehow came into being and are maintained. Regardless of the exact nature of that
unknown process it can be loosely labeled as the creator. However it must be noted that this not intended
as a personification of this process and doesn’t imply sentience. An additional difficulty is that our
language implies a linear relationship and so gives the impression that this “something” that forms and
maintains the rules of our existence precedes or is over them. But some of the more advanced physics now
indicates that linear time is an illusion. So perhaps this creator can exist simultaneously with the rules and
not necessarily as something separate from them. Something my brain can't effectively conceive of. Like
all human beings I visualize in three dimensions and not four or more.

The describable rules of our existence seem to be universal. Since the describable rules of our existence are
synonymous with all of the truths of our existence, the creator of the describable rules is the creator of all
truths. Finally, the creator of the describable rules of our existence is the source of all truths and seems to
have universal application.

At this time I'm unable to prove anything beyond what I’ve described and I consider the label "God" to be
an acceptable one word term for the conclusion I’ve presented above. I'm compelled to consider all
descriptions of God that go beyond this, including those that claim God to be sentient, the product of mere
human speculation. God’s Truth can’t be known, and what is known can’t be God’s Truth. The Absolute
Truth can’t be grasped, and what can be grasped is not the Absolute Truth.

Having used the term “God” to mean “the describable rules of existence that are beyond human
comprehension,” I’d like to return to the topic of religion. As holy texts are passed on from one generation
to the next, and rewritten for a particular people or to replace an antiquated language, the imperfections of
human comprehension, described in previous section titled IV, “The best approximation of the absolute
truth with respect to a perspective,” coupled with the inherent difficulties of translating one form of
communication into another, cause each rewriting or retelling to be a little more tainted. So while any
given holy text or storyteller may have a description of God, it will always be inaccurate and tainted with
the biases of the persons who wrote or told the stories. Especially since any truly accurate description of
God is beyond human comprehension.

Another name for the describable rules of existence is “cause and effect” which is what scientists observe
to discover the laws of nature. The purest connection we can have with God is not through any book or
person, but rather through the simple act of observing cause and effect. So just as simply asking “what is
true” is preferable to asking “what is the one true religion,” simply observing cause and effect is preferable
to reading holy texts or listening to holy people for the closest personal connection to God. Seeking what is
true is done by observing cause and effect. This is not to dismiss reading holy text or listening to a holy
person as having no value. Certainly such can be a source of useful, uplifting ideas, just as many other
sources of information can be.

VI. The individual or personal truth is a truth that is apparent to a single individual. Philosophers tend to
shy away from this term because it is associated with the Subjectivist Fallacy. However I’m using here to
describe where you have personal experience that you know to be true such as witnessing a crime where
you can’t prove what you know because it’s your word against his.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

VII. A collective truth is one that is shared within a group of people. An individual truth can be
transformed into a collective truth only if it follows the rules of argumentation. It must be supported by
reasoned argument and freely accepted by a group of knowledgeable, thinking people. When an
individual's personal truth is blindly followed, the result is an invalid action the might look like a collective


An ethical person has the following traits:

*I. Above all seeks the truth. This ties in with the importance of being honest. Not being honest with
yourself destroys any chance of finding the truth. Not being honest with others sets you up in a life that
really isn't yours and so blocks the truth that would come from a life that was yours. It is important to keep
in mind however, that being honest and being truthful are not the same thing. Honesty is telling the truth
about what you think and feel. Being truthful is skillful, cogent reasoning. An ethical person has a thirst for
knowledge and pursues it. He also recognizes how each of the seven truths manifests and he develops a
personal philosophy that satisfies the seven principles of a valid philosophy. This first quality can be said to
be the only quality of an ethical person with all others being a subset of it.

*II. Allows others the freedom to explore their own truths and takes interest in them as they do so.
We are life forms in limited shells. We can't know it all. In the search for truth team work is important. This
entails respecting the views of others, listening to them, reserving judgment until all available facts are
disclosed, and promoting the strength and self reliance others need to uncover for us a truth that we would
not have found on our own. It also means openly expressing our views in a manner that helps others to
listen, and exercising relationship skills so that others may learn from you as you learn from them.

*III. Is a protector. There are many threats to one's well being, both physical and psychological. They
come from society as a whole, the government, criminals, zealots, neighbors, nature, oneself and other
sources. Each of these sources needs to be protected as well. Most protective action is simply the daily
maintenance of life. Examples of protective actions are keeping an eye on those that govern so that all laws
are just; getting a job so there is money for life's needs; learning self-defense and property protection to
drive away the criminal; understanding persuasion so as to not be fooled by the zealot; and understanding
relationship skills to promote cooperation between friends and family. The extreme cases do occur and a
functional person has the ability to react properly, whether that means engaging necessary violent action or
overtaxing oneself by spending long hours sandbagging against a flood.

*IV. Is productive. Life is a balance, if you take; you must give. While it is okay to receive a helping
hand, sooner or later you must extend a helping hand to others. Those who take and never give drain the
life from society. There are those who cannot compensate for what they receive. The mentally incompetent
or profoundly handicapped are examples. But, as demonstrated by Stephen Hawking, and many people
with Down syndrome who are leading productive lives, even this is not always true. Those that truly can't
pay back in kind, can still give love and knowledge through their interactions with others. Injustice occurs
when those who are productive are not allowed to enjoy the results of their contributions. Such injustice
can occur in one of two forms; the productive people can be made into the equivalent of peasants while a
controlling class enjoys the rewards or an under class of people who refuse to be productive demanding
charity from the productive.

*V. Sees himself as only a part of a whole. The power of Jesus Christ comes not from him but from those
who believe in him. He didn't consider himself the superior of others but their servant. The psychologist
who sits back as a know-it-all expert is too shallow to do much more than offer wild analyses based on his
own arrogant, self-gratifying assumptions. A good analyst knows that he hasn't seen it all and each situation
is unique. His role is to make his expertise available to his clients so that they may more easily learn on
their own. The whole includes everyone and everything that is significantly affected by an issue, allies and
opponents alike. A good person is willing to share the burden of any challenge that faces the whole.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking


1. Avoidance of the truth. Evil is against the will of God. God is truth. Therefore, being evil is against
the will of truth. Evasiveness, lying, knowingly using fallacies, and promoting ignorance are all acts that
avoid the truth. Evil results in harm, whether physical or spiritual. A truthful look at behavior will expose
the harm and give one a reason to avoid the evil act. Avoiding the truth hides the harm and promotes the
evil act.
2. Excessiveness. Moderation in all things, so goes the saying. An obsessive focus on having money is
greed, consuming an excessive amount of food is gluttony, and any unbalanced behavior has some excess
in it.
3. Self-absorption. Considering only the self-gratification that results from an act, particularly in the short
term, and not caring about the consequences for others are indicators of evil.

In contrast with the five traits of an ethical person are the traits that mark a person as unethical.

An unethical person is characterized by the following traits:

1. Is unconcerned about the truth. An unethical person has no care for the truth and will not develop
proper skills for determining the truth. He will believe whatever is convenient or lie to achieve his goals.

2. Is self-absorbed and uncaring of others. An unethical person cares little for the consequences of his
behavior for others. He has no sense of duty or responsibility for the needs of others or to the environment,
consuming the productivity of others without giving in return. An unethical person takes, thinking only of
himself. He has a parasitic relationship with the rest of society.

Take note that an ethical person has five things to be concerned with, whereas an unethical person has only
two. It may be that evil lingers and can easily reestablish itself when good people cease to pay attention,
because evil requires less work. Laziness leads a person to become evil. Caring about the truth requires
learning the principles that illuminate the truth, maintaining the discipline despite one’s own flaws,
properly applying those principles, and helping others learn them. Unethical behavior just requires figuring
out what will work at this moment, even if it is just to steal or lie. An ethical person must also learn social
and communication skills to successfully interact with others for mutual support, maximum productivity,
and balanced distribution of rewards. This requires developing a sense of fairness and being protective of
everyone’s rights. An ethical person must also learn the humility that comes with being a member of a
whole in which others are deemed equals. An unethical person doesn’t spend any energy in such efforts,
since he cares nothing of others and sees them as potential victims for his exploitation.

People often ask what it means to be a man or a woman. Man and woman are terms that imply adulthood.
So one should first ask what it is to be an adult. I offer the following criterion as marking the distinction
between an adult and a child. After reading this definition, pay attention to political arguments, demands
by adults, and descriptions of society and listen for assertions or expectations that treat adults as if they
were children and, in some cases, children as if they were adults. These traits have nothing to do with age.
There are people of adult age that never mature and children that have grown old before their time. A
person with these traits is an adult regardless of age.


Adults need no law, for it is adults that make the law. Laws are agreements between adults intended to
facilitate the cooperative behavior necessary for a just society. Adults are capable of imposing lawfulness
in places of lawlessness. Adults create governments that create laws. If adults need laws to do what is
right, then no adult can be self-reliant enough to make law. Adults understand the laws and the intentions
behind them well enough to break or change them when ethics and learning require it.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Children need laws, for they do not have the means to understand and act in the world without them.
Children must have direct supervision. Some laws are created by adults for children so that the latter may
be guided safely into adulthood.

Adults are self-reliant providers, for it is adults that provide for and are relied upon by others.
Children are dependent and cannot provide for themselves. They can be given limited tasks, but they
cannot perform all the tasks necessary for true independence.

Adults confront any and all situations and successfully deal with them.
Children don’t have the skills to face the world.

Adults accept responsibility.

Children do not have the experience or mental ability to be responsible.


The Mind Within – Anxiety, a need to escape, a desire for revenge, or lack of dedication or desire
(possibly caused by cognitive dissonance of the unconscious) can interfere with the cognitive processes
leading to a solution.
The Canyon Problem – Being trapped by unrecognized constraints that must be surmounted.
The Oasis Problem – Clinging to an inadequate solution that must be abandoned.
The Wilderness Problem – Too many options to consider before finding viable solutions.


The Three Facets of Persuasion were first defined by Aristotle as :

Ethos; the source of the argument (the person or medium).
Logos; the message of the argument.
Pathos; the mental state of the audience.


1. Repetition – Repeat the message over and over.

2. Intensity – Use dramatic, attention-getting methods.
3. Association – Associate the message to the recipient’s desires, beliefs, or experiences.
4. Ingenuity – Make the message unique and appealing.


