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The whole field of critical thinking is about two main things: being able to make good arguments and being able to critique arguments presented for their merits and demerits. It is a crucial faculty to develop if you’re one of those nerdy writers, and also since it helps you to navigate the world with a certain alertness that many do not enjoy. You are able to look deeper into matters that many only see on the surface, and you often save yourself from the trap of being persuaded too easily by arguments that, while very persuasive, fail to hold when observed in a critical light. And yet in order to begin your journey on understanding critical thinking and becoming a better critical thinker and writer, it is important to start by understanding the pertinent terms used in critical thinking. This will help you do your essay assignment a lot better.

What is a Claim?
A claim is a general statement about some truth of the universe around you. It is necessarily external from your own experience of that universe and prescriptive in the sense that other people have an option to refute that claim. For example, “I don’t like the weather today” is not considered a claim, since no one can refute that. It’s not up to them whether you like the weather or not and they can’t do much about it. However, the statement “The weather today is the best weather in the past six months” is a claim, since anyone can refute it. Anyone can choose to either agree with you or disagree with you. From this, you can see that any statement about the truth or condition of some shared experience that goes beyond the individual can be a claim. Any statement about your feelings or thoughts, so long as it is restricted to your own personal experience, cannot be considered a claim. However, any statement about your feelings or thoughts, so long as it is about some external truth that others can also experience, can be considered a claim.

Claims are the seeds from which arguments grow. When you make a claim, you usually want to convince others of the truth of your claim. If you say that the weather today is the best it has been in the past 6 months and everyone agrees with you, then there is no reason to support your claim. It is universally accepted. However, people rarely agree so easily on many matters. In fact, it is precisely these disagreements over claims that have pretty much led to the advancement of human knowledge, and the evolution of the argument in its formal sense. So how do you convince others of the truth of your claim? You come up with reasons.

What is a Reason?
A reason is the support that you offer for a claim in order to persuade others to agree with your claim. A claim on its own is nothing more than your assertion of the truth of something. It is entirely subjective. By giving the claim some reasons, you lend it some objectivity. There are two hypothetical ways that a person can challenge a claim you make: the first is that they will want to know why you say what you say, that is why you make the claim. The second is that they will want to know if you can give them reasons to believe your claim. Anything that answers those two questions is technically a reason. So, for example, if you make the claim that the weather today is the best it has been in six months, you might give the reason as “most people I know online have made positive comments about the weather”.

Think of a reason as the thing that comes after the word “because”. If you were to write your claim down and append the word “because” to it, a reason would follow the word. Again, the validity of a reason will heavily depend on whether it is something that other people can experience and therefore refute. When you write “the weather today is the best it has been in the last 6 months because I said so” doesn’t really qualify as a reason since others are not privy to your internal processes and cannot, therefore, refute them. But even reasons themselves need one other thing to be truly objective: evidence.

What is Evidence?
Just as reasons support claims, so does evidence support reasons. They are the final step on the staircase of persuasion, offering firm, objective information that is meant to compel audiences to accept claims. Evidence is meant to be more objective than both claims and reasons, and so given their truth and relevance, they should be universally accepted.

There are all sorts of different kinds of evidence, and it usually depends on the academic field and the kind of argument. The kind of evidence that is acceptable to a literature professor is not necessarily the same as the kind of evidence acceptable to a mathematician. In a court of law, evidence may be in the form of material relating to the case that incriminates the defendant or acquits them beyond reasonable doubt. In a discussion about the average living standards of a country, the evidence might come in the form of statistics about such things as GDP and unemployment rate.

Evidence can also come in the form of appeals to authority, such as an eyewitness (first hand) testimony or a testimony by some expert. If you are discussing living standards, for example, you might want a sample of first-hand testimonies about from the citizens of the country in question about such things as what is affordable and what is not. This can help to give your audience a sense of closeness to the matter at hand. You can also get the testimony of an expert with the requisite formal knowledge and training in the area, such as a development economist for the living standards issue. Be careful, however, to make sure that the authority you are appealing to as your evidence is best qualified to speak on the particular topic.

What is an Argument?
And now that we have defined all of the preliminaries, we can finally say something meaningful about arguments. In the academic context, an argument is a claim supported by reasons backed by evidence. It is what you will essentially be building in an essay or what you will get when writing services do essays for you. It is also a custom progression toward greater and greater objectivity if you think about it. A claim is the most subjective part of an argument since it is merely an assertion of yours about some external truth. Reasons are a little more objective than claims since they may allude to some greater shared experiences that your audience can relate to. Ideally, evidence is the most objective part of an argument and should be the final piece in the puzzle that is convincing the audience of the truth of your claim.

Sometimes reasons are enough to back up a claim if your audience agrees with your reasons and they are objective enough. This is usually the case in strictly abstract fields, such as logic and mathematics. Here claims are made and some reasons (usually based on reference to basic accepted truths in the field, called axioms) are stated in support of the claims. Because of the universal nature of the claims and reasons given in mathematics, it is often possible to make arguments that no rational being can objectively refute. Reasons in mathematics are indistinguishable from evidence. In fact, so final is evidence in mathematics that it is instead called proof, while it is called evidence everywhere else. Fields like philosophy also typically only go as far as giving only reasons for their claims, without adding evidence, though they are often refuted and debates about philosophical ideas can last for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

In most practical fields, evidence must be included to back reasons up, whether in the form of statistics, or anecdotes, or appeals to authority, or otherwise. And while the aim is usually for the evidence to be so objective and so compelling that the audience has no choice but to agree with your claims, there is never a guarantee of agreement.
As a student, you should remember that nothing can ever be truly objective outside of the world of mathematics. People might not agree with your reasons, or might question the sources of your evidence or the methods used to gather it. They might question the truth and validity of your evidence even. In that sense, arguments should never be seen as final, but rather as submissions in the never-ending process of seeking truth that is central to human nature. And while we are often so fond of our claims and the arguments we painstakingly develop to support them, we should never close our minds to the possibility that we are wrong and might be better off dropping our claims altogether and accepting others, or modifying them slightly to better model reality. That is, after all, how human knowledge has evolved.

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