Monday, March 30, 2009

Cultivating Expertise In Informal Reasoning


Argument mapping technology was introduced in a quasi-study of informal reasoning of first year university students in Australia. Operating under the premise that informal reasoning "appears at quite an early age and continues to develop through secondary and tertiary education...few people manage to become highly proficient." Informal reasoning was likened to a social tennis player: without dedicated practice and guidance, the athlete will never reach full potential. Thus, after initial training "experience in a domain is not related to the level of expertise."

Van Gelder argues informal reasoning skills are achieved to the extent that one engages in large amounts of deliberate go beyond ordinary competence. He postulated an increase in informal reasoning practice would have a positive effect on overall reasoning skills. To test his postulation, he utilized argument mapping software as a method to used in conventional logic instruction. The main benefit of using argument maps was to "enhance the quantity and quality of feedback" in reasoning activity.

The results of his study indicate students made substantial gains in informal reasoning skills. Participants gained approximately as much over one semester as they would have over 3-4 years of university study. Also, the amount of gain was positively to amount of practice.

The author does admit the results do not establish that deliberate practice is necessary for advanced expertise in informal reasoning.
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Analyzing Framing Processes by Means of Logical Argument Mapping


The article begins by discussing 'framing' as a concept. Each individual has a certain way of cognitively limiting the issue he/she is arguing for/against. Hoffman directly quotes Schon and Rein by stating "frames must be constructed by someone, and those who construct not do so from positions of unassailable frame-neutrality." In other words, Schon and Rein state arguers bring their own cognitive bias into the topic he/she argues for/against.

Hoffman's goal is to show that logical argument mapping (LAM) use as an analytical tool centers on "the analysis of framing processes as they are visible in texts, narratives, and communication." The analysts using this tool is required to impose logical consistency to the argument in question to prevent premature simplification, as well as understanding the arguer's implicit beliefs. This allows the analyst to think along the lines of "if p then q."

LAM is useful for detecting core beliefs when ad hoc hypothesis are presented. Hoffman states ad hoc hypothesis "main function is to keep systems of belief consistent without changing core assumptions." Such hypothesis are formulated when a piece of contradictory evidence is introduced which challenges core assumptions.

Hoffman then provides a process for conducting a LAM analysis. First the analyst must locate the central claim for a position. This represents the conclusion of an argument. Next, the analyst must extrapolate true and logical reasons which support the central claim. The analyst then must form a warrant, a statement which "justifies the step from a reason to a claim" so that "the conclusion must necessarily be true."

The warrant is the most important step in LAM for three reasons. First, it reveals the arguer's core implicit beliefs. Second, it is used to scrutinize the overall argument's soundness. Last, the warrant is used to justify or reject controversial arguments.

LAM's weaknesses are presented as well. First, the arguer must produce reasons for their claims, troublesome in verbal interactions. Also, the analyst must be able to interpret the argument, however this is more of a language usage issue.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Decision Mapping Easier Than Argument Mapping?

The explores the differences between decision mapping and argument mapping, two very similar techniques with a fundamental difference. Whereas argument mapping is applied to an argument, decision mapping is used to determine "choices between multiple possible actions." As an example of each, the author draws both a decision map and an argument map based on a recent New York Times article by Col. Muammar Qaddafi proposing a peace plan for the Middle East.

After applying both techniques to Col. Qaddafi's proposition (which was the creation of "Isratine" - a joint Isreali/Palestinian state), the author found that the decision map was easier to develop than the argument map. Part of this was due to the nature of the piece being analyzed : an article in someone else's words. "The translation from prose to decision map was much more straightforward than the translation from prose to argument map. In the latter case, there seemed to be far more discretion about how to do it, and hence a much higher level of effort and expertise was required to determine which of the approaches would be 'right' or best. "

The author expresses his surprise that the decision map was easier to develop, although he concedes that the subject of the exercise may have had alot to do with that. If decision mapping is, in fact, generally easier than argument mapping, he states that the following would be true as well:
  • Decision mapping should find faster and wider uptake than argument mapping
  • From a pedagogical or training perspective, decision mapping should be introduced first, with argument mapping treated as a more advanced subject.
In a comment to the blog, a reader notes that he, too, finds decision mapping to be easier to use than argument mapping. He points out "For some reason argument mapping seems to be so much more dependent on language and context and is perhaps more prone to making mistakes." He explains that it is possible to mis-represent the author of an argument when constructing the argument map due to the tendency to want to "close the gaps automatically even if the original text doesn’t necessarily support it. " He further states that the first step of the decision mapping process is the most crucial, i.e. "sizing up the situation appropriately." The author responds, stating that that first step is critical, although he has no advice as to how to make sure you go about it correctly.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

No Computer Program Required: Even Pencil-And-Paper Argument Mapping Improves Critical Thinking Skills

Harrell, Maralee. Teaching Philosophy, Dec2008, Vol. 31 Issue 4, p351-374, 24p

The author explains that after she "stumbled across" Tim van Gelder's argument mapping software Reason!Able, she became intrigued as to how little she truly understood her own arguments she made while teaching philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University. According to the author, "I found, to my surprise, that I did not understand these arguments as well as I thought I had, and that the mapping was forcing me to analyze and synthesize in a way that I had never done before." The author explains how, especially in philosophy, arguments are not linear, and by applying argument mapping techniques it is possible to analyze different areas of the argument that one may not have seen previously and identify area that are not as well developed.

The author notes several rules to be used in the development of argument maps. First, look for premise and conclusion indicators. Examples include "since, because, for, given that; and some
common conclusion indicators are: therefore, thus, so, hence." Second, rewrite statements as individual sentences. Third, make sure to include all premises and conclusions; leave nothing to be implied. Lastly, "clearly indicate the difference between premises that need to be combined in order to support a conclusion, and premises that are each separate reasons to believe a conclusion."

