Studies in Critical Thinking

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2024-07-10 00:00:04

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Arguments manage meanings. Normally an argument begins with something that is already known or agreed upon, and then proceeds to a conclusion that is “new” in some sense. This movement from given to new is characteristic of all social arguments. The only exception might be perfectly deductive arguments, where all the information is already understood to be contained somehow in the premises. Informal (or social) arguments involve some sort of inference, a going-beyond what is strictly expressed in the premises. By moving to a new proposition or thought, the argument can create a new meaning for someone, or reinforce an old meaning, or refute an inappropriate meaning. Arguments manage meanings.

One particularly valuable sort of meaning is a generalization. A generalization summarizes or characterizes material that is more singular than it is. If the singular things are few and straightforward, the generalization isn’t especially useful (e.g., “My parents both like fruit pies” isn’t much more convenient than “Mom and Dad both like fruit pies”). But the real value (and threat, but we will come to that when we discuss stereotypes) of a generalization is when it does a lot of work by summarizing too many things to think about at once (e.g., “Some thoughtful adults in nearly every human generation and culture have complained that younger people are lazy and self-centered”).

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