The Two Routes of Persuasion were first proposed by Richard Petty and John Cacioppo (1980):
Central – The recipient of the message uses critical thinking skills to judge the truthfulness of the message.
The persuasiveness of the message is determined by how well it stands up to this scrutiny.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Peripheral – The recipient of the message pays little attention to it and doesn’t apply critical thinking
methods. Persuasion is determined by simple, often irrational, clues.
Note: Subliminal – Subliminal messaging was originally the subject of a hoax started by an advertising
agency to increase its customer base. The agency claimed it had placed microsecond-long clips of images
in a movie, and that although the clips were shown too briefly to be consciously noticed by the audience,
they yet imposed unconscious control over them. No scientifically valid experiment has backed up this
assertion. However, the expression “subliminal” is used to describe unconscious conditioning originating
in the cerebellum. Half of the total neurons of the brain are located in the cerebellum, most of which play
no role in conscious thought. Certain types of operant conditioning, unlike the movie clip stimuli
mentioned above, can occur without a person’s conscious awareness due to the cerebellum’s isolated state.


1. Pressures for uniformity - such as the threat or actual application of sanctions that makes people feel
excluded if they disagree with its way of thinking and its conclusions.
2. Closed-mindedness within the group -so that any doubt is rationalized away.
3. An overestimation of the group - as strong, smart, morally superior to other groups, or even


Psychologist Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University defines these principles in his book, Influence:
Science and Practice, fifth edition (Allyn & Bacon, 2008), and argues that they have evolutionary
underpinnings going far back into our history.
1. Reciprocity - we feel obligated to return favors.
2. Liking - we have a tendency to say yes to people whom we like.
3. Scarcity - we place more value on things that are in short supply.
4. Authority - we listen to experts and those in position of power.
5. Commitment and consistency - we like to be true to our word and finish what we started.


According to the research of Carl Hovland and colleagues, learning takes place in the following four stages.
1. The message must attract the recipient’s attention.
2. The arguments in the message must be understood and comprehended.
3. The recipient must learn the arguments contained in the message and come to accept them as true.
4. The recipient acts on the learned knowledge and beliefs when he or she has an incentive to do so.
(It has been shown that under some circumstances the message doesn’t need to be understood, the key
arguments don’t have to be remembered, and there does not need to be an incentive.)


Amour – Adoration. Strong romantic love or devotion. In its highest form it manifests as total devotion or

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Agape – Brotherly love, love of fellow beings; friendship, social bonding. Altruism (Caritas) is its highest
Eros – Sexual and physical love; love of the body and its pleasures, marked by eroticism and materialism.
In its highest form it is the love and admiration of physical beauty.


Describable Laws – See the explanation of the Absolute Truth. There are rules of nature that are not yet
discovered. Presumably, with continued learning we will discover them. These can be called the
describable laws. These laws can be broken down into undescribed laws and described laws. They are the
basis of reality, the unknown and known laws of existence.
Described Laws – Laws based on experimentation and observation. They are the laws of physics, known
natural laws. If an event or person breaks a described law, an effort is typically made to understand how
that was possible. The new knowledge attained from such inquiries advances our understanding of the
Prescribed Laws – Laws that are imposed upon people. If a person breaks a prescribed law, which is often
easy, he is punished, for example by getting a citation for breaking a traffic law. In a just society the
prescribe laws reflect the described laws. A prescribed law that requires an action deemed impossible by
the described laws is considered to be a violation of one’s rights.


1. Use the most accurate vocabulary you know to describe the idea.
2. Listen while the auditor paraphrases your description in different words.
3. Confirm the accuracy of the paraphrase. If it is accurate enough, listen to the auditor’s response. If it
isn’t accurate, then describe again.


1. Use the communication steps listed above.

2. Don’t ridicule, show hostility toward, or condemn the other person. Disagreement is directed toward the
ideas being discussed, not toward the person proffering them.
3. Answer all questions asked. “I don’t know” or a comment about the inappropriateness of the question
are legitimate responses if given in sincerity.
4. Choose a place and time where full attention can be devoted to the discussion.
5. In a disagreement, each party should accept the possibility that he or she could be wrong.
6. Agreement is desirable only when the other party freely assents after having been well informed and
having had time for thoughtful consideration of the discussion.


*1. The Romulus Principle – Based on the mythical founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, it justifies
the use of violence whenever it is convenient for one’s own ends. It disregards the needs of those
targeted by the violence. New acquaintances are not respected until they prove themselves to be
stronger than oneself. Kindness is seen as a weakness, and weakness is undesirable. Therefore one
shouldn’t be kind. Criminal behavior is based on this philosophy.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

*2. Primarily Non-Violent Philosophy – Justifies the use of violence only as an extreme last resort and
only for defensive purposes. Peaceful means of cooperation and respectful behavior are to be used if at all
possible. New acquaintances are treated with respect for as long as they are respectful and ethical.
Kindness is a highly valued quality. It requires discipline and emotional strength to continue to be kind
when the animalistic urges call for choking the living crap out of someone.

3. Pacifism – Here it is defined as the refusal to use violence for any reason, including for self-defense or
when such violence will result in less violence. It is to take no violent action no matter what. Kindness is
seen as weakness, yet is a highly valued quality. . Therefore one should be weak. All people are treated
with the same respect no matter how dangerous or criminal they may be.


Terms that are used in this document and are useful in critical thinking are defined and explained here.
Take note that I’ve noted in the definitions of begging the question and slippery slope that the
news media of the United States are misusing these terms. I think it’s important to understand that
misusing a term effectively stops efficiently directing attention to what is described correctly by
the term. When an interviewer uses slippery slope to assert that an argument leads to unacceptable
conditions (reductio ad absurdum) and the interviewee wants to counter with properly using the
term slippery slope (asserting that any effort to draw a line away from one extreme will slip into
the other extreme) he has to make a longer description using the definition instead of the term.
The extra wordiness and use of time can undermine the effectiveness of a valid argument in some
A posteriori – Derived from or marked by dependence on sensory experience. A posteriori truths are truths
of fact or those that can be experienced through the senses. They can be verified using one’s own senses,
but they lack certainty. A posteriori knowledge is probable knowledge that can be denied without pain of
contradiction. It is the opposite of a priori, which describes certainty based upon reason alone that cannot
be denied without pain of contradiction.
A priori – derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions prior to any sensory confirmation and
needing no explanation; non-empirical. An a priori fact is not derived from, nor can be checked against or
refuted by, any sensory experience. It is true under all conditions at all times and places. It is true in all
possible worlds. A priori truths are truths of reason. Their certainty is based upon reason alone and cannot
be denied without pain of contradiction. It is the opposite of a posteriori, which is marked by uncertainty
and can be denied without pain of contradiction.
Abstract – Overly general, not concrete, independent of specific concerns or things.
Abstractification – The process of replacing imagery and concrete concepts with symbols and codes.
Argument – A process of reasoning from one claim to another. It may or may not be carried out in
opposition to an explicit alternative. A philosophical argument doesn’t require opposition.
Assertion – A statement or declaration that expresses a position.
Assumption – An assertion that is taken for granted without argument or proof.
Atechnoi – Aristotle’s term for facts and events outside the immediate control of the speaker. They affect
the range and nature of the argument to be made.
Axiom – A principle that is generally accepted from the beginning and so may be used without further
debate as a starting point of argument.
Classical Conditioning – Inducing behavior by consistently introducing an external stimulus in association
with a normal reaction to a sensation until the subject automatically has that reaction upon experiencing the
external stimulus only.
Cognitive Dissonance – A confused psychological state caused by the conflict between contradicting

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Combinatorics – The combination of metaphor and rhetoric to clearly twist definitions to describe
something for which there is no term.
Conclusion – An assertion supported by one or more premises.
Concrete – Existing or occurring in the physical realm.
Conditionals – Statements that qualify, limit, or otherwise condition an argument.
Conditioning, Classical – See Classical Conditioning.
Conditioning, Operant – See Operant Conditioning.
Contingent Proposition – A proposition whose truth value is not fixed across all possible worlds. For any
contingent proposition, there is at least one possible world in which it is true and at least one possible world
in which it is false.
Cultural Truism – A belief so unquestionably accepted as true by the members of a society that the actual
argument supporting and proving the truism is forgotten.
Deduction – The act of developing conclusions based on clearly connected facts. Same as formal logic.
Disjunctive syllogism – A syllogism based on the connection of two or more propositions with the word
“or,” which can be exclusive or inclusive.
*Dysfunctional Idealist – A person whose ideals prevent rational or functional behavior.
Empirical – founded on experience, observation, facts, sensation, practice, concrete situations, and real
Enlightenment Trap – A rationalization trap that leads one down a dead-ended spiritual path.
Enthymeme – Aristotle’s term for an argument in which one of the premises or the conclusion is not
expressed but implied; an argument based on probabilities.
Experiential – Obtainable through introspection, self–analysis, private conscious states, and similar
thought processes.
*Expected Human Error – An error that a competent person would be expected to make. The healthy
human brain is not a flawlessly functioning organ. It is subject to error in function and judgment. Certain
environmental conditions will induce error in any normal brain. Long, monotonous scenery along a
highway can induce “highway hypnosis” in a driver. A high level of unrelated activity and noisy
conditions can induce a sense of confusion. Optical illusions are forms of error to which the human brain is
innately vulnerable. Complex problems requiring intense, detailed attention are rarely completed without
some error occurring.
Explanation – A statement explaining the reasons for an event or condition.
Explanatory Gap – The lack of information between what is provided by evidence and what is needed for
a clear answer to a problem.
Factoid – An assertion of fact that is not supported by any evidence.
Fallacy – An argument that seems persuasive but is really in error in reasoning; an unsound or invalid
False Karass – See Granfalloon
Gist Reasoning – Reasoning that takes place unconsciously and that involves primarily intuition, allowing
the reasoner to penetrate quickly to the gist, or bottom line, of a situation.
Golden Mean – The proper mean position between two extremes that has the best balance.
Granfalloon – Defined as a “false karass;” is a group of people proudly associated with each other under
the banner of a meaningless, capricious, or trivial premise. Term coined by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963
novel Cat’s Cradle. See also Minimum Group Paradigm.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Groupthink - A pattern of thought that is characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent,