The author, after incorporating argument mapping via paper-and-pencil diagrams, saw a marked improvement in her students critical thinking abilities and analysis skills. In order to further test the validity of the method, argument mapping techniques were taught in 5 out of 9 introductory philosophy courses at Carnegie Mellon, whereas those methods were not taught in the remaining 4. The goal was twofold: "The first is that all of our students, no matter how they are taught, are gaining argument analysis skills by taking our introductory course. This is important to know if we are then going to inquire which students gained more. This hypothesis implies that, on average, all students in introductory philosophy will exhibit significant improvement on argument analysis tasks over the course of the semester. The second hypothesis is that the ability to construct argument maps that accurately reflect the text they are analyzing is a considerable aid for improving students’ argument analysis skills (more of an aid that being able to represent an argument some other way). This second hypothesis implies that students who are able to construct argument diagrams and use them during argument analysis tasks should perform better on these tasks than students who do not have this ability." Although some students did use computer software, most used the paper-and-pencil method.

The first hypothesis was confirmed: all students in the study, whether they used argument mapping or not, increased to some degree their argument analysis abilities by virtue of being in the class. The second hypothesis was confirmed as well: students who used argument mapping techniques, did in fact, improve their argument analysis abilities to a greater degree then those that did not employ the technique.

The author concludes by stating that although many tools are available to conduct argument mapping, the method itself is effective no matter what tool is used. In fact, various tools were used during the study at the discretion of the student and instructor. "In our course, instructors and students are free to use any kind of medium they prefer to build argument maps. Some instructors use computer software, while others use the chalk board or overhead slides; similarly some students use one of a variety of drawing programs, while others use just pencils and paper. Our results show that the argument mapping skill, no matter how the maps are produced, is an important part of the gains in argument analysis abilities our students achieve. While on average all of the students in each of the lectures improved their abilities on these tasks over the course of the semester, the most dramatic improvements were made by the students who were able to construct argument maps." Thus, the visual representation of the argument itself was more important than the tool used to develop that image.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Lessons From Cognitive Science

Tim van Gelder College Teaching Vol. 53/No. 1

This article discusses six lessons learned from teaching critical thinking. The lessons are: Critical thinking is hard; practice in critical-thinking skills themselves enhances skills; the transfer of skills must be practiced; some theoretical knowledge is required; diagramming arguements (argument mapping) promotes skill; students are prone to belief preservation.

Lesson 1: Critical Thiking Is Hard
Van Gelder cites author Deanna Kuhn who in her the book The Skills of Argument concludes that most most people cannot demonstrate basic skills in making arguments and reasoning. Gelder goes on to explain how humans never evolved to be critical thinkers. Critical thinking is a complicated skill that is built out of simpler skills. Gelder conlcudes lesson one by comparing the difficulty of critical thinking with the difficulty of learning second language.

Lesson 2: Practice Makes Perfect
Because critical thinking is a skill, it is not enough to learn about theories and concepts. Students must take part in activities with the intention of improving their critical thinking skills, and these activities along with feedback must be continuous.

Lesson 3: Practice For Transfer
The problem of transfering a skill to multiple diciplines is difficult in all fields. Gelder believes that critical thinking skills are especially susceptable to the problems of transfer because of its generalist nature. The solution according to Gelder is to teach transfer of critical thinking from one subject to another as a skill in critical thinking.

Lesson 4: Practical Theory
Gelder opens this lesson by discussing how if most beer drinkers knew more about the elements of what is in beer and how it is made, they would have more appreciation for beer. Similiar to greater appreciation of beer, someone who knows more about the theory of critical thinking is more likely to appreciate it. Gelder beleives that students do not receive enough instruction about theory in critical thinking, however, he does consider it a mistake to think that a student can develop critical thinking skills exclusively through the study of theory.

Lesson 5: Map It Out
Arguments are presented in spoken or written words. Evidence supporting an argument can be broken down into hierarchical structures. It is these structures that can be diagrammed. The more complicated the argument, the more useful a visual representation can be. Gelder backs this assertion from studies comparing students of critical thinking who used argument maps and those who did not. Students using visual argument maps showed greater improvement in crtitical thinking skills.

Lesson 6: Belief Preservation
Gelder discusses how cognitive bias and "blindspots" either from evolution or societal influence, "...corrupt our thinking and contaminate our beliefs." He likens awareness of these features as being as important to critical thinkers as adjusting aim for windage is for archers. According to Gelder belief preservation is the most prominent form of bias. People will lower the status of evidence in their minds if it contradicts their beliefs. A good critical thinker must be aware of these bias.

Creation Of A National Institute For Analytic Methods

Steven Rieber and Neil Thomas

Article Summary
Rieber and Thomas begin the article with criticism of recent commissions from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Special Presidential Commission on Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction. Both commissions recommended creating positions for "mission managers" or subject matter experts. Rieber goes on to explain and give examples of how expert opinions are often wrong despite years of experience and that the only way to know if "conventional wisdom" is correct, there must be in depth scientific study of the subject matter. Both commissions mentioned above advocate greater use of devil's advocacy in intelligence analysis however they do not cite any research validating the method. Rieber cites the book Groupthink by Irving Janis who argues that devil's advocacy can create a false sense of comfort that their decision making is sound just because they considered an opposite viewpoint and that their original policy choice has stood-up to scrutiny.

Rieber and Thomas argue that "The first element in improving the process of improving analysis is to find out what the existing scientific research says." From their research they identify argument mapping as one of the most promising method to "improve human judgment."

The way a method should prove itself is by being subjected to scientific studies that to control for outside influences, point out causation from correlation, and reveal significant facts. It also needs to determined to what extent the method improves analytical judgements and in which domains (political, economic, military,). The method needs to be teachable, and analysts must be willing to use the method.

The article continues by advocating for the creation of a National Institute for Analytical Methods (NIAM). The institute's function would be similar to that of the National Institute of Health (NIH). The NIH conducts its own research as well as funds research. With the right funding and staffing a NIAM could provide continued evidenced based insight about various methods of analysis that could show potential for the intelligence community.

