Critical thinking and how to do it!

A Identifying arguments – these are attempts to persuade to a point of view – not arm twisting, not explaining!

a) Using reasons
b) Always have a conclusion i.e. a p.o.v not necessarily at the end.
c) The conclusion is based on the reasons which accompany it:

Words as clues:

Therefore so then thus should must

Do the reasons support the conclusions?

Are they relevant?

Are they adequate? If it seems to prove something – yes. But can depend on how strong the conclusion is i.e. will / probably / might – getting weaker!

B Analysing simple arguments – sometimes the reasons are not sufficient to lead to the conclusion.

Showing argument structure as a diagram:

R= reason C= conclusion

If the reasons are linked i.e. if they cannot be removed from each other without weakening them add + e.g.

    R1 smoking’s not illegal
    R2 millions get pleasure from it

    C Therefore people should be allowed to smoke anywhere

    R1 overcrowding in prisons is a cause of many riots
    R2 most of our prisons are overcrowded
    C Therefore riots are likely in the coming months

Cutting out the crap!

Some arguments include additional material, padding etc so find the conclusion first, then work out if the reasons support only the conclusion, nothing else [Think Aquinas’…and this we call God]

Certainty or probability?

  • Deductive arguments are those in which the conclusion is drawn with certainty [think of the ontological argument]
  • Inductive are those which are only probable.

If the premises are true then the conclusion must be too. So long as you agree with the reasoning it is illogical to disagree with the conclusion.

Sometimes, though, you can draw a different conclusion from the reasons given (e.g. global warming and the melting of the ice-caps.)

C Finding more detail in arguments

Finding more than one conclusion:

(R1) icecaps melting —> (R2) must be global warming —> (C) so sea levels will rise —> thus leading to flooding

Therefore the first conclusion is used as a reason for the second conclusion. The first becomes an intermediate conclusion leading to the main conclusion.
R —> 1C —> C

Of course sometimes a further reason can follow the I.C.

Can you show that the I.C. may be unsound? Or that its use as a reason is dubious? If so you have evaluated the effectiveness of it as an argument.


Sometimes there are hidden assumptions taken for granted e.g.

Most of the children at the school performed less well than those at other schools, therefore the quality of the teaching must be poor.

The assumptions here are many! Are there no other differences? E.g. Intake? Disruption? Ability? Socio-economic background? Etc yet here we are given only one reason and one conclusion.

So remove the assumptions and the argument is weakened.

Using analogies [think religious language]

This means using one situation to draw a conclusion about another similar. The similarity is assumed and the conclusion drawn without the similarity being argued. Is it even a good reason?

Look for similarities and differences between the two situations – if the similarities are much stronger than the differences then the analogy is good, if not it weakens the argument.

Of course it can never put the conclusion beyond doubt.

Check for relevance and adequacy – is the supposedly similar situation real or imaginary? If imaginary it’s weaker than a real example. So does it highlight an issue? If yes then this is its strength. The example in the book is of alcopops needing greater regulation just like chocolate flavoured cigarettes would too. [Think the lottery example in the ontological argument – how much greater it is to win in reality than in imagination!]

D Exploring weakness

Necessary and sufficient conditions

Something may be a necessary condition of x but is it sufficient?

Even if x and y are found together there isn’t necessarily a relationship.

[think David Hume and cause and effect and also natural laws.]

Beards and great thinkers is the example in the book!

If x = being fairly fit and y= running the marathon distance it can be seen that x is necessary but isn’t necessarily sufficient!

So necessary and sufficient where x is present y must occur, e.g. the heir ton the throne is the eldest son of the reigning monarch – both necessary and sufficient to be the oldest son, neither qualifications nor age no marital status make a difference.

Confusing causes and consequences

Assuming x is the cause of y when it may be mere coincidence. [think miracles]

Nevertheless causal arguments can be strong but only if it explains what the link is between cause and consequence.

Asking questions about the evidence

  1. is the evidence sufficient to draw the conclusion?
  2. Are there other explanations as plausible as the one the author concludes? [miracles]
  3. Is there a relationship between the evidence such that if one piece is accepted another must be rejected?
  4. What assumptions is the author making? [Religious experience]
  5. How could the argument be made stronger?