and conformity to group values and ethics.
Harm Principle – The only justifiable reason to prohibit an individual’s liberty is to prevent harm to
Heuristic – A simple problem-solving cue or rule.
Induction – The act of developing conclusions based on examples and other comparable conclusions;
informal logic.
Inference – The act of developing conclusions based on partial, incomplete facts.
Invalid –Improperly connected together; an argument is invalid if its premises are not properly connected
with each other.
*Isolated Idealist – A person who maintains or develops his ideals in isolation from the challenges of
Justified – having the quality that the logic connecting the premises of the argument prove the conclusion.
Knowing, Propositional – Knowing something to be true or recognizing it as the condition of a
proposition (e.g., “Bob knows Alice is married”).
Knowing, Operational – Knowing how to do something, having a skill (e.g., “Bob knows how to fix a
Latitude of Acceptance – The extent to which an argument may deviate from the listener’s perception
before being automatically rejected.
Legal Moralism – The assertion that it is sometimes justifiable to prohibit a behavior on the grounds that
it’s immoral, even if it neither harms nor seriously offends others.
Liberalism – Individual liberty is the most important political value; when values conflict, liberty is to be
weighted more heavily than the conflicting value(s).
Liberty (Social) – The legal freedom to pursue one’s interest.
Minimum Group Paradigm – A simple, minimal, meaningless, capricious, or trivial premise that is used
to unify a group of people. See also Granfalloon.
Mutually Exclusive – Unable to exist at the same time; said of ideas. The existence of one implies the
absence of the other(s).
Mutually Inclusive – Always existing together; said of ideas. The existence of one implies the presence of
the other(s).
Necessary Falsehood – A statement that is false for all possible worlds. There is no imaginable realistic
condition under which it is true. Synonymous with Necessarily False Proposition. See also Necessary
Necessary Proposition – A proposition whose truth value remains constant across all possible worlds.
Thus a necessarily true proposition is one that is true in every possible world, and a necessarily false
proposition is one that is false in every possible world.
Necessary Truth – A statement that is true for all possible worlds. There is no imaginable realistic
condition for which it is false. Synonymous with Necessarily True Proposition. See Necessary
*Oedipus Trap (Not to be associated with the Freudian Oedipus complex) –Taken from Sophocles’ play
Oedipus Rex, a situation in which Oedipus takes the honorable action that the mores of his society dictate,
whereby he is trapped by impossible-to-know factors into an act that the mores of his society condemn.
Offense Principle – It is sometimes justifiable to prohibit an individual’s liberty if that is probably
necessary to prevent serious offense to others.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Official Oratoris – Latin for Duties of the Orator, such as: to charm the audience, thereby enhancing
credibility; to teach the audience through the use of sound, valid, and valuable arguments; and move the
audience to be filled with emotion (Cicero).
Operant Conditioning – Modification of behavior by rewarding or punishing existing behavior.
Operational Knowing – See Knowing, Operational.
Organizational Invariance – Physical systems with the same abstract organization will give rise to the
same kind of conscious experience.
Particular – A specific part of a group in contrast to the group.
Paternalism – It is justifiable to curtail an individual’s liberty if that is probably necessary to prevent harm
to the actor himself.
Patternicity – Coined by Michael Shermer to name the tendency to assign meaning to random patterns in
meaningless data.
Percept – The neural activity that takes place in the areas of the brain devoted to interpreting sensory input,
which results in the experience of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, or smelling.
Philosophaster – A pretender to philosophy.
Philosophism – Faulty or fallacious philosophy; an argument intended to deceive or mislead.
Philosophist – A practitioner of philosophism.
Premise – A principle that supports an argument; an assumption or a statement of fact that opens an
Polysemy – Having more than one definition; they are often very different from each other.
Precautionary Principle – the burden of proof of harmlessness is upon the asserter. Since an absolute
guarantee is not possible in many cases, it can be a severe hindrance to positive actions that have only a
possibility of harm. Another definition is to simply be prepared to address any negative consequences.
Propaganda – Mass influence through the manipulation of symbols and the psychology of the individual.
Propositional Knowing – See Knowing, Propositional.
Purr Word – A word that has a positive connotation or emotional impact but an ambiguous meaning.
Qualia – A property as it is subjectively experienced apart from its source in a physical object; for
example, the property of the color blue considered apart from anything that is blue.
Rationalization Trap – A fallacious reasoning that attempts to resolve cognitive dissonance.
Sound – Having a true and accurate premise.
Statement – An expression of fact or opinion.
Statis – Latin for the status of issue; Cicero’s method of manipulating a situation to make it most
advantageous from one’s point of view. For example, in a situation in which your dog bit someone,
defenses characterized by statis would include: (1) My dog didn’t do it; (2) Yes, the teeth made contact
with the skin, but it wasn’t a bite; (3) Yes, it was a bite, but my dog had good intentions and it was self-
defense; (4) Yes, it was a bite, my dog is mean, but this court has no jurisdiction.
Sophist – A teacher of persuasion in ancient Greece. Many sophists wrote handbooks describing general
arguments and techniques that could be used for a variety of persuasive purposes.
Structural Coherence – The structure of conscious experience is mirrored by the structure of information
in awareness, and the structure of information in awareness is mirrored by the structure of conscious
Syllogism – A three-line deductive argument with a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Synchronicity – “Meaningful coincidence” of internal feelings or thought with physical external

*Taintable Person or Group - A person or group that is so much of a minority, oddity, undesirable or
poorly understood nature that they are easily tainted by misleading descriptions, false allegations or
otherwise untrue or inaccurate arguments.
Truth Value – The probability of being true.
Unjustified – Having the quality that the logic connecting the premises of the argument do not prove the
Unsound – Having an untrue or inaccurate premise.
Valid –Properly connected together; an argument is valid if its premises are properly connected with each
Verbatim Reasoning – A deliberative, analytical approach that relies on details, such as those collected
during rote exercises and fact memorization.
Manipulations aren’t acts of logic or thought per se. Rather, they are physical actions that influence the
reasoning process. Manipulations encourage acceptance or denial but without addressing the validity of the
argument. Instead they phyisically prevent proper analysis of the argument.
*Adverse Possession – A legal real estate, land-use term referring to the act of taking control of unused
land and using and caring for it as one’s own. After a certain legally recognized time period, the person is
issued title to the land. I’m using the term to describe improper attempts to take control of a situation or
create undeserved obligations for another person. A person exercising adverse possession, in this sense,
might use convenient sacrifice or unduly present himself as an authority in order to create a sense of
obligation or obedience in the person being exploited.
Airbrushing – making a non-credible source credible by cleaning up a quote or failing to disclose relevant
Bandwagon Effect - A propaganda technique using appeal to popularity. The promoter of an agenda will
create an impression that everyone is for it, therefore it must be the right thing to do.
Bias stylebook – telegraphing bias with word selection. Supporters of legal abortion are “abortion rights”
advocates but supporters of school vouchers are not “voucher rights” advocates.
*Carrier Argument - An idea or argument that is so unlikely to be disputed that it acts as a protective
shield or carrier of other ideas or arguments associated with it, even if those ideas or arguments are invalid.
Uses Muddled Issues to confuse the opponent.
Complex Question – See Loaded Question.
Contrast Effect - A method of gaining acceptance by comparing the target argument with a more
undesirable one.
*Convenient Sacrifice – Claiming to make an altruistic sacrifice from an action that would have happened
in any event or isn’t really much of a sacrifice.
Copycat Bias – Adoption of loaded terms used by other news sources without examining them for bias.
Ego Sealing – Sealing off the ego from events or storyline to elicit a response driven by the ego.
Embedded Opinion – Doses of opinion woven in with facts, cueing how one should feel about the issue.
Expert “Anointing” – Creating an “expert” by attributing authority to an academic or community leader
who actually has no particular knowledge of a topic
Expert Selection – Using issue advocates as experts without noting their bias.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Favor Banking – A form of Selective Reasoning wherein one counts all the positive actions or favors
given to another while disregarding any positive returned action or favors.
Glittering Generalities - Exploiting purr words and equivalence to create vague phrases that generate
positive emotions and support.
Loaded Question – A question imbedded within a questionable assumption or attitude; a question that
traps the respondent into making an unqualified answer or rhetorically applies pressure to give a desired
answer. Also known as Complex Question or plurimum interrogationum.
Lowballing - A person is first offered a very acceptable set of terms. After the terms are accepted but
before they are consummated a “mistake” is discovered or some other ruse is used resulting in a change to
the terms in a manner less favorable to the person accepting the offer.
Mud Slinging – A number of accusations or attacks (which may be fallacious) that are offered in enough
quantity and rapidity that rational debate is avoided and the image of the target is tainted.
Name Calling and Stereotyping – Choosing words that encourage prejudice against a participant in a
debate by referring to a trait.
Orchestrated Bias – Taken from when a newspaper targets an individual, idea or policy and uses both
news pages and editorial views to campaign for its own view. It can be used by any organization with
multiple means to express its views.
Quote Tilting – Using a strong quote to demonstrate one side of an argument and countering it with a weak
quote from the other side. This creates the illusion of a balanced report, but does not give the reader equal
information about the debate.
*School of Minnows - A number of minor arguments or statements (which may be red herrings) that are
offered in enough quantity and rapidity to distract from the main issue or avoid rational debate.
Self-Fulfilling Action - An action that causes or encourages a particular result or reaction.
Self-Justification - A form of self persuasion used to address cognitive dissonance by fallaciously altering
one’s cognitions in order to maintain commitment to an erroneous argument or belief.
Fallacies are principles that act upon thought itself but in a manner that is false. These are acts of irrational
thinking and do not provide a means to develop the best representation of the absolute truth.
Accident – Latin: a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid. A fallacy that improperly applies a general
rule to a specific situation where a condition (the accident) makes the general rule inapplicable. “Hot
women drive red sports cars. Bill’s grandmother drives a red sports car therefore she’s a hot woman.” For
Converse Accident, see Hasty Generalization.
Ad Hominem Attack – Argumentum ad Hominem (“against the man”). Stating that argument of the
opposing person is invalid because of that person’s poor or questionable character. Ad Hominem attacks of
an abusive nature use demeaning insults such as “of course he thinks that, he’s stupid.” Ad Hominem
attacks of a circumstantial nature use associations that improperly consider the facts, such as “of course he
likes fraternities, he’s a member of one.”
Affirming the Consequent - A fallacy stating that given the premise that if a condition A exists then a
condition B will exist, one can conclude that if condition B is present then condition A is present.
Amphibole - A statement with a double meaning; an statement that is ambiguous due to syntax: “Woman
without her man would be lost” or “Save Soap and Waste Paper.”
Amphibology - See Amphibole
Appeal to Authority – Argumentum ad Vericundiam, claiming something to be true simply because some
authority, tradition, custom, or person of reverence says so.
Appeal to Emotion - Stirring strong emotions to prevent the audience from rationally analyzing the

