Made in Court (Review)

(Supreme Court Decisions That Shaped Canada, by Richard Pound)

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This is a case-law book which has a collection of Supreme Court of Canada decisions over the last century.

Each case is covered in about 5-6 pages. It combines actual quotes from the Court rulings along with commentary on the reasoning. The reviews directly come from the rulings, and are not filtered through media bias.

Certainly, everyone has their own opinions as to which cases should be included, but Mr. Pound selects 57 cases from a wide cross section of law. Here are a few of them

Juries decide the Facts, Judge Determines the law,
R v. Latimer, 2001

Marital Breakdown, Wives Without Rights
Murdoch v. Murdoch, 1973

Fighting For Language Rights
Attorney General of Quebec v. Blaikie et al, 1979

The Right to Die: Beginning a Legal Debate
Rodriguez v. British Columbia, 1993

Of course, the full text of any of the decisions can be researched using CanLII.

This is only a handful, but the book contains 57 cases, with a good mix of quote and analysis. Not overwhelming to digest individual cases. All in all, a great reference book.

Critical Thinking #4: “Essentials of Argument” (Review)

(Essentials of Argument, by Nancy Wood)

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This is another review in the series on critical thinking. So, far, it is the 4th article.

Here are the previous entries on the topic:
CLICK HERE, for #1, Honest v. Dishonest Debate Tactics.
CLICK HERE, for #2, Logical Self Defense.
CLICK HERE, for #3, Critical Thinking for Dummies.

Why do we spend so much time on the topic of critical thinking? Because understanding the law depends (at least theoretically), on understanding the creation and reasoning behind it. The more we know about that, the more in depth we can go, and either apply the law, or lobby to have it changed.

Hence, it is the skill itself that is essential, not necessarily the individual arguments themselves.

This book is different in that is has a largely academic undertone to it. Being able to research and analyse issues for classroom and presentations is a large theme of it. A main focus is writing persuasive and well reasoned essays.

The Wood book also goes through screening and selecting authors for their work, and trying to compare their findings with comparable authors. A lot of time is spent trying to break down opinions and express them clearly, and in a well reasoned manner.

It makes a great deal of sense. If one is writing a school essay, or a Master’s thesis, or PhD. dissertation, coherent reasoning is essential. You wouldn’t want the people reviewing your work to claim that it is illogical or makes no sense.

Further, the book gives examples of strengthening your own arguments, while attempting to fend off opposing arguments, or reasoning that could commonly be used to rebut your claims.

As with other books, there is also a section (Pages 147-150) about logical fallacies, such as:
(a) Begging the question (lacks evidence);
(b) Red herring (irrelevant and misleading evidence);
(c) Non sequitur (it does not follow);
(d) Straw man (mischaracterising someone’s arguments);
(e) Stacked evidence
(f) Either-Or;
(g) Post-hoc
(h) Generalization
(I) Ad Hominem
(j) Guilt by association
(k) Using authority instead of evidence
(l) Bandwagon appeal
(m) Slippery slope
(n) Creating false needs

This is part of the list that would also be found in the Reed website, which is almost exclusively devoted to dishonest debate tactics. Here, Ms. Wood has a small section on them.

A Brief Outline of The Book
Chapter 1: Recognizing argument and finding issues
Chapter 2: The rhetorical situation
Chapter 3: Research into issues
Chapter 4: Writing exploratory papers
Chapter 5: Toulmin model for argument (parts)
Chapter 6: Types of Claims
Chapter 7: Types of Proof
Chapter 8: Writing the research paper
Chapter 9: Writing the Rogerian argument paper
Chapter 10: Visual and oral argument

There is a fairly interesting topic near the end regarding presentations. This can be applied to both school and work settings. It gives guidelines for how to set up clear and logical presentations without being overwhelming, a useful skill to have.

