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Summary of Week 6

What do reasoning by analogy, appeals to authority and the burden of proof have to do with logical and critical thinking and the law?
© Tim Dare, University of Auckland

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 its role in legal reasoning. Examining the nature of the role of the burden of proof in law is useful for understating 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.

© Tim Dare, University of Auckland
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Logical and Critical Thinking

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