The argument form Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) is so common as to be essentially unrecognized in everyday life. When we examine the form of the argument carefully, we can see ways to evaluate these arguments that make our reasoning stronger. Our explanations can be clearer and more persuasive, and crafting good explanations is an essential part of critical reasoning.
Read the target article and the Supplemental Note on IBE in Blackboard and then write a three-page essay that does the following.
1. Identifies the phenomenon to be explained
2. Identifies the candidate explanations
3. Presents the IBE in standard form
4. Explains how the “winning” explanation was chosen
5. Evaluates the authors’ reasoning about that explanation
Running a little bit short is fine, but by no more than half a page. Do not go over three pages. I will stop reading at three pages, and if you have something to say after that, I won’t see it. (If you think that you absolutely must go over three pages, check with me first so that we can go over what you are trying to say. Such requests will not necessarily be approved, but they won’t be automatically denied either.)
The first four of these items should come from the article and are matters of fact; either they are presented in the given source material or they are not. Grading on these items will be for completeness and accuracy. The last should be your own conclusion about the strength of the research and should draw on features of good explanations as they are given in the Supplemental Note. Grading for this will be for accuracy and having good justifications for your ideas.
“C” level work will incorporate all five of these points clearly and mostly accurately.
“B” level work will satisfy the requirements for a C and will be clearly and explicitly organized (use an intro with a clear thesis, and use signposts as necessary). The analysis in point 5 will be clear and accurate.
“A” level work will satisfy the requirements for a B but will have very few mistakes or omissions about matters of fact. It will be written exceptionally well and will have a compelling analysis (point 5). This does not mean that I will agree with the analysis. Excellence does not necessarily mean that I think the same way as the author of the essay.
“D” and “F” essays will not clearly meet the requirements for a C. They may be so disorganized or filled with errors as to fail to communicate the author’s intentions. They might leave out any of points 1-5 (no standard form reconstruction, for example, as in point 3).
I do not automatically deduct points for typographical or grammatical errors, or for simple errors of word choice when I can tell what is meant. If, however, such errors result in a lack of clarity, are pervasive or in my judgment culpably sloppy, or if the writing is vague or ambiguous in a manner that context does not illuminate (Chapter 3 and lecture notes), then such problems might result in a lower grade as above.
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