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Appeal to Fear - Instilling fear and/or panic to prevent the audience from rationally analyzing the
Appeal to Force – Argumentum ad Bacculum, to persuade or coerce compliance by force or threat of force.
Appeal to Pity – Argumentum ad Misericordiam, claiming an argument is valid because of the pitiful state
of a person related to or making the argument.
Appeal to Popularity – Argumentum ad Populum, claiming something to be true because a large number
of people believe it to be true.
Argument from Ignorance – Argumentum ad Ignorantiam, arguing that something is true because it has
not been proven untrue or that something is false because it hasn’t been proven true. An argument is
deemed true or false by virtue of a lacking of evidence.
Argument for Perfection - Arguing that a position is invalid because it doesn’t provide a perfect answer.
Rejecting a course of action because it isn’t guaranteed to work in each and every possible situation.
Association Fallacy - Associating two different ideas or arguments and stating that they are one.
Barnum Effect – Also known as the Forer Effect, the Subjective Validation Effect and the Personal
Validation Effect. See Subjective Validation Effect.
Begging the question (circular reasoning) – Petitio Principii, simply stating a supporting premise as the
conclusion to an argument; supporting a conclusion with a premise that depends upon the conclusion. The
vicious circle, also known as circulus in probando, is a more complex form of begging the question
whereby several assertions are made until the last assertion is used as a premise to the first. Another
variation is a news commentator using another commentator as a source, who in turn uses the original
commentator as a source. This can involve a chain of several commentators. This term is being misused
by the members of the media to mean that a comment “begs for a question to be asked.” Instead saying
that a comment “begs the question” interviewers should say that a comment “calls for the question”, “leads
to the question”, “compels me to ask” or similar phrasing.
Cherry Picking - See Selective Reasoning.
Collectivism – The unwarrantable extension of an individual’s views to represent the views of a larger
group of which he is considered a part.
Composition Fallacy - To claim that what applies to the individual elements of a whole also applies to the
Contextomy - Deliberately quoting a statement out of context in order to misrepresent its meaning and
then arguing the misrepresentation. A specific form of a Straw Man Attack.
Converse Accident – See Hasty Generalization.
Correlation Implies Causation – The claim that mere correlation is proof of causation.
Denying the antecedent - A fallacy stating that given the premise that if a condition A exists then a
condition B will exist, one can conclude that if there is no condition A then there is no condition B.
Division Fallacy - To claim that what applies to the whole also applies to the individual elements of the
Equivocation - Changing the definition of a word or phrase during the course of an argument.
False Cause Fallacy - Post hoc ergo propter hoc, the confusion between the concepts of succession and
causation. It states that because something occurs prior to an event it is the cause of that event.
False Dilemma - Arguing for one extreme or the other and not acknowledging the middle ground.
Forer Effect – Also known as the Barnum Effect, the Subjective Validation Effect and the Personal
Validation Effect. See Subjective Validation Effect.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Gambler’s Fallacy - This fallacy rejects the law of probability that states that an event occurs
independently of any other event and that, because something hasn’t happened for a length of time, it is less
(or more) likely to happen in the future.
Hasty Generalization – Also known as Converse Accident. A generalization based on inadequate
evidence, inadequate information, or an unrepresentative study.
*Intent Justifies Action – The belief that actions that result in negative consequences are justifiable if the
actor’s intentions are good.
Line-drawing Fallacy - The claim that a line cannot be drawn between two extremes because the
difference between the sides immediately adjacent to that line is insignificant.
Mind Reading Fallacy - In the course of an exchange, one presumes to know what the other is thinking
without adequate communication or evidence.
Personal Validation Effect – Also known as the Barnum Effect, the Forer Effect, and the Subjective
Validation Effect. See Subjective Validation Effect.
Projection - Similar to the Mind Reading Fallacy. A person assumes thoughts, intentions, or emotions are
being held by another person without adequate evidence. The thoughts, intentions, or emotions projected
may be one’s own.
Red Herring - A line of argument that evades the issue or has no resolution.
Selective Reasoning - Choosing only those facts that support one's argument and ignoring or denying the
facts that counter the argument.
Self-sealing Argument - A sequence of premises that makes it impossible to reasonably challenge a
position. For example, a member of a snake cult will claim that if one’s faith is strong enough, a poisonous
snake bite can’t cause one harm. The cultist then points to a worshiper who lived through a snake bite as
proof. The cultist then points to a worshiper who died from a snake bite as evidence of that person’s lack of
faith. When confronted with a devout worshiper’s death by snake bite the cultist is predisposed to view the
death as a resulting from non-apparent lack of faith.
Slippery Slope - That any effort to draw a line away from one extreme will slip into the other extreme.
Often misused by members of the media to mean reduction.
Straw Person - Fabricating, exaggerating, or slanting an opposing argument to an easier position to
Subjectivist Fallacy - The argument that all sides of an issue are correct or incorrect because all
knowledge is subjective.
Subjective Validation Effect – Also know as the Barnum Effect, the Forer Effect, and the Personal
Validation Effect. Psychologist B.R. Forer found that people tend to accept vague and general personality
descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be
applied to just about anyone. The Barnum Effect, seems to have been coined by with psychologist Paul
Meehl, in deference to circus man P.T. Barnum's reputation as a master psychological manipulator.
Survivor Effect – A bias resulting from a situation in which only those that survive a treatment or
experience are studied. A person survives a sunken ship because a bottle-nosed dolphin pushes him to land
and his experiences are recorded. No one can learn of or interview those that were pushed out to sea
Transference - To transfer the emotions, thoughts, intentions, needs or other traits that one appropriately
has for a particular individual to another person for whom they may not be as appropriate. An example is
when a patient extends the emotions one has for a nurturing lover to a medical doctor who has only a
professional interest. Counter-Transference is transference occurring from a professional to the patient – for
example, when a child psychologist approaches a client with the same emotional investment she would
have toward her own son or daughter.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

You Also Fallacy – To claim that one’s action is valid because the opponent also engages in the action.
Also, the claim that an opponent’s argument is invalid because he behaves inconsistently it or because he
once supported a different argument.
To put forth a logical argument it isn’t enough to know what not to say; one also needs to know what to
say. These are the principles of rational thinking I’ve collected so far. They are used to create the best
representation of the absolute truth.
Acknowledging Perspective - Recognizing that the arguer has a perspective that has some effect on the
perception of truth. By calling that perspective the real truth instead of a perception of truth one enters into
the Subjectivist Fallacy.
*Arguing for the Least Harm – Almost any action will have negative effects. Arguing that some concern
must be shown for those who suffer a negative impact, and that steps should be taken to minimize the risks,
can become an Appeal to Pity if one focuses on the persons harmed to the exclusion of all other factors.
*Behavioral Clues Indicate Beliefs and Ideas – A person’s behavior can imply or communicate
something about his state of mind. Observable behavior hints at or indicates what is on one’s mind, but
questions must be asked in order to determine the motivation behind the behavior for certain. It can be
confused with the Mind Reading Fallacy and the You Also Fallacy.
Correlation Does Not Imply Causation – Correlation is not proof of causation. A factor can be the cause
of both the correlation and the issue, or simply a coincidental event.
Hypothetical Syllogism – Given the premises that if a condition A exists then condition B will also exist,
and that if condition B exists then a condition C will exist, then it is valid to conclude that if condition A
exists then condition C exists.
*Intent Affects the Nature of Accountability – Sometimes confused with the Intent Justifies Action
belief. An actor’s intention is separate from its consequences. Consequences are acceptable or
unacceptable regardless of the actor’s intentions. However, a person with good intentions needs education
or redirection rather than punishment.
Line-Drawing Problem – The recognition that somewhere between two extremes a line must be drawn. It
can be confused with the Line Drawing Fallacy and the False Dilemma.
Modus Ponens – Given the premise that if a condition A exists then condition B also will exist, it is valid
to conclude that if there is a condition A then there is a condition B. This is confused with Affirming the
Modus Tollens – Given the premise that if a condition A exists then condition B also will exist, it is valid
to conclude that if there is no condition B present then there is no condition A either. This is sometimes
confused with Denying the Antecedent.
Occam’s Razor – “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily,” a principle attributed to 14th-century
Franciscan friar and logician William of Ockham. Issac Newton stated the same principle as follows: “We
are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their
appearances.” The quote “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,” is attributed
(without verification) to Albert Einstein. Much earlier, Aristotle expressed the same idea as “Nature
operates in the shortest way possible.” A more current version is that when you have two possible
explanations for the same result, the simpler one is the better. Occam’s Razor is not a certainty. What is
simple is a matter of perspective. Nature isn’t bound by human concepts of simplicity.
*Paraphrasing the Opposing Argument – Taking the opposing argument and paraphrasing in a manner
that clarifies the issue and provides an alternate view. Unlike the Straw Man, the paraphrase is an accurate
representation of the opponent’s arguments.
Parsimony – Economy in the use of means to an end; especially: economy of explanation in conformity
with Occam's razor. In common vernacular: frugality or stinginess.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

*Pointing to the Unknown – Stating that an argument is not known to be untrue because it hasn’t been
proven untrue, or that an argument is not known to be true because it hasn’t been proven true. It is counter
to the fallacy of Appeal to Ignorance.
*Popular Opinion – Although a large number of people thinking something is true doesn’t make it true, it
does indicate that there is something to consider when it has credibility. A large number of eyewitnesses
claiming that a particular circus has elephants indicates that it is a safe bet that there are, in fact, elephants
at that circus. Another example is when a number of scientists claim to have properly performed an
experiment and gotten the same results. The proof lies in the evidence presented by the witnesses, not
merely in the claim. Crowds can experience mass delusion; scientists can be working off of false
assumptions. The credibility of the witnesses is a key factor in determining the probability of validity, but
not validity itself. Its opposite is the fallacy of Appeal to Popularity.
*Questioning Authority – Stating that a person’s assertions are invalid or questionable because he has not
engaged in the kind of behavior that would assure the validity of his statements and premises. This can be
confused with an Ad Hominem Attack.
*Quoting a Valid Authority – There are experts that have supportable conclusions about specific topics.
Referring to these conclusions is valid provided that the supportive data and premise are available for
scrutiny and applicable to the issue. To claim that someone is an authority and therefore must be right,
without referring to supportive arguments, is Appeal to Authority.
Reductio Ad Absurdum – Sometimes confused with the Slippery Slope, Reductio Ad Absurdum is the
claim that, if the method of argument leads to an absurd conclusion when applied to related or comparable
issues, then the argument at hand is also invalid.
Sign Inference – Unlike the False Cause Fallacy, it acknowledges that a correlation doesn’t imply
causation. Migrating geese are a sign of a change of season. Sign inference isn’t certain, but rather is
based on probability and subject to question. An inference made on the basis of a sign should be
questioned as to whether or not the sign and the claim signified occur together. Are there any counter-
signs? Does the sign ever appear without the claim? Does the sign ever appear with more than just the
claim or with the counterclaim? Is the sign inference being mistaken for an inference from cause?
*Useful Generalization – Whenever there is sufficient data to describe a particular norm, it is useful to
make arguments based upon that norm while allowing for exceptions. A Hasty Generalization occurs when
exceptions are ignored or when there is insufficient data to describe a norm.


