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400 words – PLEASE BE DETAILED Should there be a death penalty for first-degree murder? Make an argument that either supports or opposes the use of the death penalty in first-degree murder cases. Be sure to define what is involved with first-degree murder and provide adequate reasoning and support for your argument. When responding to your classmates’ posts, be sure to identify any fallacies and evaluate whether arguments provide sufficient evidence to support their assertions. You are encouraged to challenge each other, but please remember to use appropriate netiquette when responding to one another. Your response should be respectful and constructive. ========================================= Kickoff Post Welcome to the Week 8 discussion board! You’ve all done good work throughout the class so far in applying course concepts to analyze arguments, and, as I mention in my beginning-of-week announcement, this week we’re aiming to bring it all together on a life-or-death matter – on arguments about whether the death penalty is justified for first-degree murder. One important reminder – as I’ve noted several times earlier in the course, the priority here is on the reasoning used to support a claim, not the claim itself (and, as a quick public service announcement, reasoning means the movement from premises to conclusion in an argument – how did we get from premise to conclusion, and was the move legitimate or was it like an illegal move in chess, where, sure, you can move the pieces however you like, but that doesn’t inherently mean it’s a good move). This is another way of saying: it does not matter which claim you choose in this debate; what matters is how you support that claim, what evidence you use, and how you back up that evidence & what sources you rely on. There are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of this debate, and some of us may have strong feelings about the issue. That’s fine – it’s ok to bring passion to things that matter in this world. But I also want to make sure that those passions don’t get in the way of our fine critical attention to reasoning, which fundamentally consists of asking and anayzing: What are the premises used to support the conclusion? Are those premises well-supported with evidence? Is that evidence used to support the premises credible? What assumptions are we being asked to make in order to connect a premise to a conclusion, and are those assumptions reasonable? (These assumptions are called implicit premises, or sometimes warrants – an example shared earlier in the class, with the claim that dogs are smarter than cats (conclusion) because dogs can easily learn tricks while cats don’t (premise) relies on the assumption/implicit premise/warrant that ability to easily learn tricks is a sign of superior intelligence, which itself is making a claim that calls for an argument to support it before we can entirely accept this argument). Is the argument relying more on rhetoric than reason in order to persuade its audience? And, thus, are we reasoning properly from premises to conclusions, or are we, ahem, jumping to conclusions? jump to conclusions-1.gif And as you address each of those questions, sometimes the list of cognitive biases, fallacies, or rhetorical devices can be helpful in identifying specific errors, but don’t feel confined to just the items on those lists – you can point out what you deem to be errors in reasoning that aren’t necessarily connected to those specific concepts. For your responses, I’m especially interested in critically examining the assumptions that we rely on in our arguments. Assumptions aren’t necessarily bad things – we have to rely on assumptions all the time to do pretty much anything (when I get in my car to drive to the store, for example, I’m assuming that everyone else is going to drive safely enough to allow me to get to my destination and back, although sadly that’s not always a reliable assumption. And these days especially, when I arrive at the store, I’m assuming/hoping that everyone is going to practice proper social distancing and not infect me) – otherwise we might not ever leave the house. Which actually is kind of what things sometimes feel like right now, admittedly. But what’s important is that we’re aware of our assumptions – that we’ve critically examined them and are okay with the risk in leaping from premise to conclusion, accepting that while the argument may not be certain, it’s strong enough to accept. The key thing to remember in this discussion, both in your own initial posts as well as your responses, is that it’s the argument that matters here – that is, regardless of what side you take, what is the reasoning (evidence, grounds, premises, warrants, logic) that the claim is resting on to support it? Even if you agree with someone else’s position, you should still critically interrogate the argument they present to make sure it’s well reasoned, since – and this is especially important when the stakes are high – a poor argument in favor of the position you agree with could actually undermine your side. Similarly, even if you disagree with someone else’s position, focus on the evidence and reasoning they provide to support their claim, rather than on the claim itself. Either position is acceptable to take, and both positions have legitimate reasons for supporting them – want we want to closely consider here is the vehicles (i.e., the arguments) we take to get to that position. In short, try to avoid belief bias or confirmation bias, where we accept arguments because, with belief bias, we believe the conclusion and thus will likely believe pretty much any argument that supports that conclusion regardless of how strong or weak it is, and, with confirmation bias, we tend to look for, interpret, prefer, and remember evidence that supports our pre-existing beliefs and ignore or discard information that doesn’t. As Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, says, “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” And one of the primary reasons he got so rich is by ensuring that he didn’t fall victim to the human brain’s tendency to want to confirm pre-existing beliefs rather than look at the evidence objectively (for more on this, see the video below (plus the presenter has a fun Australian accent): Watch Video What is Unconscious Bias? === Now, returning to this week’s discussion topic: given that this can sometimes be a sensitive or heated topic, I just want to stress again that our focus is on the reasoning used to support a claim, not on the claim itself. Both positions have legitimacy, and our job here is to help strengthen each other’s reasoning, so I would just ask everyone to approach this discussion in the spirit of collegiality and with the understanding that critiques are about trying to help each other strengthen our arguments, not about trying to say this or that claim is wrong. In particular I recommend applying what you learn about causal arguments from Chapter 11 – we learned last week that correlation does not imply causation (just because two variables are associated does not inherently mean that one caused the other; sometimes they’re both the result of a third factor, and sometimes the correlation is simply random). Most arguments that deal with capital punishment are making causal arguments, so think carefully about what evidence there is to demonstrate a causal relationship between the two factors you’re addressing, and whether the evidence is fully convincing. Also, in light of what we read earlier in the course in Chapter 3, think carefully about the terms you’re using to make sure they’re clear to your reader and that they will interpret the exact same meaning that you intend. If you think there might be any vagueness or ambiguity – for example, we might say something like “People who commit first-degree murder are a danger to society”; what exactly does “danger to society” mean in this context, precisely how does it connect to the argument, and why is execution the only way to counter that danger? – then it’s probably a good idea to define your terms precisely to remove that vagueness or ambiguity and ensure that your reader understands your terms exactly as you intend them. As you likely already figured out long ago, I’m big on stale dank memes. They’re the dad jokes of online education.