Author's Note: At the time of this article's publication in 2005 Steven Rieber was a scholar at the Kent Center for Analytic Tradecraft. He co-wrote this article with Neil Thomas who is a lecturer in Philosophy of Science and History at the University of Melbourne. It is important to note that Tim van Gelder is Principal Fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Melbourne and is an instrumental force in the development of critical thinking and argument mapping teaching methods and software. His work is cited several times in this article.

During a class discussion Professor Wheaton asked if any of us had come across the name Steven Rieber in our research of articles relating to argument mapping. He then explained to the class that Steven Rieber currently works as an analytic methodologist at the Office of Analytic Integrity and Standards within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Rieber has instituted the teaching of argument mapping into the DNI analysts training curriculum. Because the above article was published in 2005 and that argument mapping was only method mentioned more than once, out the seven suggested, it is highly likley that argument mapping passed most of the criteon mentioned above for being a viable method for better intelligence analysis.

Argument Mapping - The Basics

Argument Mapping - The Basics
based on the heuristics and Rationale software developed by Austhink

*Author's Note: Although this guideline does not delve into the pros and cons of argument mapping, it does give a good idea of how to construct an argument map - whether you are using this particular software, or if you are making an argument map with pencil and paper.


The "Argument Mapping - The Basics" sheets provide the reader with a outline of understanding for what argument mapping is, the terms used in argument mapping and logic, as well as some important rules of logic that you must keep in mind when structuring an argument map. Argument maps start with a conclusion, which is at the tip of the pyramidal hierarchy, with reasons and objections listed below the conclusion. Reasons can have co-premises, and co-premises can have other reasons to support the claim listed above. Co-premises can also work together to support particular reasoning. Objections are listed to oppose the conclusion or reason and can have rebuttals listed underneath the objections.

Similar to games of strategy (chess, risk, etc.), there appears to be a learning curve with argument mapping. It takes some time to get the 'feel' of the game and to fully understand the rules, but with time, the process become quick and effortless.

Important information within the document:

Definition of Argument Mapping: "Argument mapping is a way to visually show the logical structure of arguments. You break up an argument into its constituent claims, and use lines, boxes, colors and location to indicate the relationships between the various parts. The resulting map allows us to see exactly how each part of an argument is related to every other part."

Other important definitions to know when creating argument maps:
  • Argument: a claim and reason(s) to believe that that claim is true.
  • Simple argument: the building block of all arguments, consisting of one claim and one reason (with two or more co-premises).
  • Complex argument: has several simple arguments linked together (the diagram below illustrates a complex argument)
  • Conclusion: the main point an argument is trying to prove, usually a belief. Also called the position, the main claim, the issue at hand.
  • Reason: evidence given to support the conclusion.
  • Co-premise: the subset of a reason. Every reason has at least two co-premises, and each of these co-premises must be true for the reason to support the claim.
  • Objection: a ‘reason’ that a claim is false; evidence against a claim
  • Rebuttal: an objection to an objection.
Syntax of an Argument Map:

Of note:
  • Arguments can have many claims, many reasons, many objections and rebuttals, but only one conclusion.
  • Distinguish a claim with a single reason (made up of two co-premises) from a claim with two independent reasons.
  • The exact structure of an argument is very important. For example, if side A has two good reasons to conclude something, and their opponent (side B) thinks one of those reasons is bad, then A’s conclusion may still be true/warranted if the remaining, unobjected-to reason is convincing.
  • An argument map can represent a debate by showing exactly where two sides disagree on the issue.
  • Argument maps show the structure of the argument/debate – every box is not necessarily true, but the first step is to understand the structure of the argument.
Rules within each box:
  • Declarative Sentence: Each box should have a full sentence (not a phrase) and should be declaring something, taking a position (whether it is true or false).
  • No Reasoning: No box should have reasoning going on inside it, only single claims. The reasoning is represented by the arrows and locations in the map. Look for words that indicate reasoning (e.g. because) and translate the reasoning into the map.
  • Two Terms: Each box can only have two main terms, so that each box is either true or false, not both. If you have more than two terms in a single box, separate them into multiple boxes.
Rules within each simple argument:
  • Assertibility Question: All reasons for claims must answer the question: “How do we know that [insert specific claim here] is true/warranted?” You are asking what evidence allows one to assert that the claim is true. Every claim box should have a reason box below it that answers this question.
  • Holding Hands: Applied horizontally within each simple argument. Within each reason, a term stated in one co-premise must be mentioned in one of the other co-premises in that same reason (if it is not in the claim above it – see the Rabbit Rule below). The terms must ‘hold hands’ within a single reason if they are not already accounted for by the Rabbit Rule.
  • Rabbit Rule: Applied vertically, between a claim and each of its reasons, and is combined with the Holding Hands rule. “You can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat.” Using these two rules for each simple argument, you make sure that every term mentioned in each box is found in one of the others.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Argument Mapping (Efebia)

Argument mapping is a logical sequencing method that employs box-and-line diagrams to "map" a course of possible decisions for a given "argument" and the ramifications of each option. The purpose of the map is to provide a visual depiction of the relationships between the overall contention and the logical (evidential) claims supporting or opposing it. Upon examination of the supporting and opposing claims, an argument map should serve as a useful tool for use in the decision making process, by reducing the complexity of a dilemma, conflict, or argument. Since argument mapping distinguishes itself from other box-and-line methods by utilizing different shapes, colors, and positioning, it appeals to the strong visual comprehension abilities of humans, allowing for improved processing and understanding, ultimately simplifying the complexity of an argument.

Basic Construction of an Argument Map
The components of an argument map are listed below with a brief explanation. Those pieces of the map are identified in the example below (click on the map to link to the source and to access a higher resolution map).
  • The main claim: referred to in this article as the "position" or "contention" -is the hypothesis to be logically examined. The argument map's purpose is to help the decision maker accept or reject this hypothesis.
  • Reason: a positive claim, or one that directly supports the main claim. Reasons not only support the main position, they may also support another reason.
  • Objection: a negative claim, or one that opposes the overall main claim.
  • Rebuttal: opposes an objection directly above it; or, "objection against an objection".
Strengths of Argument Mapping
According to the article, by using colors, shapes, etc. in argument mapping, the mind can better process the complexity and abstract nature of a difficult argument. Additionally, the logical structure of argument mapping is easier to present than traditional prose, which requires the reader to deconstruct the argument for himself, demanding a large investment in time and cognition.