I've included some arguments for practicing the skills covered in this document. I'm sure my bias will
become readily apparent and maybe even my ideologies. It isn't my goal to fully persuade anyone to
accept my beliefs. Rather, I want to provoke thinking and to show how some debates are actually
dependent upon other unresolved issues. The rights of an animal can't be agreed upon if we don't agree on
what a right is. Fair treatment can't be recognized if there isn't agreement on what's being fair. Consider
these arguments, debate them with other people and try to discover the deeply rooted principles of your
own beliefs. I deliberately avoid completing some of the arguments contained within these topics because I
want to you to use them as a spring board to further explore these ideas, and those they inspire, with other

What is a Right?

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "We hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights; that among
these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Given the United States of America's history of
slavery, genocide of the Native Americans, Women's Suffrage, Jim Crow laws, and many other clashes
over rights, human rights aren't self-evident. Before one can decide who has a right, it has to be determined
exactly what is a "right." Contrary to the Jeffersonian assertion that a right is endowed on us by our

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Creator, or in another manner of speaking; Nature, rights are purely a man-made convention. A right is a
legal concept that is given by an act of law. What the law gives, the law can take away. So much for
inalienable and hence the multitude of human right violations across the globe and the debates about
whether or not a particular situation is such a violation.

Rights seem to be of two types, something that is owed to you, which I'll call owed rights, and something
that no one can stop you from doing yourself, which I'll call no-interference rights. If I've an owed right to
food, health care, living quarters and the things necessary to basic comfort, then someone has to give them
to me. There has to be a system of growing food, providing health care, building and stocking a living
space, all without me doing one thing in return. A government of some sort must compel other members of
my society to provide for me with no reward from me. If I've a no-interference right to the same things,
then no one can stop me from getting them for myself. I negotiate with others to give me those things. The
government exists to enforce the agreement but not to create the agreement. Since no one will agree to
give me something without something given in return, I have to be productive in relation to what I acquire.

What specific actions get to be a right depends upon which of these two types of rights are used. A society
created on owed rights where having housing, food, clothing, and health care are the rights then somehow
the members of the society must be compelled to produce and deliver those items. In such a society the
freedom to choose your career cannot be right as well. After all, most everyone would choose to be an
artist, poet, bird watcher or some other enjoyable endeavor while consuming their "fair share" of the
economy. Not enough plumbers, horse manure shovelers, garbage workers, and applicants for other
undesirable jobs will be around to meet the basic needs of society. A number of people must do jobs that
aren't their primary preference in order for the economy to meet the minimum needs.

A society created on no-interference rights can permit anyone to be an artist, poet or bird watcher but no
one is compelled to supply housing, food, clothing and so forth. No farmer is willing to give up his food
for nothing more than a large stack of poems. So the wanna-be poet must give up trying to sell unwanted
poetry and provide something wanted. The poet works as a tech writer for substance and writes poetry as a
hobby. If the poet actually is good enough to produce highly desirable poetry, then the hobby can become
a career. What a person needs in that kind of society is a means to enforce agreements so if the tech
business decides to not pay its writers, the writers have a means of collection. The government is limited
on how it dictates individual behavior. Instead it regulates the commerce between the individuals of the
society rather than commerce itself.

If mixing these two rights is even possible in a society, it must be done very carefully. You can't guarantee
a service and then not have a way to be sure that service is provided. You can't give everyone free food and
promise the farmer and rancher high wages. What you allow as a right must balance with how that right is
sustained. So if you are going to have the laws of the society give your life sovereignty equal to that of the
government and allow you the freedom to pursue your personal happiness, the government can't compel
you to serve others. Therefore the government can't deem anything to be a right that would require your
servitude. You'd be happy eating lots of food and watching television all day and the farmer would be
happy making millions off his crop. In the society just described the government leaves it to you and the
farmer how to work out an exchange according to laws intended to keep things honest. The farmer can't
expect more than you can give and you have to give something that the farmer desires. If the government
does guarantee you free food then it must compensate the farmer. If you and the farmer keep the right to
self-direction and choice then somewhere a tax must be levied that will pay for the food. Someone will
loose the right to keep their income, and the freedoms dependent upon it, while you and the farmer profit.
The person who looses income with nothing given in return is pushed toward slavery.

Rights have a causal relationship with society. Whatever type of right you choose and whatever specific
acts you choose to have as the rights will ultimately define the structure, government and social
relationships of the society.


A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

What is fair? If one is to fairly distribute cookies to two children, one child being larger than the other,
does one give a cookie of the same size to each? Give a cookie that is sized proportionally to the child? Or
give a cookie proportionally sized to the activities the child has performed for the cookie? Each of these
represents a different concept of fairness. On a societal scale the first is a simple distribution of goods
regardless of the personal traits of the recipient. Distributing goods and services based on personal
consumption is the second type of fairness mentioned above. Using a person's productivity as a base for
distribution is the third example of fairness.

It is basic human nature to expend the least amount of energy to meet one's needs. Expending just enough
energy to acquire one's objective is efficiency. Expending that same amount of energy when it doesn't
acquire one's objective is laziness. Simple distribution rewards a person for doing nothing. Since fair
distribution of goods and services is spread uniformly without regard to productivity or consumption;
comfort and wealth is acquired by being frugal and doing no work. This kind of fairness leads to a slave
society because rewarding the citizen for doing nothing means there must be bosses forcing the citizens to
be productive.

Distribution based upon consumption without regard to productivity obviously rewards a person for
consuming as much as possible in order to acquire comfort and wealth. This leads to a society where waste
and excess are rewarded. The people must be compelled to produce more than they consume or to be
regulated in their consumption. The current policy of the United States government to cut the budget to a
governmental organization when the original budget is not completely used up is a real world example.
These organizations seeing that they are not going to use their budget frivolously spend all the money to
avoid a future budget cut. When budget overruns lead to the future budget being increased, excessive
spending is rewarded. When waste and excess are rewarded, gluttonous consumption drives the whole of
the society toward destituteness.

Making distribution of goods relative to productivity encourages people to be productive in order to gain
wealth and comfort. So who don't produce don't get goods and services and therefore don't drain the
society. Those who do produce give to society in return for what they get. This type of fairness tends to be
more self-regulating than the other types of fairness considered here. The government doesn't need to force
people to work since only those who do work get rewarded. Those that take a lot must give a lot. Ideally,
the economic balance of a society stays in balance.

Mixing these different forms of fairness within a society can be done in a limited way. Distribution based
on consumption can work if the consumption is avoided and a statistically rare occurrence. If everyone
works to avoid getting cancer but pays a uniform sum into a health insurance plan, distributing the high
cost of cancer treatment of those few who do contract it provides everyone protection from something
devastating but rare. This kind of fairness can be successfully used within a society using productivity
based fairness when applied to undesirable, high cost but rarely occurring situations.

Charity and Cheating

The previous descriptions of rights and fairness are too simple to apply to the world we live in because the
need for charity and vice of cheating aren't considered. The term cheating means all destructive, criminal,
dishonest, or unfair behaviors used to gain at the expense of others. Charity means all support or energy
given to those who can't give in return for what they receive.

If everyone were perfectly honest, in the best of health, and fully productive there wouldn't be people in
need of charity or need for guards against cheating. As we know, that is not the case and both charity and
cheating drain the rewards of the productivity of others. Where compassion compels us to permit charity,
cheating is to be eliminated as much as possible.

Most people consider it to be callous to not help those who truly can't produce in balance with what they
consume. Although Stephen Hawking, the world-renown theoretical physicist, is an example that even the
most profoundly handicapped can be highly productive, there are those who want to be productive enough
to balance their consumption but can't due to physical, psychological or environmental reasons. The best

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help is to find a way to make them productive. When that isn't done, then charity is the only humane
course. Fortunately the need for charity, except in a time when the economy is in severe stress, is a small
percentage of the population and doesn't cause an unbearable drain.

A person needing charity under simple distribution fairness is just in a comfortable place. Since the
government compels people to work in order to be sure that goods and services are available for
distribution, and a disabled person isn't compelled to work, being in need of charity is the easy life. This is
a desirable condition for cheaters. The government must be sure that charitable recipients are truly in need.

When fairness is based solely upon consumption, everyone becomes a charity case. After all, charity is
giving to those who can't return for what they get. Rewarding consumption rewards those to don't return
for what they get. This leads to consuming up the society itself.

A government managing productivity based fairness must be sure that charitable recipients are truly in
need. Stopping cheating involves eliminating dishonest negotiations between citizens and encouraging
citizens to create new things to produce. Finding ways for a citizen to overcome a disability and
reasonable elimination barriers can allow even the most profoundly handicapped to be productive.


What is being equal? Immediately it becomes apparent to any observant person that the Olympic runner is
not equal to the person confined to a wheelchair when it comes to running. Men are not equal to women in
their ability to nurture a fetus and give birth. These obvious inequalities may give rise to an individual's
sense of being superior. "I can see that we aren't equal. One of us must be better than the other one. Since
I know that I'm not inferior to you, I must be superior." This of course denies the other definitions of
equality that come into play.

What I just described is physical equality. My eyes are brown, yours are blue. The basket ball player is
taller than the rugby player. One person has darker pigmentation than another person. None of which
should affect social equality. Social equality is about one's place in society. It's counter-productive to deny
a person a job due to an irrelevant physical trait. It's productive to deny the job based upon skills. It's not a
good idea to give the job of electrically wiring a house to a massage therapist. Of course, physical equality
isn't completely separated from social equality. Once a group of people, equally skilled in basketball, are
assembled, there is a tendency to favor the taller ones. If you're looking for someone to portray Martin
Luther King Jr. in a play, you'll choose from a group of men of the same skin color. Amongst a group of
equally skilled construction workers those with the greater physical strength will be hired. However, in
these examples, the physical traits enhance the person's skills or the ease of adapting them to the job.

Legal equality is how a person is treated under the law. A low income, blue collar worker isn't socially
equal to a wealthy, high society socialite. They have different social skills; different lives styles and live in
different social circles. They are, in a society where personal sovereignty is highly valued, legally equal.
The socialite can expect the same treatment for drunk driving as the blue collar worker. The burden of
proof in a civil suit is the same for the socialite as for the blue collar worker.

