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May 31, 2014
Since attending the workshop on Critical Thinking, I have tried to improve my critical faculties.
Over the last few weeks I have learned that critical evaluation is key not only to education at a Masters Level but to all aspiring academics and students.
My first action point was to critically analyse historical arguments within my research. Over the last few weeks I have learned that comparing & contrasting arguments within the same subject allows for a better understanding of the chosen topic. This in turn allowed me to write a more balanced work.
My second action point was to learn of the numerous illogical fallacies commonly used in debates. Such a knowledge has been useful as a diagnostic tool in identifying strong or weak arguments.
My third action point was to critically analyse and challenge political discussions on tv and radio. By looking deep into the UKIP and EU debate, I even found faults with people I generally agreed with.
The workshop and the three actions points outlined above, have taught me the importance of critical thinking in evaluating arguments. Critical and analytical tools are key to evaluating what is a good and bad argument as well evaluating what is a logical and illogical argument.
I believe over the last few weeks I have improved my critical and analytical skills by engaging in as many debates & discussions as I possibly could (whether they be in books, tv, radio or day to day conversations). I hope to use what I have learned and improve my critical faculties in the rest of my Masters degree and in other fields there after.
May 14, 2014
My Third Action Point was to critically analyse and challenge political discussions on tv and radio.
Over the last 5 to 6 weeks, I have been following many political debates on tv (such as Question Time) and on radio (particularly Radio 4).
Recently I have engaged with many topical debates such as the housing crisis in the UK and the Eastern European crisis in Ukraine. However, them main political debate I have engaged in over the past month or so has surrounded UKIP and the EU. I have followed much of the debate on UKIP and the proposed referendum on EU membership and I have engaged both with pro and anti-EU arguments.
I have looked at the significant differences between both polarized views and have analysed what is potential right and wrong with them.
Much of the UKIP arguments consist of populist views which sets out an ideological slippery slope in which the UK is supposedly heading for disaster. UKIP's political manifesto can also be accused of scaring the public into voting in favour oh their party. Moreover, UKIP rely heavily on the debate of immigration and don't look at any other aspects of the EU.
The focus on immigration, however, is partly the fault of UKIP's extreme opposition. This opposition claims UKIP is a racist party because it raises the question of immigration. However, it is clear that immigration can be considered a major problem in the UK without being racist. UKIP's opposition would be far better off by outlining the EU's major benefits such as its functionalist common market and Western Europe's seventy years of peace (a miracle by European History's standards).
However, the opposition is right in the sense that UKIP seems to attract unpleasant individuals. The premise seems to get stronger the more UKIP scandals are revealed. On the face of it, UKIP appear like old tories trying to pull the clock back to a time when the UK had a more global role that it has now. The truth is, as a global super power, the UK has already had its day and should look to integrate more with other European countries.
That said, the opposition has been guilty of getting dragged into an ugly debate where the term "racist" is applied to anyone who questions the EU. As a pro-EU person myself, I believe UKIP's opposition would be far better off in this debate if their arguments were put to better more sensible use. As outlined above, there are plenty more benefits to the EU that UKIP would struggle to argue against.
Having engaged with both sides of a debate like the EU for the last few weeks on tv and radio, I have found I have a more accomplished, well rounded and stronger argument in favour of the EU than I did before.
May 10, 2014
My Second Action Point was to complete the practice paper on logical fallacies and try to identify them in political or academic debates.
Having practiced and completed the exercise sheet on logical fallacies, given to us in the workshop, I have found that now I can outline and detect inconsistencies in my research and in general political debates I see on television (such as Question Time).
I have learned of the wide variety of common pitfalls of thinking. From over-generalisations and bad analogies to naturalistic fallacies and euqivocations, I have learned that there are numerous logical fallacies that people use. This in turn has taught me that people's arguments can be considered weak for many different reasons, some of which can combine two or more logical fallacies together at one time.
Not only can I now identify the pitfalls in weak arguments, this outline of logical fallacies has also helped me avoid slipping into them when writing or simply discussing topics with a fellow MA student.
An outline of logical fallacies has given me a kind of diagnostic tool to help identify what makes an argument weak by showing what holes in falls into.
May 03, 2014
My First action point for the Introduction to Critical Thinking Workshop was to critically analyse historians' arguments within my research.
I have just completed my Spring term essay on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the beginning of the Summer Term. Having written 5,000 words on the subject, a lot of research went into my work which in turn allowed me to compare and contrast many different historians' points of view. My essay tried to answer whether or not the declaration was a document inspired by good human sentiment or whether it was a mere conservate power tool.
With the origins and motivations behind Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 being a highly contentious historical issue, my research comprised of hugely contrasting sources. Because the UN Declaration and its political organs are so hotly contested, it seems human rights historians had very polarized views on the same issue.
These two camps of historical analysis allowed me to compare one historian's take of the declaration to another. Likewise I could compare historians within the same historical camp and see how their arguments resembled each other or differed.
By doing this comparison, I found similarly constructed arguments with similar logical steps. I also found out which arguments were the most effective and logical on both sides of the argument. Moreover by comparing the best arguments from both sides of the argument, I found out how to effectively argue different points of view from the same issue.
This comparison of historical arguments has taught me how important it is to take a different perspectives on one subject. Furthermore, by comparing and engaging with conflicting arguments, I found that my final conclusion (that the Universal declaration was indeed a product of a conservative order but still contained deeply felt human sentiment) was a more accomplished, balanced and logical ending to my overall thesis. Arguments are strongest when they have been scrutinized and been through critical analysis from different angles of thought.
April 06, 2014
Workshop Tutor: Lisa Faulkner
In the Critical Thinking Workshop, we were shown the importance of thinking critically at MA level. We were shown that critical evaluation was perhaps the key aspect of a Masters Degree.
In order to practice our critical skills, we were firstly given example job adverts to scrutinize. After that, we were given passages of texts that described human behaviour in different species of birds. Our task was to decifer what was plausible and what was not plausible.
We were then taken through example exercises of logical or illogical statements. Bearing in mind the validity of arguments, our task was to work out what was a logical statement and what was an illogical statement. We learnt that even if an argument were invalid, it coud still be logical as long as the conclusion followed its premises. In order to challenge us further, we were shown even more complicated examples which could be construed in different ways. In a similarly difficult manner, our next task was to work out the premises and conclusion of an argument from a passage, no matter how muddled it was.
The workshop ended by showing some of the most common logical fallacies people use in everyday arguments and discussions. We left the workshop with a sheet of example exercises to do at home, in order to improve our critical deciphering of illogical arguments.
I believe the workshop gave a good summary of the importance of critical thinking in a Masters degree and in every day life in general. The workshop gave us the critical and analytical tools in order to evaluate what are strong and weak statements as well as what are logical and illogical arguments.
My First Action Point will be to see how writers construct their arguments and to see whether or not they are always logical in the next 3 to 4 weeks.
While reading and researching for my remaining essay and dissertation, in the next 3 to 4 weeks I will try to critically evaluate how history writers construct and argue their points and whether they do it effectively or not.
My Second Action point will be to complete the exercise sheet on logical fallacies and try to identify these in every day debates over the next 4 to 5 weeks.
My Third Action Point will be to analyse and challenge political debates and discussions on tv and radio over the next 5 to 6 weeks.
Closely linked to my Second Action Point, I will try to challenge the arguments I read in history books and the arguments I hear on the radio and tv. By challenging arguments such as political debates, I will be able to see if they really stack up and then conclude whether or not they are strong or weak arguments.
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