Claims, Reason, and Evidence
The Cambridge Dictionary (references below) defines the terms as follows:
claim – a statement that something is true or is a fact, although other people might not believe it
reason – the cause of an event or situation or something that provides an excuse or explanation
evidence – one or more reasons for believing that something is or is not true.
Critical thinking and argument
The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Communication (reference below) describes how Critical Thinking relies on claims, reasons and evidence:
“Critical thinking means being able to make good arguments. Arguments are claims backed by reasons that are supported by evidence. Argumentation is a social process of two or more people making arguments, responding to one another – not simply restating the same claims and reasons – and modifying or defending their positions accordingly.
“Claims are statements about what is true or good or about what should be done or believed. Claims are potentially arguable. “A liberal arts education prepares students best” is a claim, while “I didn’t like the book” is not. The rest of the world can’t really dispute whether I liked the book or not, but they can argue about the benefits of liberal arts. “I thought the movie was cool” is not an arguable statement, but “the movie was Paul Newman’s best” is, for people can disagree and offer support for their different opinions.
“Reasons are statements of support for claims, making those claims something more than mere assertions. Reasons are statements in an argument that pass two tests:
“Reasons are answers to the hypothetical challenge to your claim:
- “Why do you say that?”
- “What reason can you give me to believe that?” If a claim about liberal arts education is so challenged, a response with a reason could be: “It teaches students to think independently.”
“Reasons can be linked to claims with the word because:
- Liberal arts is best [claim] because it teaches students independent thinking [reason];
- That was Newman’s best [claim] because it presented the most difficult role [reason];
- Global warming is real [claim] because the most reputable science points in that direction [reason].
- Everyone should stop wearing seat belts [claim] because it would save lives [reason].
“If reasons do not make sense in the hypothetical challenge or the ‘because’ tests, there is probably something wrong with the logic of the argument. Passing those tests, however, does not insure that arguments are sound and compelling.
“Evidence serves as support for the reasons offered and helps compel audiences to accept claims. Evidence comes in different sorts, and it tends to vary from one academic field or subject of argument to another. Scientific arguments about global warming require different kinds of evidence than mealtime arguments about Paul Newman’s movies.”
Challenges to evidence-based reasoning
The application of reason and evidence to validate a claim is the cornerstone of the scientific method, defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”
Evidence-based claims can be contrasted with claims based on more subjective factors such as social convention, religious belief, sacred text, partisan loyalty, group solidarity, perceived justice, lived experience, or personal emotion. Given the importance of such factors in society and politics, it is not surprising that many socioeconomic and policy claims remain highly contested. Indeed, the realm of contestation is extending to the integrity of the scientific method and to the mission of a university. Jonathan Haidt argues that an institutional mission of pursuing social justice is incompatible with the university’s traditional mission of seeking truth (see Haidt’s Telos Choice – Either Truth or Social Justice). Haidt claims that the decreasing Viewpoint Diversity in the social sciences is making research findings increasingly susceptible to error arising from Motivated Reasoning and Confirmation Bias.
Atlas topic, subject, and course
The Cambridge Dictionary, claim, at https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/claim, accessed 5 December 2018.
The Cambridge Dictionary, reason, at https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/reason, accessed 5 December 2018.
The Cambridge Dictionary, evidence, at https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/evidence, accessed 5 December 2018.
Oxford Dictionary, scientific method, at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/scientific_method, accessed 5 December 2018.
University of Pittsburgh, Department of Communication, Argument: Claims, Reasons, Evidence, at https://www.comm.pitt.edu/argument-claims-reasons-evidence, accessed 4 December 2018.
Jonathan Haidt (2016), Why Universities Must Choose One Telos: Truth or Social Justice, Heterodox Academy, 21 October 2016, at http://heterodoxacademy.org/2016/10/21/one-telos-truth-or-social-justice/, accessed 6 December 2018.
Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 6 December 2018.
Image: Jeremy Conn, Helping Students Make Evidence-Based Claims, Clear Biology, 6 September 2012, at http://www.clearbiology.com/helping-students-make-evidence-based-claims/, accessed 5 December 2018.