In real practice though, legal equality isn't perfect. The wealthy socialite has the funds to get a better
lawyer and skilled private investigator. The low income worker is stuck with a court appointed lawyer or
no lawyer at all. The wealthy person will generally be better educated and have more savvy thus better
able to influence the legal proceedings. The lesser educated worker will be more mystified by the system
and miss opportunities to get a more favorable ruling. The unrecognized, innate bias of the jury or judge
may favor one social class over another.

These three forms of equality are often inter-mixed and confused. As already noted, one does affect the
other. A proper balance to equality can't be done without considering the effects of the other forms of
equality. It can become a confusing morass. Is being denied admittance into a popular club because you're
not on the "A-List" discrimination in violation of your legal rights or just selection based on social
compatibility? Is a short person being passed over for a first string basket ball player being treated unfairly

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

or just according to the physical demands of the job? Sorting out equal treatment depends upon the specific
relationship of physical, social and legal issues in a given situation.

Conclusions, Inferences, Warrants and Ethics

If something is unethical, it is unethical for all cultures and all times. In the situation where an action is
determined to ethical at a particular time and place but unethical in another time or place, then it isn't the
action that's the ethic. The syllogism of formal logic provides a good example for an explanation.

A syllogism in formal logic is always in the form of two premises and a conclusion. The relationship of the
premises is justified by an inference. The inference is justified by a warrant. When two identical premises
produce different conclusions depending upon the time and place, you have a difference in the inference or

In a society based upon simple distribution fairness, having more than your neighbor is unethical. The
same situation is perfectly natural in a society structured on productivity based fairness. Step upward from
the premises: "my neighbor has more than me. He should (not) have more than me. Therefore..." and take
a look at how having possessions relate to the two societies. In the simple distribution society the neighbor
is getting a bigger handout from the government for no apparent reason. If the excess of production is held
back from society until times of stress, the neighbor is stealing from the society's savings account. In a
productivity based society, it's perfectly natural for the neighbor to have more if he's produced more. The
neighbor hasn't taken anything from anybody without giving something in return.

In the first society the economic balance is upset. In the second one, it's maintained. The ethic isn't
whether or not your neighbor has more than you but whether or not economic balance was maintained.
Economic balance is one inference for judging the acceptable number of possessions in any society.

The practice of slavery was unethical even in times and places where it was thought perfectly natural. The
idea that one can take the productivity of another person without equal exchange is parasitic. It's being
socially acceptable to do so simply defines the society as being parasitic. That it is done simply out of
ignorance or other lack of social or spiritual evolution is no matter. Ignorance makes it no less unethical. It
does mean that the person lacking ethics needs education rather than punishment.

Ethics, then, is not a set of specific conclusions but instead a set of abstract rules that apply to any society,
at any time. They are the described laws of nature that apply to maintaining well being in all its various

Pacifistic Versus Primarily Non-Violent Beliefs

The arguments of this section have so far been presented in a unidirectional manner. That is; a person
making an argument to another person who is not responding. I'm now going do a point and
counter-point presentation of arguments I've collected from those I label in this document as
pacifists and primarily non-violent. This style of arguing is prone to straw person arguments. I
have done my best to be accurate presenting both sides but my personal unrecognized bias can
always creep in. This style is an efficient presentation of a debate for easy and clear consideration
of the reader. If one is diligent about the accuracy of the arguments it can be very useful in
educating about an issue and persuasive.

1. The Peaceful Society

Pacifistic: Pacifism is intended to bring about the most peaceful society possible. A peaceful society is
non-violent. A peaceful society is also one with no anger, no disagreement, no division, and in which
everyone lives in perfect harmony with each other. (Commits equivocation)
Primarily Non-Violent: Life without unwarranted violence, hostility, anger and separation is indeed
desirable, but anger, disagreement, conflict and confusion are a necessary part of a developing

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consciousness, both for society as a whole and for the individual person. Perfect harmony isn’t yet possible
due to the wide variations within humanity, but an end to unwarranted violence may be possible.
2. The Place of Violence in Society
Pacifistic: All violence is the same. There is no difference between criminal violence and legally justifiable
violence. (Uses the fallacies of a hasty generalization and composition.)
Primarily Non-Violent: No simple act can be considered to flawlessly represent all similar acts. A
person’s intent in the commission of an act is of paramount importance. Criminal violence and justifiable
self-defense that is violent by necessity are clearly not the same.

3. Human Equality
Pacifistic: All human life is to be considered and treated as exactly equal. (Commits equivocation.)
Primarily Non-Violent: Equality under the law and true equality are not the same. Without creating undue
risk to others, a person must be given the freedom to demonstrate his character, and then be treated
accordingly. Law requires equal treatment in the sense that all people who get a traffic ticket should
receive the same punishment, but not in the sense that no one gets a traffic ticket regardless of how they
4. The Value of Human Life
Pacifistic: One cannot place any kind of value on human life. (Commits equivocation.)
Primarily Non-Violent: One cannot place a monetary value on human life. Placing a comparative value on
one’s own life versus one’s own quality of life is a day-to-day occurrence. One can judge human behavior
as being acceptable or not acceptable. A comparison can be made between the behavior of two different
people and how acceptably they handle their lives and their impact on the lives of others. Consequently,
one can place a comparative value on the two lives.
5. Responding to Abuse
Pacifistic: Always “turn the other cheek” to your abuser regardless of the severity of the abuse.
(Encourages a false dilemma and learned helplessness.)
Primarily Non-Violent: Discretion is the better part of valor. Minor abuse that doesn’t result in significant
injury is often best met by “turning the other cheek,” but repeated or injurious abuse must be addressed
more aggressively. Remember, you only have two cheeks.
6. Passing Judgment
Pacifism: Judge not, lest you too be judged. It is wrong to pass any judgment on others. (Commits
Primarily Non-Violent: There is a difference between being judgmental and making a judgment. You
must be able to make some judgment as to the character of those with whom you interact, thereby
empowering yourself to maintain safe relationships.
7. Forgiveness
Pacifistic: If someone hurts you, forgive and forget. You must forget in order to forgive and you must
forgive in order to forget. If you remember the hurtful actions of others, then you are not forgiving them. If
you aren’t forgiving them, then you are holding a grudge. Grudge-holding people are hostile, intolerant,
unloving, and abusive. To be a compassionate, open minded, loving, supportive person, you must forgive
the violations of others, and to forgive you must forget. (Uses an association fallacy.)
Primarily Non-Violent: One can forgive without forgetting. Remembering is not the same as grudge
holding. One can keep a wary eye for warning signs of repeat abuse without talking of it. If warning signs
start to occur, remembering allows one to engage in early intervention.
8. Vigilantism

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Pacifistic: With the exception of law enforcement personnel acting in the line of duty, anyone who
confronts abusive behavior is a vigilante. (Uses a false dilemma and sets up a granfalloon.)
Primarily Non-Violent: A vigilante is a person who premeditatedly seeks out pursues, apprehends, tries,
sentences, and punishes those he believes to be criminal, circumventing due process of law and denying the
alleged criminal his rights. The vigilante also avoids open scrutiny of his actions by society. A person is
acting in self-defense when, in the course of living a normal life, he unexpectedly encounters criminal
activity that poses a clear and present danger, and responds by pursuing, apprehending, and holding the
person he believes to be responsible for the police. He is an aid to due process of law and subjects his
actions to the same scrutiny that the alleged criminal receives. The alleged criminal then has full
opportunity to protect his rights under law.
9. Self-Defense
Pacifistic: A person who learns self-defense skills wants to use them and is actually a wanna-be vigilante.
(Uses vilification.)
Primarily Non-Violent: Acquiring skills and tools to do something doesn’t override my prerogative to not
use them. Giving myself a wide range of skills, and hence a wide range of options that reduces my sense of
helplessness and frustration, is not indicative of a desire to hurt someone. A functional person has the
ability to deal with both the mundane and the extremes of life. The Boy Scout motto “Be prepared” isn’t an
order to go out and indiscriminately do it all.
10. Keeping a Weapon for Quick Use
Pacifistic: A person who carries a weapon in a quick-draw position or who is ready to instantly use marital
arts is looking for an excuse to be violent. Those who are truly peaceful have no desire to even think about
being violent and therefore will not be on edge or even consider carrying a weapon.
Primarily Non-Violent: A predatory aggressor has no need to be on edge or constantly carry a weapon
because he knows when he will strike. A person committed to non-violence but willing to use violence as
an extreme last resort will not react with violence until all other options have been exhausted. While the
criminal will eagerly resort to violence or to the threat of violence, the defender will hesitate to do so until
the last possible moment. This means that the defender will often have less than a second to size up the
situation and react. While the criminal is causing the problem and therefore can act at his convenience, the
defender must be ready for an unexpected attack at a moment’s notice.
11. Returning Abuse for Abuse
Pacifistic: One should never return abusive behavior for abusive behavior because one will then “lower
one’s level” and become less of a person. (Uses a false dilemma.)
Primarily Non-Violent: First, in order for any interaction to be successful, it must take place on a level
that all parties involved can understand. The “highest possible level” must still be low enough to
accommodate the willingness and capacity of all parties. Second, committing violence in self-defense can
never be equated with abusive violence; therefore it isn’t possible to “lower your level” if you limit your
action to proper self-defense.
12. Does Violence Beget Violence?
Pacifistic: The use of violence, regardless of the reasons, always promotes more violence. (A hasty
Primarily Non-Violent: A good person who commits violence in desperate self-defense doesn’t truly
desire to be violent and chooses to be so only because more acceptable options are unavailable. He will
return to nonviolent means just a soon as they become effective again. A criminal engages in violence
without just cause and will do so again at his discretion. A single criminal will commit a number of crimes.
If a single act of justified violence by an intended victim ends the criminal’s career, then that cycle of
violence stops. Even if the criminal escapes, he will be more hesitant in his selection of victims.
13. Resistance to Attack

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Pacifistic: Don’t resist an attacker. It might give him a reason to hurt you. (Inappropriate projection or
Mind Reading Fallacy.)
Primarily Non-Violent: If the victim’s behavior had that kind of effect on the attacker’s reasoning, then
the attack wouldn’t be happening in the first place. If being more vulnerable lessens the likelihood of being
attacked, then children and the elderly wouldn’t be the most common victims of abuse. In order for non-
resistance to give a criminal a reason not to hurt his victim, the criminal must be an ethical person. If the
criminal were ethical, he wouldn’t be hurting you. Projecting pacifistic values onto the criminal mind is

