Argument Mapping Improves Critical Thinking

Charles R. Twardy provides evidence that a course in argrument mapping, using a particular software tool improves critical thinking. The improvement in critical thinking is measured by performance on a specific multiple choice test (California Critical Thinking Skills Test). This may not be the best way to measure rationality, but my point is that unlike almost everybody else, there was measurement and statistical improvement!

Also, his paper is the best, methodologically, that I've seen in the field of "individual rationality augmentation research".

To summarize my (clumsy) understanding of the activity of argument mapping:

One takes a real argument in natural language. (op-eds are a good source of short arguments, philosophy is a source of long arguments). Then elaborate it into a tree structure, with the main conclusion at the root of the tree. The tree has two kinds of nodes (it is a bipartite graph). The root conclusion is a "claim" node. Every claim node has approximately one sentence of english text associated. The children of a claim are "reasons", which do NOT have english text associated. The children of a reason are claims. Unless I am mistaken, the intended meaning of the connection from a claim's child (a reason) to the parent is implication, and the meaning of a reason is the conjunction of its children.

In elaborating the argument, it's often necessary to insert implicit claims. This should be done abiding by the "Principle of Charity", that you should interpret the argument in such a way as to make it the strongest argument possible. 

There are two syntactic rules which can easily find flaws in argument maps:

The Rabbit Rule: Informally, "You can't conclude something about rabbits if you haven't been talking about rabbits". Formally, "Every meaningful term in the conclusion must appear at least once in every reason."

The Holding Hands Rule: Informally, "We can't be connected unless we're holding hands". Formally, "Every meaningful term in one premise of a reason must appear at least once in another premise of that reason, or in the conclusion".

I have tried the Rationale tool, and it seems afflicted with creeping featurism. My guess is the open-source tool Freemind could support argument mapping as described in Twardy's article, if the user is disciplined about it.

I'd love comments offering alternative rationality-improvement tools. I'd prefer tools intended for solo use (that is, prediction markets are awesome but not what I'm looking for) and downloadable rather than web services, but anything would be great.

Articles on Critical Thinking & Argument Mapping

– Alvarez, C., Does Philosophy improve Critical Thinking Skills? 2007. A meta-analysis of resarch on the effectivity of different methods to develop critical thinking skills. Click here for a map of the conclusions. For the meta-analysis itself click here ( see especially Chapter 5).

– Cahill, Ann J., Bloch-Schulman, Stephen,Argumentation Step-By-Step. Teaching Philosophy, Volume 35, issue 1 March 2012, 41-62.

– Davies, W.M., Computer-Aided Mapping and the Teaching of Critical Thinking: Part I. Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines. vol. 27, no. 2, pages 15 – 30,  2012, DOI: 10.5840/inquiryct20122729

– Davies, W.M., Computer-Aided Argument Mapping and the Teaching of Critical Thinking: Part II. Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines vol. 27, no. 3, pages 16 – 28,  2012, DOI: 10.5840/inquiryct201227317

– Davies, W.M., Concept Mapping, Mind Mapping and Argument Mapping: What are the differences and do they matter? 2007.

– Davies, W.M.,‘Not quite right’ : helping students to make better arguments. Teaching in Higher Education. Vol.13, No. 3, June 2008, 327-340.

– Dwyer, C., Hogan, M., & Stewart, I. (2012): An evaluation of argument mapping as a method of enhancing critical thinking performance in e-learning environments. Metacognition and Learning, 7(3), 219-244.

– Dwyer, C., Hogan, M., & Stewart, I. (2013): An examination of the effects of argument mapping on students ‘ memory and comprehension performance. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 8(0), 11-24. doi:

– Eftekhari, M., Sotoudehnama, E., Marandi, S., Computer-aided argument mapping in an EFL setting: does technology precede traditional paper and pencil approach in developing critical thinking? Education Technology Research, February 2016.

– Elsegood, S.,Teaching Critical Thinking in an English for Academic Purposes Program using a ‘Claims and Supports’ Approach. Refereed paper presented at the 10th Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education Conference, 2007.

– Gelder, T. van, Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Lessons from Cognitive Science. 2005. College Teaching, 53,1, pp. 41-46. (2005). For a map of the conclusions/lessons of the article see here .

Dutch translation:Het doceren van kritisch denken. Lessen uit de cognitiewetenschap.  For a map of the conclusions/lessons of the article in Dutch, seehere.

– Gelder, T. van, What is Argument Mapping?

– Gelder, T. van, Bissett, M., Cumming, G., Cultivating Expertise in Informal Reasoning. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2004, 58:2. Research on the importance of ‘dedicated practice’ for the development of critical thinking skills.

– Gelder, T. van., Using argument mapping to improve critical thinking skills. The Palgrave Handbook Critical Thinking in Higher Education. Edited by Martin Davies and Ronald Barnett. 2015.

– Mara Harrell (Carnegie Mellon University) is doing research into the influence of argument mapping on the development of critical thinking skills in her own practice as a lecturer philosophy at Carnegie Mellon. See her list of publications here.

– Kunsch, D.W., Schnarr, K., & van Tyle, R., The Use of Argument Mapping to Enhance Critical Thinking Skills in Business Education. Volume 89, Issue 8, November 2014, pages 403-410.

– Lengbyer, L., Critical Thinking in the Intelligence Community: The Promise of Argument Mapping. Inquiry: Critical Thinking across the disciplines. Summer 2014, Vol. 29, No. 2.

  A fascinating case study showing the importance of argument mapping, using Rationale. From the Abstract:

” It is unfortunate that so much turns on the practices of argument construction and critique in intelligence analysis, for example, because these practices are fraught with difficulty. However, the recently developed technique of argument mapping helps reasoners conduct these practices more thoroughly and insightfully, as can be shown in an extended illustration concerning Iraqi nuclear activities circa 2002.”

– The Monash Critical Thinking Study, 2004-2007.

‘Many people reason poorly, by almost any measure of reasoning. Although there is evidence that people can be taught to think critically, educators don’t really know how. They don’t know what works, what doesn’t, or why. This report describes the Monash Critical Thinking Study – a three year project to investigate the effectiveness of a number of teaching methods for improving critical thinking.’

– Rider, Y. Thomason, N., (2008), Cognitive and Pedagogical Benefits of Argument Mapping: L.A.M.P. Guides The Way to Better Thinking. Knowledge Cartography, Advanced Information and Knowledge Processing. Springer-Verlag London.

– Twardy, C., Argument Maps Improve Critical Thinking, 2004. Teaching Philosophy, 27:2. A joy to read.







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