In this section, you will find concise definitions of the technical
terms used at this worksite. For more information about these terms,
please consult the UI
Critical Thinking Handbook.
- Abductive Argument: (Also inference
to the best explanation.) The reasons in these arguments
present clues, often widely disparate, and the conclusion is the
"best explanation" available for these clues.
- Analogy, Argument by: In these
arguments, the conclusion about one issue is supported by reasons the
point out how a different but structurally similar issue generates a
- Argument: (a) A set of sentences, one of
which is the conclusion and the others the reasons that
are given in support of the conclusion. (b) the activity of
pressing a claim, often supported by arguments understood in sense
- Argument Content: What an argument
- Argument Context: The setting in
which an argument is produced. Coherence with context is one
measure of the quality of an argument.
- Argument Flow: This is the content
and structure based connectivity among argument steps. It is
measured by how smoothly one is conveyed step to step from the first
reason through to the conclusion.
- Argument Form: See argument
- Argument Step: Either a reason or a
- Argument Structure: The relationships
that exist among the elements of an argument that make it the case
that the truth of the reasons supports the truth of the
conclusion. These elements can be the sentences themselves, or
parts of the sentences, such as names, predicates, etc.
- Certainty Producing Arguments (CPA): (Also
deductive arguments.) These arguments are intended to produce
their conclusions with certainty. If the reasons of a CPA are
true, then the conclusion must be true, if the CPA is a good
one. The standard used to distinguish good CPAs from bad is validity.
- Charity, Attitude of: This is the
attitude you should adopt when reconstructing an argument. It
amounts to giving the arguer the benefit of the doubt, up to the point
where you have identified and reconstructed their argument.
- Claim: A truth-evaluable content
expressed by a sentence. That is, what the sentence says.
- Conclusion: The main claim pressed
by an argument. This will be supported by reasons.
- Conclusion Marker: This is a term
whose primary purpose is to mark conclusions in arguments.
Examples of conclusion markers include: 'therefore', 'thus', 'hence',
'as a result', 'in that case', 'then', 'so', 'accordingly', 'the
bottom line', 'as a consequence', and 'for this reason'.
- Confirmation Argument: In these
arguments, you derive a hypothesis from your theory and then test it;
if the observations you make support your hypothesis, then it counts
as a confirmed conclusion.
- Construction: When you present an
argument, you construct it either before or while you give it.
This amounts to putting the pieces together into a whole argument that
does the job of rendering the conclusion compelling.
- Content: See argument content.
- Context: See argument context.
- Counterexample: An example given to
establish the invalidity of a CPA. It involves specifying a
situation in which the reasons are true but the conclusion is
false. This demonstrates that it is not the case that the
conclusion must be true if the reasons are.
- Critical Thinking: Thinking that involves
the principled application of standards and criteria in the evaluation
of practical and theoretical options for the purpose of reaching
conclusions about those options.
- Deductive Arguments: See certainty
- Discourse Context: The conversation or
other linguistic event surrounding the production of an argument and
to which the argument is typically intended as a relevant and
- Evaluation: The third stage of critical
thinking that involves assessing the quality of an argument.
- Explicit Step: An argument step
that is explicitly expressed by the arguer in the medium in which the
argument is delivered (e.g., video, audio, written text, etc.).
- Fallacy: A form of reasoning that is
generally bad, although it is often used and often passes as
- Flow: See argument flow.
- Following: In a CPA, a conclusion follows
the reasons just in case it must be true if the reasons are
true. (See also valid.)
- Form: Argument form. See argument
- Formal Logic: See logic.
- Identification: The first stage in
critical thinking where one recognizes the presence of an argument and
then locates the explicit steps, including the conclusion and the
- Implicit Step: An essential step of an
argument that is left unstated. One must get to it by
"reading between the lines" or by identifying unstated
- Inductive Argument: An argument the
conclusion of which is a generalization from similar observations or
other similar data points, which serve as reasons.
- Inference to the Best Explanation:
See abductive argument.
- Intentional Context: The plan execution of
which results in the production of an argument by an arguer. The
argument is typically intended to further the plan, making achievement
of its goal more likely.
- Invalid: Not valid.
- Irrelevant Claims: Claims that are not relevant.
- Logic: The study of argument structure, or
more specifically, patterns of inference and the standards that
distinguish good patterns from bad (i.e., truth conducting patterns
from those that do not conduct truth).
- Logical Constants: Terms such as 'and',
'or', 'not', and 'if ... then' that connect or operate on
- Non-Deductive Arguments: See probability
- Practical Context: The actions or
activities that surround the production of an argument and to which
the argument is intended as a contribution.
- Premise: See reason.
- Probability Producing Arguments (PPA): (Also
non-deductive arguments.) In these arguments, the reasons
are intended to increase the probability that their conclusions are
true. That is, if the reasons are true in a PPA, then there will
be a high probability that the conclusion is true if the
argument is a good one. These are evaluated in terms of strength.
- Reason: (Also premise.)
A claim given in support of a conclusion.
- Reason Marker: This is a term whose
primary function is to indicate the presence of a reason. Reason
markers include: 'because', 'since', 'for', 'in light of', 'reason',
'assume', 'according to', 'considering', 'by', 'if', and 'in fact'.
- Reconstruction: The process of identifying
the explicit and implicit steps in an argument given by another and
then putting them together in a form that indicates how the reasons
fit together and how they are intended to support their
conclusion. Also, the second stage of critical thinking in which
this is done.
- Relevant Claims: A claim is relevant just
in case it is about the topic of the argument and its truth bears on
the overall quality of the argument.
- Soundness: A CPA will be sound just
in case it is valid and all of its reasons are true.
- Standard Form: A form used in
argument reconstruction. All of the steps (explicit and
implicit) are numbered. The reasons are ordered so that they
flow from the first to the last, and they are separated by a
horizontal line from the conclusion.
- Step: See argument step.
- Strawman Fallacy: This is committed during
reconstruction if you render an opponent's argument in a form that is
weaker than what they actually presented, whether you do this
intentionally or not.
- Strength: The standard used to
evaluate PPAs. A PPA will be strong just in case its conclusion
is highly probable given the truth of its reasons. What will
count as strong will vary from context to context.
- Structure: See argument structure.
- Thematic Coherence: Sentences or
claims will be thematically coherent just in case they are about the
same topic or theme, broadly speaking. The looseness of the
relations among the sentences will vary from context to context.
- Validity: An evaluative standard applied
to CPAs. A CPA is valid just in case its conclusion must be true
given that its reasons are.