The article also cites "extensive research" conducted by the University of Melbourne to gauge the effectiveness of argument mapping in the context of critical thinking. The study compared the achieved critical thinking abilities of students who utilized the Reason!able (Rationale) argument mapping tool versus those who used traditional prose. The study determined that, in a 12-week course, students who used argument mapping gained 12 IQ points.

Author's Comment:
Since this article may have commercial implications (as it names a particular brand of software), it is obviously a strong advocate for argument mapping, and does not approach the method with much objectivity. While there may be some obvious disadvantages to using argument mapping in certain situations, none are provided here. Moreover, the only other method this article discussed was traditional prose, which is not an analytic method by itself, but a medium of production or dissemination. Despite a mere mention of conceptual modeling and flow charts, there was no substantive, formal comparative discussion on them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Argument Mapping and Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (AM vs ACH)


This article presents a comparative assessment of argument mapping (AM) and Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) as analytic diagramming techniques. While the paper focuses primarily on the differing techniques in diagramming a decision making pathway, the author considers both as "complementary analytical frameworks".

Comparing the Techniques
Both techniques involve analyzing a given proposition (hypotheses in ACH; conclusions in AM), evaluating the evidence (evidence in ACH; reasons and objections in AM), and diagramming a visual representation of the relationships (matrices in ACH; box-and-line diagrams in AM). In ACH, the letters C, I, and N represent positive (consistent), negative (inconsistent), or nuetral relationships, respectively. In AM, arrows indicate a relationship between the reasons supporting or opposing the conclusion; color indicates whether the evidence is a reason (green) or an objection (red) for the argument. When a piece of evidence is neither a reason nor an objection (neutral or irrelevant), the creator of the AM may choose either to eliminate it from the map or to make it a different color (typically gray).

Multiple Propositions
Due to the manner in which each of these methods handles multiple propositions, ACH gets the advantage over AM. ACH incorporates multiple propositions simply by adding another column in the matrix. However, adding any additional propositions to an AM may result in a cluttered diagram with crossed lines and complicated pathways. To resolve this issue, it may be more appropriate to duplicate pieces of evidence, or even create an additional map, making it less efficient.

Multi-tiered Evidence
The paper uses an example from Psychology of Intelligence Analysis to demonstrate a situation in which AM may be a more efficient method. The chosen proposition is "Iraq will not retaliate forUS bombing of its intelligence headquarters," and the piece of evidence in question is "Saddam [has made a] public statement of intent not to retaliate". Often, as cited in this example, an additional piece of evidence may be necessary to establish a piece of evidence. When using an ACH, the analyst may need to construct another matrix to validate evidence. The AM technique allows for the addition another level of evidence within the same map. The paper refers to the multi-tiered evidence as "granularity". Granularity allows evidence of differing levels of abstraction to be present on the same map; "the higher the level on map, the more general or abstract the reason or objection".


AM also allows the user to add assumptions or warrants alongside the pieces of evidence. Incorporating an assumption into an ACH would force the user either to add a justification with the conclusion in its cell in the matrix, or combine multiple pieces of evidence together.

Enhancing Deliberation Through Computer Supported Argument Mapping

Tim van Gelder
Department of Philosophy, University of Melbourne, Australia; and Austhink

Tim van Gelder defines deliberation as "a form of thinking in which we decide where we stand on some claim in light of the relevant arguments." Although this is a common and important process, it is complicated and often conducted poorly. Gelder contends that deliberation can be improved by mapping out arguments, especially when the methodology utilizes the new computer tools available. An argument map is a presentation of reasoning in which the evidential relationships among claims are made wholly explicit using graphical or other non-verbal techniques. Argument mapping is producing such maps.

This fairly minimal or broad definition recommended by Gelder allows for enormous variety in argument maps. The point of an argument map is to present complex reasoning in a clear and unambiguous way, and mappers should use whatever resources work best. Currently, argument maps are mostly comprised of "box and arrow" diagrams. With technology expanding, other presentations are likely to count as argument mapping. For example, somebody may develop a way to present arguments in virtual 3D or through a virtual reality environment.

According to Gelder, at least four main factors explain the superiority of argument maps. These points concern the limitations of prose which are partly or wholly overcome by argument maps. 1) In prose, the reader has to figure out what the relationships among the claims are. In an argument diagram, in contrast, all relationships are made completely explicit using simple visual conventions. In practice, this relieves a huge burden. Readers can devote their mental energy to thinking about the argument itself rather than trying to figure out what the argument is. 2) Prose is a monochrome stream of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Prose does not use any color, shape, line, or position in space to convey information about the structure of the argument. We know, however, that our brains can process huge amounts of color, shape, and space information very quickly. In an argument map, color can be used to indicate in a matter of milliseconds whether a claim is being presented as reason or an objection. 3) Prose is sequential in nature. However, arguments are fundamentally not sequential. Arguments are more than just one thing after another; they are more complicated. 4) Using diagrams, we can to some extent take advantage of the way humans learn and understand. "We can place all the reasons over here and all the objections over there, or we can make stronger reasons bigger, or place them underneath (supporting) the conclusion."

Until now, argument maps have not really taken off as a practical tool for argument deliberation. Creating these diagrams by hand can be quite difficult. However, new computer software (both free and commercial) is making this method easier. New argument mapping pieces of software include Araucaria, Athena, and Reason!Able.