Attacking the arguer rather than the argument

In this kind of argument it is the people who make the claim rather than the claim itself which is attacked “people like them…” and this is rarely a valid kind of argument. (Tabloid newspapers often do this and use irrelevant reasoning.)

Going round in circles

Sometimes the conclusion is no more than the reason reworded!

A leap too far [Hume of the teleological argument]

Building strawmen

Reworking the opposition’s argument to highlight its weakness then attacking that instead of the original version, thus attacking your opponent’s conclusion rather than their reasons!

Two wrongs don’t make a right

“Not fair” / “other people do it” i.e. a counter accusation – offence being the best form of defence! (typical in the classroom: “I wasn’t the only one talking!”)

“You too” or “so do you” arguments

Like the above except where there may be relevance – countries cutting down their rainforests and being accused of damage to the environment turning the criticism back on the industrialised nations i.e. there is some justification for this kind of argument.

Restricting options

Watch out for writers who only allow an either / or scenario with no other options e.g. “we must either poison or shoot the pigeons or allow the city to become a dirty disease ridden place.”

Making irrelevant appeals

Appealing to popularity – “most people say / do / think… therefore it must be true.”!

Appealing to pity – “it’s not fair.” – is that relevant? What were the criteria?

E Finding strengths – deductive arguments

Do the alternatives exhaust the possibilities? If so then the conclusion must follow and be certain if not then the conclusion may fail and be only probable.

Building a chain of argument

If A is true then B is true then C must be true [ontological argument: If God is the greatest being imaginable then he must exist for not to exist would mean he is not the greatest being imaginable.]

Thus if the ifs are true then the thens must be!

F Assessing the credibility of the evidence

Look for motive

Check for corroboration

Look for vested interest

G And finally applying your skills

Asking the right questions:

  • What conclusion does the author come to?
  • What reasoning does the author use to support this conclusion?
  • What assumptions are necessary for this conclusion to be drawn?


  • Does the reasoning support the conclusion?
  • Does the evidence have the significance the author intends?
  • Are there other explanations for the evidence?
  • If the author uses any analogies do they work?

Use these to assess an argument – E.g. Try the exercises on pages 101-113

Remember you can use the same skills to strengthen arguments that you write, just remember to:

  • Check that your evidence supports the conclusion you want to make
  • Do you need more evidence?

Good luck!

Philosophy A2 Exam Paper Questions

June 2009

1a)    Examine the view that religious experiences provide a compelling argument for the existence of God. Discuss the implications of this view for atheism.            [40]


b)    Analyse and discuss the view that there are only two positions one can take about the Ontological Argument: either it is a convincing proof of the existence of God or it is a failure.                                                [40]

2a)    Compare, contrast and evaluate two of the following:

  1. reincarnation
  2. resurrection
  3. immortality of the soul                                [40]


b)    ‘A study of religious language presents positive insights into an understanding of religion but also shows the severe limitations of language in this context.’

Analyse and discuss this claim with reference to two of the following:

  1. analogy
  2. language games
  3. myth and symbol                                    [40]

Sample paper for 2009 (version 2007)

1a)    i) Analyse the argument for the existence of God from religious experience. [18]

ii) ‘The argument for the existence of God will result in valid reasons to believe in God.’ Assess this claim.                                        [12]


b)    i) Examine the key concepts of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God.                                                     [18]

ii) Discuss whether this argument would convince an atheist.            [12]

2a)    i) Compare and contrast two beliefs about life after death.            [18]

ii) Assess which of these two views may provide a stronger philosophical basis for a belief in life after death.                                        [12]


b)    i) Explain what is meant by verification and falsification in the context of religious language.                                                [18]

ii) Evaluate their criticisms of religious language.                    [12]

Sample paper for 2009 (version 2005)

1a)    Analyse the key concepts of religious experience as an argument for the existence of God and evaluate the view that this argument supports the probability of the existence of God.                                                [40]


b)    Examine the major features of the Ontological argument for the existence of God. To what extent do the strengths of the argument overcome its weaknesses?        [40]

