Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Summary of Week 6

This week we’ve looked at legal reasoning, focussing on three important aspects of such reasoning which connect to broader themes in logical and critical thinking.

We’ve described reasoning by analogy, a non-deductive argument form which allows us to draw conclusions about some new case or situation - will my new car (probably) be reliable, was Double Falsehood (probably) written by William Shakespeare - on the basis of relevant similarities between the new case and other cases with which we are already familiar. We reason this way all the time, but such reasoning is essential to the law, where it lies at the heart of the process by which judges decide whether principles established in some cases apply to other, new, cases.

We also saw that appeals to authority, which we might properly treat with suspicion in most contexts - since they suggest that an arguer is not using their own critical thinking skills - might be justified in the law, because the consideration such as certainty gives even good critical thinkers reason to treat some decisions as authoritative. Law’s particular attitude to authority can help us see why and when appeals to authority might be legitimate outside the law too.

Many of us will be most familiar with the idea of the burden of proof because of it’s role in legal reasoning. Examining the nature of the role of the burden of proof in law is useful for understanding its role - and its limitations - outside the law as well.

And our important tendency to understand fairness either ‘historically’ or ‘substantively’ is also usefully examined in the law, where it features particularly clearly.

Understanding legal reasoning is important in its own right, but it also enriches our understanding of logical and critical thinking more generally.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Logical and Critical Thinking

The University of Auckland

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

  • Availability heuristic
    Availability heuristic

    We tend to judge the probability of an event by seeing how readily examples come to mind, rather than by working out the real probabilities.

  • Pohutukawa tree case study
    Pohutukawa tree case study

    When is it best to express your views by providing reasons? Are there cases in which other ways of expressing yourself might be better suited?

  • Arguments for and against the existence of God
    Arguments for and against the existence of God

    John Bishop and Patrick Girard from the University of Auckland discuss deductive and non-deductive arguments for and against the existence of God.

  • Science and falsification
    Science and falsification

    Why falsifiability matters.

  • Going Vegan
    Going Vegan

    A pretty wild exchange for and against becoming vegan. We'll use it to see how the skills you've learned during the course can be put into action.

Contact FutureLearn for Support