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Argument Maps Improve Critical Thinking

Charles R. Twardy
Revised draft for publication in Teaching Philosophy
School of Computer Science and Software Engineering
Monash University, Australia

When Charles R. Twardy, a professor at Monash University, first heard about Tim van Gelder's Reason!Able argument mapping software, Twardy was quite skeptical about the effectiveness of the methodology. Rumors circulated that the new software had the ability to drastically increase the quality of critical thinking by van Gelder's students. Twardy contacted van Gelder and the two professors agreed that Twardy should visit van Gelder's university and teach one of his classes to see if students' critical thinking skills really do improve with the Reason!Able software (argument mapping) or whether the students benefit from the "founder effect."

The Reason!Able software for argument mapping amazed Twardy. He saw a significant improvement in the abilities of his students to think critically about arguments after taking a course on the Reason!Able software and the argument mapping methodology. Twardy concluded that "Computer-based argument mapping greatly enhances student critical thinking, more than tripling absolute gains made by other methods." (The gains, or scores, Twardy is referring to are those from the California Critical Thinking Skills Test)

The most significant advantage that argument mapping provides students is the ability to show precisely how students make errors in their reasoning, making it much easier for them to fix their errors. Specifically, argument maps help us to understand how arguments are structured. Typically, we do not make the distinction between two claims forming part of a single reason or whether they are parts of separate reasons. Prose does not force students to know the structure of arguments. Even if you understand an argument, you may not understand the argument's structure.

The second benefit to argument mapping is the methodology's versatility. Argument mapping is a general skill that can be applied to all kinds of arguments.

The major negative to Reason!Able and argument mapping is that users really need a class and significant practice to master the skill. Almost anyone who is asked to map a two-paragraph argument fails to do so correctly. Twardy argues that "practice is clearly important; argument mapping without practice would not much improve critical thinking."

Enhancing our Grasp of Complex Arguments

Enhancing our Grasp of Complex Arguments
By Paul Monk and Tim van Gelder
This paper was presented by Paul Monk as a plenary
address to the 2004 Fenner Conference on the Environment, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, 24 May 2004


What argument mapping is used for:
  • To structure, communicate, and correct arguments of any degree of complexity
  • To govern deliberation, keeping it on task, target use of evidence, specify disagreements, and make the process more efficient

Verbiage tends to make people miss what is being said and asked and encourages people to grasp tightly to their own thoughts. Monk and van Gelder posit that the use of only language, writing processes, and mental cues are too primitive to completely understand the complex arguments that people are now faced with. They continue by stating, “We conduct complex arguments as if a combination of holistic apprehension, intuitive judgment and natural language were sufficient for handling them [arguments]. None of us, I think, would consciously make that claim. We do what we do by tradition and by default, not because we have thought through why we do it, how it works and whether it serves us well.”

Playing the game of tic-tac-toe (on a 4x4 grid or larger) without using actual gridlines is used to illustrate the point that our working memory struggles without the presence of a visual aid (the grid). Cognitive blind spots and biases, the methods used to record and communicate arguments, and separation of disciplines due to different idiolects all accentuate the problem of our limited working memory.

Just as maps and charts allow us to navigate land and sea with more ease than an oral explanation, a map can help us visualize and navigate through problems and arguments. To map an argument, you must start with a proposition, or chief contention – this contention is entered into a white box and placed at the top of an argument map. Supporting claims are color-coded green, while objections are coded red. Claims are organized in a pyramidal hierarchy to maximize the appearance of evidential and logical relationships. The first set of claims (top level) begs the question “what are the distinct arguments provided for the main point (the chief contention)?” Subsequent levels are asked, “Do they support all of these primary arguments with further evidence? [and] Do they countenance any objections to their argument and rebut them?

The authors use the article Coalition of the Willing? Make That War Criminals, which discusses whether or not a preemptive strike on Iraq would constitute a crime against humanity, to demonstrate how argument mapping is useful. (See Image Below)

Advantages of argument mapping over prose:
  1. It makes explicit logical relationships that the linearity and abstractness of prose cannot help but obscure.
  2. The map offers an instant and effortless scan-ability of the overall structure of the argument, which you simply cannot derive from prose.
  3. There is an ease of movement from the detail to the overview that is far more difficult in the case of prose.
  4. There are unambiguous visual clues as to the significance that particular details have, due to the hierarchical ordering of the structure, the color-coding of the individual boxes and the inferential relations between boxes.
  5. A map offers a visual clarity as to the limits of a debate, whereas prose obscures these limits or labors to spell them out.
  6. The cognitive burden imposed on us by the task of analyzing a piece of prose is drastically reduced in the case of a map, for the same reasons that it is reduced in moving from a prose description of London to a map.
  7. For any given proposition, all claims are integrated into a single structure, instead of consisting of various component parts, which then have to be assembled by whoever happens to be trying to comprehend the argument in question.

*Author’s Note: Tim van Gelder has done extensive research in the field of argument mapping and is the leading mind behind Reason!Able, a computer program designed for argument mapping. Reason!Able has now evolved into Rationale. See Video Below.

Summary Findings: Dialectic And The Socratic Method (3 Stars Out Of 5)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the 12 articles read in advance of (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst College on 25 MAR 2009 regarding Dialectics generally and the Socratic Method specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.


The Dialectic Method is an analytic technique designed to force the participants to re-examine their internal beliefs, biases, and conclusions through an open and directed dialogue.

The Dialectic Method uses questioning techniques with the intention of creating a better understanding of a problem or concept. In the realm of intelligence analysis, it should be used as an analytic modifier; i.e. a technique to reassess the validity of the analytic process, not as a forecasting method.


--The primary strength is the ability to identify and challenge initial assumptions about a target, and in effect, it reduces prejudice and bias.
--The dialectic method is also useful throughout the intelligence cycle from requirements, estimative conclusions, and feedback.
--Using dialectic demands the analyst think critically about the certainty of the analysis generated.


-- It does not provide an analytical forecast by itself.
-- The questioner needs to be highly skilled in managing the process.
-- As a cautionary note, thinkers caught in their own illogical concepts may become irritated or even angered by such an approach.
-- The approach can be time consuming, and should not be used under time constraints.


