A critical thinking exercise

You can use most online articles (including several on this blog) to sharpen your critical thinking skills.

Consider this article titled titled ‘It’s Okay If You Don’t Wear a Bike Helmet’. I have picked out a paragraph that the author uses to support her conclusion:

Forbes contributor Carlton Reid doesn’t think so. In a column published in 2018, Reid lists the many activities he does without a helmet. He walks on icy sidewalks and cleans the gutters on his roof. If we don’t wear helmets for these daily but potentially deadly tasks, he argues, we shouldn’t bother when we ride a bike. The expectation that we should only adds extra barriers to cycling.

When you read that paragraph, you can already sense that the author’s argument rests on shaky ground. When you break this argument down into what logicians call the ‘standard form’, you can see its problems more clearly.

An argument in a standard form always includes premises that support a conclusion. The paragraph above in standard form is:

  • It is okay to walk on icy sidewalks and clean roof gutters without helmets
  • Cycling is like those activities
    Therefore, it is also okay to cycle without a helmet

Expressing an argument this way makes it easy to take it apart. If activities such as walking on ice or cleaning roof gutters are indeed risky, why is it okay to do it without cranial protection? Also, how is cycling like those activities? For instance, how much time does a person spend on their bike each year when compared to cleaning their roof gutters?

To express any argument in standard form, you start off by writing down its conclusion. You then go on to write down the premises used to draw that conclusion as bullets.

Once you do that, any flimsy argument comes apart like wrapping paper.

Inspiration: Critical Thinking

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