Reasoning, truth and critical analysis

I found some notes I used to help first year students. They are helpful – albeit basic.

Reasoning, truth, and critical analysis

Be suspicious of claims of absolute truth.

  • Relative truths are another matter.
  • You cannot assume that your worldview is the same as anyone else’s.
  • Rationality is usually with people who share the same rules (ideology) that you do. That is why rationality does not always work—consider, for example, the situation in Israel and Palestine.
  • Claims of absolute truth terminate the argument and close down social enquiry.

We seldom say exactly what we mean and we seldom mean exactly what we say and, in some instances, this is used to manipulate.

In advertising, for example, the conclusion is often insinuated, implied or otherwise hidden. Why? Because the advertiser wants you to convince yourself! However, if you reveal the hidden conclusion you can be aware of what is happening. You can do this by looking for gaps in the argument—indicator words often signal these gaps. Hidden premises are more difficult to find than hidden or insinuated conclusions. Hidden premises tend to be “within” the discourse (ideology) and assumed to be “self-evident”. Learning to recognise hidden premises is one way of thinking critically.

Think in terms of restructuring the language and the discourse; develop your critical analysis skills and learn to recognise the argument.

Evaluating reasoning requires hidden premises and conclusions to be made explicit. Therefore, do not construct arguments with hidden premises and conclusions.

Understanding Scope and Certainty

In written or spoken argument, be cautious using words such as ‘all’ and ‘everybody’, even by implication.

Some truth is immutable – the sun always rises in the east – but in general, and particularly in an academic essay, certainty weakens your argument. This is because there is generally someone (or some situation) that does not fit into a broad or generalised category or statement. Therefore, bear in mind that the exception does not ‘prove the rule’. The exception destroys certainty!

  • All (or everybody) = 100%, therefore ‘certainty’ (a dodgy assumption)
  • Most = highly likely
  • Many = probable
  • Some = possible
  • Few = barely possible
  • None (or nobody) = 100%, therefore ‘certainty’ (a dodgy assumption)


You can see the danger of stereotyping is evident in the first and last points.

What is Stereotyping?

Assumptions and judgements made about others based on unsubstantiated evidence – such as gender, skin colour, language and dress.

The judgement is often negative

It is usually accompanied by prejudiced thinking

Giddens defines stereotypical thinking as “Thought processes involving rigid and inflexible categories” (1989, 750).

Other terms that are useful when discussing stereotyping and other questions relevant to cross-cultural topics:

Ethnocentrism: uncritically presupposing the superiority of one’s own group

Cultural relativism: judging actions of members of other societies by standards which are not theirs

Enculturation: process whereby we are brought up to be members of our culture

Acculturation: cultural change emerging from interaction of two or more societies


Giddens, Anthony (1989) Sociology, Cambridge, Polity.

Reasoning, truth and critical analysis

In memory of James Tate

In memory of James Tate, American poet extraordinaire. 1943-2015

It Happens Like This

I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night. 
In memory of James Tate