-- The first step is to provide an initial, well-formulated question with group-wide understanding of the hypothesis at-hand.

-- After the initial hypothesis is presented, the group undetakes an opposing line of questioning to disect the hypothesis and its sub-components.

-- Use the discussion to synthesize arguements for and against the initial hypothesis to determine its truth and validity.


We applied the Socratic Method specifically and the principles of dialectics generally to a variety of realistic intelligence situations. We explored how a formal questioning approach that assumes an antithesis, for example, could perhaps have impacted the estimate regarding the presence of WMD's in pre-war Iraq. Even if a Socratic approach to questioning the conclusions of that estimate would not have changed the overall finding, the group generally agreed that it would probably have altered the final level of confidence.

We also applied the method to the requirement phase where the decisionmaker who wants "everything" could be seen as establishing a thesis while the intelligence professional who knows that the decisionmaker doesn't need everything essentially establishes an antithesis. The ultimate intelligence requirement could then be seen as the synthesis of the two positions.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Socratic Method

Learn UNC, From The UNC School Of Education

Developed from Plato’s Socratic Dialogues, the Socratic approach challenges learners to develop their own critical thinking skills and engage in analytic discussion. “Socratic questioning is a systematic process for examining the ideas, questions, and answers that form the basis of human belief. It involves recognizing that all new understanding is linked to prior understanding.”

A group leader (or questioner) engages participants by asking open-ended questions that require generative answers. Ideally, the answers to the questions serve as a beginning for further analysis and research. The questioning process requires participants to consider how they rationalize about a particular topic.

The goal and benefit of the Socratic Method is to aid participants in processing information and engage in a deeper understanding of a particular topic. Most importantly, rather than engaging in a competitive debate, the Socratic Method allows participants to dialogue and discuss the topic in a collaborative and open-minded manner.

Unfortunately, the success of the Socratic methodology often depends on the quality of the initial question that initiates the investigative discussion. As a result, the first question posed by the questioner to the participants must:
*arise from the curiosity of the leader
*not have a single "right" answer
*be structured to generate dialogue that leads to a clearer understanding of the topic
*require participants to refer to concrete data or textual resources

The Socratic Method

Communities Resolving Our Problems, Western Carolina University

The Socratic Method is a chain of questions that seek the truth of some topic. Although the methodology may include summarizing ideas, in its purest form, the Socratic Method only includes questions. The questions allow users to utilize their critical thinking skills to find false paths and dead ends in the reasoning process. As a result, the Socratic methodology is a problem solving methodology.

To help develop the proper questions for a Socratic analysis, the discussion group should consider playing the game 20 Questions. This game allows players to see the value of some underlying analytical strategy.

The Socratic Method does not have a concrete methodology for generating the chain of questions. One person in the discussion group should serve as the lead questioner, engaged in analysis and in breaking things down into logical parts. Typically, the initial question must get at what the group already knows about the topic at hand. After this phase, there is the option of pausing to summarize the conclusions found once the group reaches a certain level of complexity. The lead questioner should formulate questions that will move the group into the next area of the topic that the group needs to know. Once the group becomes familiar with the process, all members can be free to pose questions and direct the process’s path.

Law schools often utilize this process to reveal contradictions to invalidate initial assumptions (a handy skill in legal cases). As a cautionary note, thinkers caught in their own illogical concepts may become irritated or even angered by such an approach. As a result, it is very important to develop an egalitarian attitude among all members of the group so that everyone feels comfortable with this process.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dialectic and Method in Aristotle

Portrait of Aristoteles. Pentelic marble, copy...Aristotle. Image via Wikipedia


Aristotle's overall method is described as a philosophical inquiry beginning with appearances and undertaking to resolve apparent puzzles. Dialectic arguments originate from endoxa, or commonly held opinions. The enoxa serve as the first series of premises of scientific demonstrations. Arguements are classified according to their premises: some are in accordance with a particular art (field of study), i.e. rest on premises peculiar to that art, whereas others are general. It is the general arguements which are available for dialectic inquiry; the focus is on deriving the general truth as opposed to circumstancial truth.

Aristotle came to see the inadequacy of of the appeal to intuition for the justification of arguements and sought its replacement through dialectical proofs. To establish truth, a method allowing participants to syllogize from common beliefs needed establishment. This is known as the dialectic.

Since Aristotle believed everyone has a built-in grasp of the truth, the opinions of the many, as well as the wise are acceptable, although each needed clarification and correction. The dialectician is to collect the views from each type of person and use them to gauge the acceptability of premises to a particular opponent. However, not everyone's opinion is treated with equal weight.

When a general agreement is initially reached when attempting dialectic dialogue, it is acceptable in some instances to perpetuate false premises for examination. The false premise than can be argued for and against to establish truth in dialectic dialogue. The key property of dialectic is to examine completely the opinions presented on the topic from the truths contained therein.
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"Dialectics" comes from the Greek word "dialogue" which means "to converse between." Thus dialectics is the technique of conversing. Definitions of dialectics changed throughout the years to mean "the study of the theory of knowledge," as well as the art of "demonstrating a proposed thesis by means of the classification of concepts and the rigorous distinction between them.

In reality, dialectics is, in general, a means of organizing knowledge consisting of proposing ideas by putting forward their opposite and reasoning (in dialogue) to obtain a result which is assumed to be the truth. The process involves forming a thesis (what is), its antithesis (what could be), and the synthesis (what it becomes).

In our current age dialectics has been divided into two categories. Scientific dialectics deals with applying intuitive-rational knowledge, object-subject, and individual-society dichotomies against each other. Systems dialectics applies to all branches of science due to the ever increasing changes in our globalized world.

The act of thinking and thought is linked to dialectics insofar as the latter is a means of discerning between true and false (true thought, false thought or the wrong hypothesis) to understand things. The result is the subjective human truth.
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What Is Dialectic?