14. Resorting to Violence in Life-Threatening Situations

Pacifistic: Even in the event that an attacker will kill you unless you take violent defensive action, it would
be wrong to use violence. You can take comfort in knowing that in your death, you will be more noble than
your attacker. (Uses ridicule and sets up a granfalloon.)
Primarily Non-Violent: I walk this Earth with the intent of doing good, and that gives my life value. Since
I am good and considerate, no one will ever have reason to hurt me. I will not be the first to use violence,
and only those who insist on committing a violent attack will suffer any violence from me. Therefore, only
those who would wrongfully use violence have to fear me. I can take comfort in knowing that in the course
of my life, the good will love me and the evil will fear me, and I will not be helpless. Because of that I am
noble. There is no honor in not countering unwarranted violence. Turning one’s back on a victim on the
irrational excuse of “being too good to fight” is simply a coward’s way of justifying passive support of
unethical violence by others.
15. Avoidance
Pacifistic: Avoidance is the only acceptable response to an attacker. Live your life so that someone else is
the target.
Primarily Non-Violent: I am not a coward. I have compassion for my fellow human being. It is neither
noble nor honorable to let someone else be victimized just because they happen to be more vulnerable.
Honor demands that I try to protect them as well as myself.
16. Alternatives to Violence
Pacifistic: Alternative solutions that aren’t grounded in pacifism don’t provide perfect answers. (Uses
argument for perfection.)
Primarily Non-Violent: There is no such thing as a perfect answer. Any given solution will contain some
flaw, depending on one’s perspective. The goal is to get the best possible result, not the perfect result.
17. Universalism
Pacifistic: Pacifism will work if everyone believes in it.
Primarily Non-Violent: It is impossible for everyone to believe in the same philosophy. Any philosophy
that depends on everyone believing in it is useless. A functional philosophy will yield good results even if I
am the only one to believe in it.
18. Are War and Peace Mutually Exclusive?
Pacifistic: One cannot simultaneously prepare for war and peace. (Uses false dilemma.)
Primarily Non-Violent: Any experienced martial artist can tell you that such a statement is utterly
ridiculous. A martial artist prepares for combat every time he practices, yet the exertion and meditation that
accompanies true marital arts prepares him for peace. On a national scale, formidable military capabilities
will encourage a hostile nation to give more weight to diplomacy. A reliable, secure defense system
reduces the sense of fear and panic at the threat of an attack, leaving cooler heads to make the most sensible

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19. Mutuality
Pacifistic: It takes two to tango. If one person refuses to be violent even in self-defense, then the cycle will
Primarily Non-Violent: If one person refuses to be violent even in self-defense while the other insists on
assaulting, you have victimization. It takes one person to create an assault, it takes two to create successful
self-defense. One person cannot have a harmonious relationship unless the other person knows how to live
in harmony. It takes two to have harmony, but only one to turn an interaction violent.

20. Worst Option

Pacifistic: Violence and its national-level equivalent, war, is always the worst option.
Primarily Non-Violent: Compare the total number of deaths of everyone killed in WWII to those of Jews
exterminated in death camps and perhaps those targeted for extermination had the war ended earlier. In
terms of loss of life, it is obvious that a passive reaction to genocide is worse than war. Only if one deems
the lives of the victims of genocide inferior to the lives of those imposing the genocide can war be
considered the less acceptable option. Violence committed in self-defense is only the worst option if you
consider the attacker to be a victim of the defender.
21. The Responsibility to Intervene
Pacifistic: It's not my responsibility to stop violent action if the only way to do so is through violence. It is
nobler to be inactive and let the violent aggressor be guilty of doing wrong. I can't be condemned for what
I don't do.
Primarily Non-Violent: Inaction is a form of action. One is responsible for his or her choice of action.
Being inactive against a wrong when one has the power to act is tacit approval and support of the wrong.
22. The Role of Government
Pacifistic: The government must pass laws against all violence as a means to end all violence.
Primarily Non-Violent: All laws are ultimately enforceable by death or the threat of death. If a police
officer attempts to stop a person for even the smallest of offenses and that person refuses to comply, the
officer will pursue and upon capture apply increasing force until the person submits. If the person is strong
enough to resist all forms of non-lethal force and begin to overpower the officer before escaping, the officer
will ultimately use lethal force. A pacifist who votes for any law that someone might be inclined to
disobey for any reason, commits an hypocritical act since that law may ultimately be enforced by violence.
A voter is responsible for the events his vote sets into action. In a society in which all use of force is
prohibited, the violent can run rampant without challenge, openly and freely scoffing at the law and ethical
behavior. The violent only respect violence. There is no society that has a law instructing the police to
cease enforcing the law if a perpetrator defiantly engages in resistive violence. Therefore the pacifist
supports the use of violence by voting for laws that must be enforced against a dissenter’s will, ethical or
not. To avoid such hypocrisy, pacifists can only vote for laws that remove restrictions on people’s
behavior. A pacifist can only influence behavior by example, never by indirect or direct force.


Now I'm going to use the previous arguments in a more complex argument. The issue of Animal Rights.

It is possible to endow all life with equal rights: from single celled fauna and flora to us humans to
whatever is on Mars. However, which right do we use?

Rights, as the term is usually used and as I explained earlier, don't exist. They are solely abstracted in the

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

human mind. A hawk has the right to eat a mouse, in a way very painful to the mouse if you've ever
actually seen it, because it can. A mountain lion might be hunted down for killing a rancher's cow in
defense of the remaining cows, but no one tries to prosecute the lion for murder. It should be pretty
obvious why. The mountain lion simply doesn't have the cognitive qualities to make it guilty of a purely
human conceptualization. Only humans can commit murder because murder is a legal concept of human
prescriptive law. So the argument that nature imbues animals with rights or even humans is bogus.

The real argument is that we humans should legislate our concept of rights onto animals giving animals
equal legal rights. The section on equality should show that the animal rightist assertion that animals are
equal to human beings is based more upon ignorance than a full understanding of equality. It is not clear to
me if they are calling for social equality or legal equality. I would assume they don't mean physical

If we use what I've called owed rights then an animal gets free run of the society comparable to the way
some following Hinduism treat cows and rhesus monkeys. Without some kind of accountability enforced
upon the animal that has rights, human beings become to have fewer rights than the animal. Cows can
block traffic and eat up a gardener's work and monkeys can run rampant through one's home as they do in
some areas of India.

If we use what I've called no-interference rights and you violate another person that person may take action
to stop you. We cannot interfere with each other's rights. A human being that invades my garden at night
and takes my food, I can stop with physical action, at least in my part of the world.

The possession of rights is not without obligation. The rights that law bestows upon us must be used
responsibly and with accountability. My right to free speech can be terminated if I use it to knowingly and
willfully create panic in a theatre. Or at least I can be severely punished for using it that way. A human
violating my rights is culpable for that behavior and subject to counter action. If that violation is so
extreme as to threaten my life or limb, force can be used to stop it.

The argument that it's wrong to kill humans therefore it's wrong to kill animals is also bogus. It's not wrong
to kill humans. It's wrong to murder humans but the term murder is a legal definition applied to a limited
number of killings. Killing a human being under the justifiable homicide laws is not murder. To say it is,
is to spin the definition to something other than the legal term and avoid making a cogent argument. It's
wrong to commit murder because it violates one’s right to life. It isn’t wrong to commit justifiable
homicide because it stops an assailant from illegally doing an intended victim serious harm.

If you want me to modify my behavior you have to negotiate with me. Since I have the ability to use
language, even if I need an interpreter, you are legally and ethically compelled to talk to me first. I have to
first warn a human being raiding my garden because he has the ability to communicate with me over the
non-natural “bundle of rights” (real estate law term) that goes with my land.

If I had a mob of humans burning down and looting my neighbor’s homes, killing anyone not of the mob
and headed toward me, I could kill every last one of them. Any animal I can't negotiate with to achieve a
balance with their life and my rights, I can kill in defense of my right to exist. Exactly the way that I can
kill any human being that refuses to negotiate and tramples my right to exist.

The small pox germ can't be reasoned with to stop causing illness, so I can eradicate that life form. Deer
can't be taught how to not overpopulate and thus graze themselves into starvation. So I can thin the herd of
a few for the welfare of the whole. Humans are slowly finding themselves in the same situation. Limits in
China on the number of children a woman may give birth to is an example of thinning the human heard. If
humans refuse to negotiate with each other over our population level and sharing resources, war will result.
As we learn more about the environment and how to protect it, those that don't respect the needs of the
environment will be prosecuted and perhaps even executed if that truly be necessary, just as we treat
"invasive species" that damage the environment.

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So if you want to treat animals with the same rights as humans, teach the animals how to negotiate
boundary issues so the raccoons don't tear up my attic, rats won't infect me with fleas and disease, and wild
hogs don’t destroy the environment for everyone. I grant equal rights under those terms. Any animal I can
talk to directly about our respective personal needs and get respect for mine, I will respect the same. If you
want me to respect animals as if they are exactly the same as human beings, spend a summer in a
continuous, physical, intimate relationship with a wild grizzly bear and then we'll talk.

In the end I find most of the animal rights arguments to be highly unethical and used to cultivate abusive
relationships where animals get all the rights and none of the accountability putting me at being lower than
any animal. A raccoon will be free to tear up my roof, bust through my ceiling, eat my food, sleep in my
bed and defecate on my dinner table and I can do little or nothing.

According to the animal rightist if I do anything to disturb that raccoon, I’m violating its rights which
completely dismisses my right to not be disturbed. I’ll accept the idea of not causing severe injury to the
raccoon to protect my rights against his intrusion of them, unless nothing else works. Just as I’ll accept not
causing severe injury to a human being to protect my rights, unless nothing else works.

Most of the arguments I hear from animal rightist are severely dependent upon anthropomorphism. They
are simply projecting their own feelings, values and desires onto the animal. From what I’ve learned in
neurobiology we have no basis for assuming any animal conceives of the world the same way we do. We
can assert physical qualities such as responding to physical pain. But we can’t assert a longing for a longer
life or the recognition of being held captive as being identical to humans. The animal rightists that I’ve
encountered fail to make that distinction. They are trying to make legal and ethical claims on how they
would feel if they were a honey bee, not what the honey bee actually does feel.

Among my earliest experiences with animal rightists (some decades ago now) was reading that a group
broke into a lab to free all the lab bred rabbits by releasing them into the wild. From what I’ve read about
the science that can determine animal feelings and my own experience with setting a lab bred rat into the
wild, the rabbits were probably terrified of the strange surroundings and having no survival skills perished
from exposure or were easily eaten by predators. When confronted with this cruel treatment of the rabbits
the animal rightists simply said “well at least they had a taste of freedom”. That wasn't possible because
they couldn’t conceive of "freedom" in the manner the animal rightists were claiming. I’m sure many, if
not all, of the animal rightists reading this will agree with me that the horrid treatment of those rabbits by
that group of animal rightists is not what animal rights should be about. Thanks to animal rightism there is
better treatment of lab animals in terms of experiencing physical pain. At least from what the lab folks I’ve
talked with and the science articles I’ve read. Reducing cruelty against any life form is a valid, ethical
goal. But reducing cruelty and giving equal legal rights are two very different topics.

