Critical reasoning basics – I
Today’s article comes from another founding father of TathaGat, Mr. Kumar Abhishek, popularly known as ‘Kumar’ and hands down the best verbal instructor in Delhi. Though he is great fun in his classes, he is a terror if you cross his rules, i.e. forget to submit your weekly book reviews, come without flashcards or The Hindu newspaper in the class, or arrive late for your class. But if you follow all that, you would forget about the time during his classes. He regales the students with his command in both Hindi and English. To quote a student “kumar sir is tough only in the first few classes……then it’s a smooth ride……and keeps the mood of the class light and interactive with his wisecracks and sudden outbursts of unadulterated hindi….like “mera abir balak kahan hai”………and “yatharth ka dharatal”……..”prabal sambhavana” and many more…” For those who would like to know, his favourite words are “Bhasad” and “Hawabaz” which he can be seen quoting once in every 5 sentences. Even his fan club on TG Town is known as ‘Bhasad’. Not to mention that he is extremely famous among his students. Once we were so full of reading his praises on the internet that we started pulling his leg “Aap hi to kahin jakar nahin likhte rahte hain internet par apne bare mein?” 😛 Lol, but he is too modest and too immersed in his books and movies to waste time on trifles.
This article is the first in the series that I have emotionally blackmailed him to write. Do post your questions and queries over here and I shall pressure him to respond (‘pressure’ not ‘pressurize’ as he keeps on telling me)
CR has always remained a predominant area of all the aptitude tests across the globe. There are seven main question stems under this domain.
You might be asked to
Find the Assumption
Strengthen the Argument
Weaken the Argument
Complete the Paragraph
Starting with this article, we shall try and take these stems piecemeal, beginning with ‘assumptions’.
But, before we begin handling the question stems, it is important to turn a few pages backwards, and understand some basic terms in logic.
The entire realm of logic thrives on the word Argument. An argument is NOT a verbal scuffle between persons. The normal, day-to-day connotation that we have come to attach with the term grossly misleads us into thinking that if two persons are fighting, with a heated exchange of words, they are ‘arguing’. This is sheer sacrilege!!
X: Avatar is a good film.
Y: No, it is not!
X: Yes, it is!
Y: No, it is not!
is NOT an argument. It is a small exemplary piece of communication between fools. (Ah!! And one sees so MANY of such arguments everywhere!!)
Now, compare the following with the previous:
X: Avatar is a good film.
Y: No, it is not!
X: Yes, it is! It grossed the maximum revenue ever in the history of all films.
Y: No, it is not! Revenue cannot be the single criterion to decide a film’s ‘goodness’. (Yes, there IS such a word, in case you are wondering.)
Now, THIS is classic argumentation. You see, the difference between the two exchanges is that, while the previous exchange merely lobs ‘opinions’ (read conclusions, in logic), the latter supports the conclusions with ‘reasons’ (read premises). Hence, for an argument to exist, we require a conclusion which is based upon at least one premise. Mere exchange of continual opinions CANNOT be termed argumentation.
Argument= Premise/s + Conclusion.
Having understood the structure of an argument, let us examine some more examples.
Ravi is a good boy because he helps others.
India is the best country for it is the largest democracy of the world.
TG is the best educational website available because its sole focus is the welfare of students.
Understand that the non-italicised parts are conclusions, and the italicised ones are the premises.
(Exercise – Can you think of ways to undermine/strengthen the aforementioned arguments?)
These are examples of one-lined arguments. While solving questions, you will come across longer arguments.
It is easy to figure out how to separate the conclusion from the premises. When you read the statements of the argument, try to ask “why do you say so”, to the statements. For example, in A1, if we ask ‘why do you say so’ to the statement ‘Ravi is a good boy’, the latter part answers satisfactorily. Hence the statement that answers the why is the reason or premise. Whereas, the statement to which we posed the question, becomes the conclusion. If, on the other hand, you ask the ‘why do you say so’ to ‘he helps others’, the former part cannot answer.
You can do this as an exercise with longer questions. And, it is important to get this first step correct if you want to solve questions at a fast pace. I am attaching some long questions here. Try to figure out which statements are the premises, and which the conclusion. I shall help you with the first two.
Mr. Janeck: I don’t believe Stevenson will win the election for governor. Few voters are willing to elect a businessman with no political experience to such a responsible public office.
Ms. Siuzdak: You’re wrong. The experience of running a major corporation is a valuable preparation for the task of running a state government.
In this conversation, Mr Janeck’s conclusion is that ‘Stevenson will not win the election’. When asked ‘why do you say so’, the latter part of her conversation provides the basis for the former opinion.
Similarly, in Ms. Siuzdak’s argument, the conclusion is that Mr. Janeck’s opinion is wrong. Her premise is stated immediately afterwards.
At one time, European and Japanese companies tried to imitate their American rivals. Today, American appliance manufacturers import European scientists to lead their research staffs; American automakers design cars that mimic the styling of German, Italian, and French imports; and American electronics firms boast in their advertising of “Japanese-style” devotion to quality and reliability. In the world of high technology, America has lost the battle for international prestige.
Here, the conclusion is – In the world of high technology, America has lost the battle for international prestige. The premises stated are examples from the ‘appliance’, ‘electronics’ and the ‘automakers’ sectors.
Your turn now!!
Studies of fatal automobile accidents reveal that, in the majority of cases in which one occupant of an automobile is killed while another survives, it is the passenger, not the driver, who is killed. It is ironic that the innocent passenger should suffer for the driver’s carelessness, while the driver often suffers only minor injuries or none at all.
The earth’s resources are being depleted much too fast. To correct this, the United States must keep its resource consumption at present levels for many years to come.
At an enormous research cost, a leading chemical company has developed a manufacturing process for converting wood fibers into a plastic. According to the company, this new plastic can be used for, among other things, the hulls of small sailboats. But what does the company think sailboat hulls used to be made of? Surely the mania for high technology can scarcely go further than this.
In the years since the city of London imposed strict air-pollution regulations on local industry, the number of bird species seen in and around London has increased dramatically. Similar air-pollution rules should be imposed in other major cities.
Reva: Using extraneous incentives to get teenagers to change their attitude toward school and schoolwork won’t work. Take the program in West Virginia, for instance, where they tried to reduce their dropout rate by revoking the driving licenses of kids who left school. The program failed miserably.
Anne: It’s true that the West Virginia program failed, but many schools have devised incentive programs that have been very successful in improving attendance and reducing discipline problems.
(Provide premises and conclusions from both Reva’s and Anne’s statements.)
The burden of maintaining the U.S. highway system falls disproportionately on the trucking industry. Trucks represent only about 10 percent of the vehicles on U.S. roads. Yet road use taxes assessed on trucks amount to almost half the taxes paid for highway upkeep and repair.
Although I started with the idea of tackling assumption based questions, I shall get back to them in upcoming articles.