Department Of Applied Mathematics And Theoretical Physics, University Of Cambridge, UK

The article seeks to reassess the validity of the dialectic methodology following the collapse of Communism. The article addresses Karl Poppers 1937 critique of the Marxist Dialectic, which he characterized as "damaging to philosophy and political theory". Popper's critique gave the dialectic method a negative connotation, and the author hopes to rehabilitate the method as a valuable tool for scientific inquiry.
Among his criticisms, the author states that Popper focuses on only one of three "laws" of the dialectic: the law of negation of the negation. The other laws - the law of the unity and struggle of opposites and the law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa - are ignored by Popper. Thus he missed the fundamental aim of the dialectic, which is "to study things in their own being and movement via the connection of opposites". Through the study of connections we can postulate a theory of development, which is the central aim of the dialectic. This particular focus is specifically useful in the various scientific fields, where "the development of our scientific ideas and hypotheses...can only make sense if analyzed through the eyes of dialectic".
The author also finds fault with Popper's conclusion that the dialectic "is opposed to formal logic". The author counters that logical scientific inquiry is, by necessity, set outside the realm of formal logic. The author points out that in the realm of science, two hypothesis that can seemingly be logically proved or disproved are, in reality, not so simple at all. For instance:
  • The sun is shining.
  • The sun is not shining.
Although a peek out the window would seemingly instantly prove which hypothesis is correct, the scientific realities of the real world make the hypothesis much more difficult to prove. Although the sun shines in Erie, the sun does not shine on the other side of the world, in Beijing perhaps, where it is night. The author points out that there is a formal logic and then there is the dialectic, and the two must not be treated as replacements for each other; they are two different tools to be used for different purposes.
The author concludes the article by restating his belief that Poppers thesis unfortunately linked the dialectic to Communism, thus dooming it to be forever linked to that defunct system. This should perhaps be rethought, as the dialectic does provide a unique and useful method, specifically within the scientific realm. The author ends with an interesting point, stating, "It is important that theoreticians of dialectical materialism will do more to depoliticise it. In particular, they ought to convey that its application to the society and history, i.e. historical materialism, should not make any exact social predictions. In addition, the dialectical approach certainly suffers from its apparent applicability to 'everything', the problem that raised the most serious objections from Popper. Indeed, it should be clarified how dialectic classifies and differentiates different processes and types of connections in the world".

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Using The Socratic Method And Bloom's Taxonomy Of The Cognitive Domain To Enhance Online Discussion, Critical Thinking, And Student Learning

Developments In Business Simulation And Experiential Learning, Vol. 33, 2006.

The article investigates the use of educational techniques used in traditional classroom settings (TCS) and how they may be applied to virtual classroom settings (VCS). The Dialectical methodology, more commonly referred to as the Socratic Method, is one of the oldest teaching techniques. Developed by the Greek philosopher Socrates, the term "dialectic" means "discussion", and the methodology itself involved the presentation of a question, followed by an answer to that question, followed by a follow-up question or request for clarification of the answer. According to the article, "Through this process of dialogue, the initial response (e.g., definition) is destroyed (i.e., shown to be inadequate), requiring further thought and analysis by the interlocutor, and then leading to the submission of a new response by the interlocutor. The questioning continues, often using the 'technique of counterexample' (i.e., considering additional examples, cases, and/or particulars), ultimately seeking to obtain an adequate response, if possible".
The method is used to instigate questioning of the internal beliefs and presumptions of the student. "The Socratic approach is used to get one to re-examine what they believe; it is not an approach used to present absolute information". The method relies heavily on the expertise of the instructor as well, and his or her ability to guide the student down a meaningful path and provide a "disciplined, rigorously thoughtful dialogue". Thus the process is a helpful tool in developing critical thinking and analytic skills in and of themselves, and not a method to apply to an actual target.
A weakness of the method, however, is that if the dialogue is composed entirely of unknowns, how can the student develop any meaningful understanding out of the process ? The article postulates that a knowledgeable moderator of the dialogue should be able to guide the student through the process in a direction that takes them to a meaningful conclusion. Furthermore, the method should be the "finishing touch" to the process of learning; it should serve as the capstone to the process outlined in Bloom's Taxonomy.
A strength is that the method allows for an "intellectually open, safe, and demanding learning environment". This process may actually be better performed in the VCS as opposed to the TCS, where virtual anonymity allows students to truly feel at ease during the dialogue and explore the topic, whereas they may feel the peer pressure of "gazing eyes" in a TCS.

Author's Comment: The article explores the use of the Socratic Method and Bloom's Taxonomy in the VCS and TCS a bit more; for the purposes of this blog and topic I focused almost exclusively on the Dialectical methodology portion of the article.
As an analytic tool, the methodology is purely an internal, individual process. As a tool to engage with other analysts and experts to better understand a target, the Dialectical method may provide new and unique insight for the analyst. As an analytic process to develop an estimation, however, the methodology does not seem viable (save perhaps in some form reserved for the Humint realm).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Socratic Method: Leveraging Questions to Increase Performance

The Socratic Method: Leveraging Questions to Increase Performance
by Maj. Norman H. Patnode, USAF


Explaining the Socratic method:
Maj. Patnode describes the Socratic method as a means for “moving people along.” In essence, is a method that uses questions to challenge the beliefs, experiences, and paradigms that that people hold in an effort to reexamine the possibilities that may exist. The ultimate goal of this method is to achieve “greater understanding and increased performance.”

How to:
Maj. Patnode describes the Socratic method as having two elements:
1. Questions
2. Knowing where you want the conversation to go (or move)

Patnode states that the most important aspect of this method is to remain focused on your goal. The questions you ask must lead others to your desired end state. He suggests using a vision story as a way to “capture and communicate the desired outcome.” The most difficult part of this method is trying to figure out what questions are the right questions to ask. Once the questions are formed, it is important to remain quiet after you ask them – even if there is an awkward silence afterward. It is important to ensure that you do not answer your own questions – if someone is unable to answer the question, he suggests backing up and breaking the question into smaller bits.