Hunting is another activity that animal rightists are dead set against. As argued earlier, if something is
unethical, it is unethical for all people, all times and all places. If it is acceptable for early humans to have
hunted animals for clothing and food, then it is acceptable for such to happen now. If all forms of hunting
are unethical now, then hunting isn't the ethic. It's something else and I'm not aware of any animal rightist
argument stating what that is.

It isn't considered unethical for a mountain lion to kill and eat a deer. It has evolved to live that way and
can't exist except as a predator. Feed a puma an herbivore's diet and it will eventually die from
malnutrition. Similarly, human beings prior to the development of agriculture couldn't have lived in the
environments they did without hunting. Animals provide nutrition that otherwise couldn't be had. The
Inuit of the artic regions are a good example of a people that must eat animals in order to simply survive.
Like the puma, it can't be unethical to do what is necessary to simply survive. Again if hunting is ethical
for the Inuit, or the many hunter-gather tribes in South American jungles, but not ethical for a citizen of a
developed nation, the ethic isn't hunting. It's the relationship that hunting has to the society. What would
that be?

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

Most everyone, including hunters, will agree that there are ways of hunting that can be unnecessarily cruel,
a causal factor in extinction or damaging to the environment and therefore should be prohibited. Regulated
hunting is used to maintain healthy animal populations and prevent damage by invasive species, and there
are people, even in this day of modern food production, that hunt for food out of necessity. Hunting would
not be necessary for preventing overgrazing or controlling invasive species if we could talk to those
animals and get them to agree to not reproduce too much or to board a plane to return to their place of

It's reasonable to accept all life as being entitled to a basic set of rights as long as they are in balance with
the ability to be accountable. Any animal that can negotiate as a human being should be treated in a similar
manner as a human being. Arguing that since it’s illegal to kill human beings, it should also be illegal to
kill animals is false because the justifiable homicide laws state when it is, in fact, legal to kill human
beings. It is reasonable to assume another human being's feelings are similar one’s own feelings and
cognitions. It is not reasonable to assume that of an animal. Their brains are constructed too differently. If
it was ethical for early man and the hunter-gatherers existing today to hunt animals for sustenance, it’s
ethical now and for all people, or there’s some inference or warrant that no animal rightist has ever pointed
out that is the ethic.

To Close

I chose the topic of animal rightism as an example to show how a person's belief of a basic issue affects
larger issues. Read the animal rights section again and look for the definition of a right and equality. Also
look for the implied definitions of fairness. Imagine what the animal rightist's counter arguments might be
and what beliefs of pacifism or non-violence might be tucked away between all the words. Many times the
real argument is never explicitly stated but implied by asserting debatable conclusions as fact.

Notice too, that some of the commonly accepted ideas here in the United States are directly questioned in
these series of arguments. Animal rights depend upon everyone being owed rights that are self-evident.
I've rejected that rights are self-evident. So the whole basis of part of the animal rightist's beliefs is
discarded for a more basic underlying issue. Many issues we face today are similarly dependent upon basic
issues that no one seems to question, yet are not agreed upon. My goal is to initiate a self-education
process where you, the reader, learn to tease out these issues and successfully address them.

I don't expect this document to teach all the critical thinking skills necessary for the future that we are
creating. It's merely an introduction. The last section of arguments are but a few paragraphs, yet whole
books could be, and I suppose have been, written on them. I encourage you to continue your own
education by exploring the materials listed below. Each item on the list also has source material to explore,
which will have sources you could probably spend a life time exploring. But you will get enough through
this list and the source materials of each item on this list to have a good education in critical thinking.

It's been said that now we've had the technological leap of the atomic bomb, we'll have to have a spiritual
leap to save our planet. I don't know what that leap will be. I do believe that all of us cooperating through
this process of argumentation will share our opposing views and find and make that leap.

Sources and recommended reading:



Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, Copyright 1992; Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 91-25616;
W.H. Freeman and Company, New York. This book is a detailed guide to the various techniques of
persuasion that is flooding our lives. Using the government, political campaigns, advertisers and the mass
media as examples of sources, the authors discuss the mechanisms of changing peoples beliefs and attitudes
regardless if the message is valid or not.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking


Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. Copyright 2007;
ISBN-13: 978-0-8109-9541-3, ISBN-10-0-8109-9541-7, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 115 West 18th Street,
New York, NY 10011. Source for the definition of Contextomy.
Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 40 West 20th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011, USA. Library of
Congress Catalog Card Number 95-13775, ISBN 0-521-48328-X Paperback.
Jami Sams first edition. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 97-52607 ISBN 0-06-251513-6,
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. Jami Sams describes seven
different paths to better spiritual understanding. She also warns of tricks and traps that lie along the way. A
useful guide to spiritualism for those of any religion. Source for the definition of Enlightenment Trap.
Copyright 1992, HarperCollins Publishers; 10 East 53rd Street; New York, NY 10022
LEARNED OPTIMISM by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph. D., Copyright 1990, Library of Congress Catalog
Card Number 91-34235; Alfred A Knopf, Inc 201 East 50th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022. Martin
Seligman is the leading researcher into the psychological phenomena of “Learned-Helplessness.” He also
was among the first to disprove the theories of behaviorism. Learned-helplessness is where a person has the
means and ability to address a problem but acts helpless because he believes that he is helpless. LEARNED
OPTIMISM is a detailed explanation of how helplessness is induced into the human mind and how a
person can avoid learning helplessness or after becoming helpless, reverse the process and become self-
MAN AND HIS SYMBOLS edited by Carl G. Jung and after his death M.-L. Von Franz.
Coordinating Editor: John Freeman. Contributing Authors: Joseph L. Henderson; Jolande Joacobi; Aniela
Jaffe’, A Laurel Book, Dell Publishing; Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1540 Broadway;
New York, New York 10036; copyright 1964; ISBN0-440-35183-9
THROUGH JOKES by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. Copyright 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0-8109-
1493-3, ISBN-10: 08109-1493-X, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 115 West 18th Street, New York, NY, 10011.
Fisher, Ph.D. Copyright 2009, ISBN 978-0-465-01884-0, Basic Books, 387 Park Avenue South, New
York, N.Y. 10016-8810. Source for Main Characteristics of Groupthink, definition of Groupthink, and Six
Core Principles of Social Influence.
THE POLITICS OF NONVIOLENT ACTION by Gene Sharp. Copyright 1973; Library of Congress
Catalog Card Number 72-95483; Extending Horizons Books, Porter Sargent Publisher; 11 Beacon St.,
Boston, Ma. 02108 A three volume set of books with the subtitles of Power and Struggle, The Methods
of Nonviolent Action and The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action devoted to the view that no government
can exist without the support of the people. Even oppressive governments must have the support of the
majority and do so by inducing helplessness on to the population as a whole. The book outlines methods of
nonviolent political action where the majority can always influence or even topple a government.


Fogelin (third edition) Copyright 1987; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., Orlando, Florida 32887 Library
of Congress Catalog Card Number: 85-82635
SUCCESSFUL SELF-IMPROVEMENT by Martin E.P. Seligman. Copyright 1993, Library of
Congress Catalog Card Number: 94-94641, ISBN 0-449-90971-9, a Fawcett Columbine Book published by
Ballantine Books, division of Random House, Inc., New York. Written for the layman much more so than
his other books it explains the methods of cognitive therapy. While it isn’t quite a self help book it does
facilitate self analysis. It covers the same materials of Learned Optimism and Helplessness.

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking


SCREENWRITERS by Christopher Vogler, Micheal Wiese Productions, 11288 Ventura Boulevard,
Suite #821, Studio City, Ca. 91604. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 92-37885, ISBN 0-941188-
13-2. Presented as a manual for successful story plot construction, it also is the story of the path of one’s
life. It is the hero’s journey broken down into basic steps whether he is taking out the garbage or on a quest
to save the world. Within each of us is a hero and this book is his story.



Zaresky, Northwestern University. A video and audio course on formal and informal logic available
through the Teaching Company, 4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100, Chantilly, VA. 20151-1232, 1-


2nd Edition, by Professor Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University. A video and audio course on the neural
biological sense of self, available through the Teaching Company, 4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100,
Chantilly, VA. 20151-1232, 1-800-832-2412,

CONSCIOUSNESS AND ITS IMPLICATIONS, taught by Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Oxford

University. A video and audio course on the nature of human consciousness, available through the
Teaching Company, 4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100, Chantilly, VA. 20151-1232, 1-800-2412, Source for the definition of Explanatory Gap.


Professor Robert C. Solomon, The University of Texas at Austin. A video and audio course on emotional
intelligence available through the Teaching Company, 4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100, Chantilly,
VA. 20151-1232, 1-800-832-2412,

QUESTIONS OF VALUE, taught by Professor Patrick Grim, State University of New York at Stony
Brook. A video and audio course on value judgement available through the Teaching Company, 4151
Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100, Chantilly, VA. 20151-1232, 1-800-832-2412,

SCIENCE AND RELIGION, taught by Professor Lawrence M. Principe, Johns Hopkins University, A
video and audio course on the relationship between science and religion available through the Teaching
Company, 4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100, Chantilly, VA. 20151-1232, 1-800-832-2412,


REASON, taught by Professor James Hall, University of Richmond. A video and audio course on
effective reasoning available through the Teaching Company, 4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100,
Chantilly, VA. 20151-1232, 1-800-832-2412,


DISCOVER MAGAZINE, 90 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10011, interview with Steven Pinker, page
52, definition of “combinatorics”, Citizen Heal Thyself page 73, definition of “survivor effect”

A Quick Reference for Critical Thinking

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN , The Puzzle of Conscious Experience, David J. Chalmers, December

1995. Definitions of Structural Coherence and Organizational Invariance.

Patterniciy: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise, Michael Shermer, December

2008. Definition of Patternicity.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND March/April 2010 issue, 75 Varick Street, 9th Floor, New
York, New York 10013-1917, The Power To Persuade by Kevin Dutton, page 24. Source for six
core principles of social influence.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN REPORTS, Special Edition on Child Development, Septmeber 11,

2007. Article by Valerie F. Reyna and Frank Farley, Is The Teen Brain Too Rational?, page 65
Definitions of Verbatim Reasoning and Gist Reasoning.

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW, One Main Street, 7th Floor, Cambridge MA 0242, July/August 2010
issue, On Risk, Jason Pontin, page 10, Definition of the Precautionary Principle.