2a)    Compare and contrast reincarnation and immortality of the soul. Consider critically arguments against life after death.                                [40]


b)    ‘Religious language raises very difficult if not impossible probs .’ Discuss this statement by examining two of the following: analogy, verification, or falsification.    [40]

Philosophy A2 Exam Papers and mark scheme


1 a) Analyse the key concepts of religious experience as an argument for the existence of God.                                                    [12]

concept of religious exp; analogy between a range of human experiences and religious exp and principles of credulity and testimony; why this may be a reasonable and simple explanation. Accounts of religious exp only will have a ceiling of 8 marks if no focus on thrust of question.

b) Evaluate the view that this argument supports the probability of the existence of God.


weaknesses of argument such as supposed parallels between religious exp and other types; a consideration of the problems of interpretation as untrustworthy and alternative interpretation; evaluation of responses to criticisms with an understanding of the notion of probability in this context.

2 a) Explain the major features of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God.


could include a focus on one major example; understanding of the distinctive features of a priori reasoning with clarification of key terms and stages in this argument such as different notions of existence including necessary existence.

(2002 atheist’s understanding of God; difference between existence in mind and reality; necessary existence)

b) To what extent do the strengths of this argument overcome its weaknesses?     [8]

various examples such as the senses of existence and different interpretation of key terms including God, together with an assessment of responses to such criticisms and their strengths or otherwise.

3 “It is wrong to believe anything without sufficient evidence.”

Analyse and discuss this claim with reference to the non-existence of God and critiques of religious belief.                                            [20]

What place does evidence have in belief systems; could use psychological or sociological explanations; critical appraisal of religious belief in history and society in which they lack foundation in evidence. Questions the role of evidence in some arguments for the existence of God including the ontological argument and any rebuttal of religious belief.

4 a) Compare and contrast TWO of the following:

i) reincarnation

ii) rebirth

iii) resurrection

iv) immortality of the soul                                    [12]

Analysis of significant parallels and major differences and emphases with appropriate reference to specific religious traditions and scholars.

b) Consider critically arguments against belief in life after death.            [8]

e.g. behaviourist account of human nature; problems of language and evidence in this debate.


1 a) see above 2003 no 2a                                        [12]

b) To what extent if any is this argument a proof of the existence of God?        [8]

clarify proof and implications in this context, significance of deductive reasoning; weaknesses and strengths such as ideas about definition of God an notions of existence and necessary existence.

2 a) “Religious experience presents a convincing argument for the existence of God.”

Analyse this claim.                                             [12]

Requires argument and not just accounts. Similarities of principle of credulity in empirical context transferred to claims about experience of God including ideas about testimony.

b) Discuss criticisms of this argument.                                [8]

Reasons to doubt notions of credulity and testimony such as their applicability to religion; issues about the interpretation of experience; alternative explanations to religious experiences.

3 a) Compare and contrast arguments for and against belief in life after death.    [10]

contextual beliefs providing a rationale to support the claims of these beliefs, could be Theological and /or philosophical; implications of selected beliefs about God in this context; hick and the replica theory; arguments against could include conceptual problems in belief in life after death including problems of whether language is at all appropriate in this context; difficulties with the supposed incoherence of some concepts associated e.g. with dualism.

b) Define ONE of the following and evaluate its distinctive contributions to debates about life after death.                                            [10]

Clear understanding of the distinctive features of the selected concept, may draw upon selected philosophers; reasons employed to argue the case that the selected term is valid and convincing; evaluation may include the cogency of this term in its belief system.

4 a) Differentiate agnosticism from atheism                            [4]

Could include ideas about the different interpretation of each of these terms.

b) Examine either the verification or the falsification debate and evaluate it as a critique of religious belief.                                            [16]

E.g. logical positivism with selecte4d reference to key contributors; evaluation as critique of religious belief with implications about e.g. the meaningless nature of religious language

with dire consequences for religious belief; no evidence to falsify a belief in a benevolent God with the implications of the meaningless nature of such a belief; implications for agnostic and atheistic language and its supposed meaninglessness in this context; possibly also contentious nature of this as a basis of a theory of meaning.