Critical Analysis Chapter 4: What Are the Descriptive Assumptions?

For the assigned passage(s), identify the conclusion (thesis) and reasons that make up the argument. Also identify any unstated descriptive assumptions you can detect here. Remember, for a reason to support a thesis, a descriptive assumption of some kind must also be true. Please type your answers and use complete sentences, not simply phrases or single words, in all segments of your answers. Also, avoid quoting full sentences. Paraphrase instead.

Watch for both assumptions required for reasons to be true (assumptions underlying the reason) and for assumptions needed for reasons to logically support the conclusion (linkage assumptions). Try to identify assumptions underlying the reason by asking, “For this reason to be true, what else must I believe?”  Identify linkage assumptions by asking, “If this reason is true, what else needs to be true for it to make the truth of the conclusion more likely?”

One of the most common responses made by students in identifying descriptive assumptions is to restate the reason as an assumption, perhaps changing the wording just a little. For example, to the argument that women should not be allowed in combat because they are too compassionate, a student might respond, “The writer is assuming that women really are too compassionate.”  Because of this tendency, try to ask, “WHAT ELSE does the writer need to believe to accept the truth of the reason?”  What the students usually mean when they restate the reason as an assumption is that the writer or speaker is making an ASSERTION that may not be true.

Identifying assumptions is probably the most difficult skill you will be learning from critical analysis. So don’t be disappointed–just keep trying.

Passage 1:

The incumbent president should have no trouble gaining re-election. He is a Democrat. Of the 140,000,000 registered voters, 38 percent are registered Democrats, 32 percent are registered Republicans, and the rest are independents. The independents are split about evenly in the polls between the Republican and Democratic candidates. Only the greatest folly could cost the president the election at this point.

Passage 2:

Critical thinking programs will not work. Critical thinking skills should be taught like all other bodily skills, by coaching, not by combining lectures with textbooks that claim to teach people specific thinking skills. After all, we don’t teach doctors and lawyers how to think critically by giving them a course in critical thinking. We require them to use critical thinking skills in all courses that they are taught. We teach them by coaching, by providing lots of practice and corrective feedback.

Thinking is not a skill that can be taught in isolation from other mental acts and from the content of our disciplines. Instead of developing critical thinking programs, we should be making sure that our students are coached in critical thinking in all their courses. If all our teachers would act as coaches and require our students to think about what is being taught instead of having them memorizing the facts, then we would not need critical thinking courses.

Passage 3:

Many housewives experience severe stress.  The demands of children, husband and society place intense pressures on modern women.  To cope with these pressures often requires medicinal aid.  What is wrong with taking an effective pill that gives both energy and relative peace of mind?  It certainly seems preferable to have women taking amphetamines than to have them experiencing massive nervous breakdowns.  There is little evidence to suggest that amphetamines taken in moderate dosages are addictive, and they are not very expensive; thus, it would seem that modern women have little to lose and much to gain by their use.

Passage 4:

Should it be legal for newspaper and television reporters to refuse to reveal their confidential sources? Indeed it should. The reporter-informant relationship is, after all, similar to those of priest and penitent, lawyer and client, physician and patient – all of which have a degree of privacy under the law. Moreover, if that relationship were not protected, the sources of information needed by the public would dry up.

Passage 5:

The immense attraction of rap music for college students is having a negative impact on their scholarship. Books no longer claim the enthusiasm that is now directed to the rap star of the week. How can we expect students to struggle with a lengthy passage from Plato when they have become accustomed to experiencing the throbbing, pulsating, primitive excitement of rap music? Such music provides premature ecstasy—like a drug—an instant ecstasy that books and the classroom cannot provide them. Furthermore, with the prevalence of portable CD and digital recording players, students can be constantly plugged into music. With so much time devoted to listening to music, studies must suffer.


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