Responses to the question will come in the form of answers and statements. Patnode states that both responses contain valuable information which should guide you in the next step: “Knowing where the group (or individual) needs to go next, and how big a step that group (individual) is capable of taking will help you form the question that will move them forward.” Patnode suggests that using Bloom’s Hierarchy of Learning will aid you in determining what the likely next step is. It is also helpful to have a understanding of the concrete data and facts to help guide your questions toward your goal.

What is the Socratic Method?

What is the Socratic Method?
excerpted from Socrates Café (pgs. 18-24) by Christopher Phillips

Gregory Vlastos, a Socrates scholar and philosophy professor at Princeton, asserts that the Socratic Method (AKA the dialectics method or elenchus) is “among the greatest achievements of humanity…[it is] a common human enterprise, open to every man…[that] calls for common sense and common speech.” Christopher Phillips takes this assertion a step further by adding that the Socratic method goes beyond common sense through the examination of what sense is.

The foundation of the Socratic method is to seek out truth through the use of dialogue – commonsensible reasoning and fact seeking will ultimately strip out any prejudices and biases, leaving only truths and realities. It is designed to “reveal people to themselves.” The author suggests that this use of honesty would require us to constantly scrutinize our own convictions. In addition, Phillip posits that the use of a Socratic dialogue will reveal just how pluralistic people are. It will iron-out abstract concepts and bizarre questions, revealing the relationships between relevant human experiences. “What distinguishes the Socratic method from mere nonsystematic inquiry is the sustained attempt to explore the ramifications of certain opinions and then offer compelling objectives and alternatives.” Phillips compares this method to the scientific method, but unlike the scientific method, Socratic dialogue can investigate immeasurable beliefs like love, joy, suffering, and sorrow.

While the Socratic method is designed to reveal truth, oftentimes it leaves us with a sense of uncertainty that makes us question our original positions, and quite possibly, it leaves us more troubled than where we started.

*Authors Note: I believe the above statement points out both the pros and cons of this method. Using the Socratic method can apparently lead two parties to come to a common agreement about a subject or concept – or it can leave the parties both questioning their original viewpoints. The positive aspect is that questioning can leave one open to new possibilities outside the original frames they’ve constructed – thus limiting cognitive biases. In addition, the uncertainty will surely reduce analytic confidence, which can be a good thing if it reflects the true ambiguity of a concept or subject. However, the detriment is that this sense of uncertainty may ultimately confuse the analyst. If the analyst feels as if he/she is seeking one truth while ignoring the possibility that multiple truths may exist, an analysis may be further sidetracked after a time-consuming Socratic debate. In addition, using the Socratic method for purposes for forecasting is problematic in itself – if the Socratic method is to seek truth, truths of future events do not yet exist. It is for this reason analysts use (or should use) words of estimative probability. Alternative possibilities always exist in matters of predictive analysis and forecasting. Therefore it may be safe to say that this method would only be applicable to the examination of past and present concepts and subjects. If a truth is found, an analyst can then use that truth as a starting point for predictive analysis.

*There are also many forms of dialectics: Socratic, Hegelian, Marxist, Brahmin/Hindu/Vedic, Jain, Buddhist, etc.

Moral choice and dialectic failure.

Myers, Robert J.. Society, Jul/Aug94, Vol. 31 Issue 5, p37-42, 6p; (AN 9407251855)

Myers calls dialectics a "logical term, used today for abstract disputation, devoid of any practical value". Plato contributes its invention to Zeno of Elea, intended to resolve dilemmas through a series of questions and answers. Myers cites its use within the Socratic Dialogue to identify shortcomings in conventional wisdom, and its later use by Hegel to show the reality of history as only that of ideas--"every idea, as it is affirmed by its truth, brings with it the idea that is its negation." Marx extended this concept into the debate of economic systems. The major historical uses of the dialectic incorporate three important components, which Myers calls the trinity of dialectics:
  1. Thesis
  2. Antithesis
  3. Synthesis
Myers published this paper in 1994, when the fall of the Soviet Union (and, to him, Communism in general) was still a new phenomenon. Thus, his main point of contention was the Hegelian dialectic versus Marxist dialectic. Myers is highly critical of the dialectic explanation of history and its use to forecast the future. Instead, he advocates for an empirical explanation. He flippantly closes the paper, suggesting that "it (dialectics) has come from nowhere and will return to nowhere, allowing the human mind and associated intelligence to continue the search for truth in the abstract and to sort out empirically the good from the bad, the better from the worse, and to construct an ethical scale, weighed with democratic values". It is his contention that the dialectic was "simply a mental construct" and it has reached the end of its importance in "democratic" thought.

Dialectics – a commentary to Singer: “Global business and the dialectic”

Sørensen, Asger. Human Systems Management, 2002, Vol. 21 Issue 4, p267, 3p; (AN 9330655).


Sørensen uses this commentary on dialectics to build upon a case previously presented by Alan Singer, which considers the use of philosophy, particularly dialectic reasoning, in developing business and political strategy. He believes that the use of dialectics to examine dilemmas, tensions, and contradictions has not been widely used, largely due to its "guilt by association" with marxists and totalitarians.

He begins by providing an overview of the development of dialectics in the realm of philosophy. The main focus of the historical overview is to examine the development and opposing viewpoints of dialectics, from Plato (ideas), Aristotle (deduction), Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Engels (dialectical materialism).

Sørensen further points out that Singer sided with Hegel and Engels, who advocated its application to nature and culture. While Singer endorsed its use as a scheme of thought, he did not fully commit to its necessity in examining tensions.

This examination of dialectics closes with a brief mention of its implications in the realm of business and political strategy. By nature, dialectics is concerned with the truth of reality in its entirety, and is therefore at odds with basing political decisions on the wants and needs of the individual. He adds to this by hypothesizing that "introducing dialectics into business strategy might signal a shift in focus from the market to the organization, i.e., from coping with universal competition outside the firm to handling internal affairs, just as it is relevant in an economy dominated by the monopolies of multinational corporations."