This course is designed to improve your ability to make and evaluate arguments. The skills that we are going to cover are easy to understand, but hard to master. A considerable amount of practice is required, so it is sensible to ask, is it worth the effort
Distinguishing good arguments from bad helps us make better judgments and avoid the pitfalls of bad reasoning. In almost everything you do, poor argument analysis can have serious consequences.
Intelligence analysts, for example, require exceptional reasoning skills and the lack of clear argumentation can hinder national security. In 2005 the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission reported:
Perhaps most troubling, we found an Intelligence Community in which analysts have a difficult time stating their assumptions up front, explicitly explaining their logic, and, in the end, identifying unambiguously for policymakers what they do not know.Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission
Clearly stating your assumptions, clearly explaining your logic, and unambiguously identifying what you don’t know are three of the skills this course aims to develop.
Clear thinking is a general skill. It doesn’t matter what you are reasoning about, the general principles and associated problems of argument analysis apply to any argument, regardless of subject matter.
Even if you are already good at argument analysis, you probably can improve with the right kind of practice.
For improving critical thinking, the right type of practice involves argument mapping.
Argument mapping is a way of graphically representing the logical structure of someone’s reasoning. An argument map helps you understand the evidence for and against a claim and can help decide if you should accept the claim. Argument maps work because the visual representation an argument’s logical structure makes it easier to display and investigate. For example, argument maps make it very easy to isolate individual steps in the argument for evaluation, which is one of the most crucial and difficult critical thinking skills.
An additional benefit of argument mapping is that it makes discussing arguments much easier and aids the teaching of critical thinking because your class facilitator and fellow participants can more readily see exactly what your reasoning is. This allows for the rapid and reliable feedback needed for deliberate practice. (For evidence on the effectiveness of argument mapping see the relevant section in this short paper by Tim van Gelder or this longer paper by Charles Twardy.)