My only real criticism of this book is that for the most part, it is an exceptionally dry read. To be fair, there isn’t much that can be done to make it exciting. But while it is dry and rather dull, the information presented is quite valuable, especially to students and academics in general.

Nonetheless, devoted students would find it worthwhile.

Critical Thinking #3: “C.T. Skills For Dummies”, (Review)

(Critical Thinking Skills for Dummies, by Martin Cohen)

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This is the third publication we come to regarding critical thinking. It is one of the “For Dummies” books, appropriately called, “Critical Thinking Skills”. Great for anyone looking to expand their thought process. Here are some highlights.

An interesting claim the author makes is that critical isn’t about putting arguments and debates into formal language, but rather to look at issues in the real world, and offer practical solutions. This is different from both the Reed article and the Johnson/Blair book , which did focus on debate. Further, this book promotes the idea that critical thinking is about developing and refining skills, rather than focusing on specific facts.

This book does put more of a “what can we do about” emphasis than the other 2 publications. Applying the skill of critical thinking is a nice approach to take.

There is a section on Nazi propaganda. The short version is that appealing to emotion, rather than to factual and logical premises can lead people to very destructive results. Of course this was not to endorse the ideology, but to show how emotional reasoning can undermine truth and reality.

Spotting and debunking fallacies is a theme throughout the book. Examples are given of information that often cannot lead to the supposed conclusions. Here, dogs, children and toys are used to simplify the examples.

Arguments often contain much irrelevant, or contradictory information, so being able to dissect this makes for a much more coherent conclusion and response.

The book starts off more generally, but goes deeper and deeper into critical thinking. Rather than bombarding with information, it focuses on deconstructing then reconstructing ideas. It also uses puzzles to showcase mental blocks and assumptions that people often make.

A chapter describes hierarchies of Knowledge (triangles or pyramids).
One is: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation
Another is: Remembering; Understanding; Applying; Analysing; Evaluating; Creating

There is a brief section on challenging scientific evidence on a number of grounds: (I) Is the evidence adequate? (II) Does the evidence prove the conclusion? (III) Causation or just correlation? (IV) Conflicts of interest from the people presenting it.

A Brief Outline of the Book
Chapter 1: Entering the CT world
Chapter 2: Peering into the mind
Chapter 3: Planting ideas in your head
Chapter 4: Assessing your skills
Chapter 5: Reasoning by analogy
Chapter 6: Circular reasoning
Chapter 7: Using drawings
Chapter 8: Knowledge Hierarchies
Chapter 9: Getting to the heart of the matter
Chapter 10: Critical writing skills
Chapter 11: Speaking and writing critically
Chapter 12: Logic of real arguments
Chapter 13: Behaving rationally
Chapter 14: Persuasion and rhetoric
Chapter 15: Evidence to justify opinion

The book does point out some techniques used which are meant to circumvent logical thinking, such as: (a) Everyone else is doing it; (b) Be like your hero; (c) Trust me; (d) Weasel words; (e) Flattery; (f) Warm and fuzzy

Note: A more expanded version of that list can be found on John T. Reed’s website. These are some of the many intellectually dishonest debate tactics that are used in the absence of arguing fact or logic.

As with the previous 2 articles, critical thinking is an essential part in laws and policies. This features not only in how they are drafted, but how they are applied, and at times challenged. Knowing the reasoning behind laws and policies will help form stronger arguments both for and against them.

Related Publications
CLICK HERE, for Critical Thinking #1, Honest v.s. Dishonest Debate Tactics by John T. Reed.

CLICK HERE, for Critical Thinking #2, Logical Self Defense, by Johnson & Blair

Any of these works: the Cohen book, the Johnston/Blair book, or the Reed website are well worth reading. The books are tedious, but rewarding reads. The website is a pretty quick skim. Rather than focusing on facts, their goal is to help the reader be more critical in the information they consume. Despite their different approaches, they promote similar goals.

Critical Thinking #2: “Logical Self Defense”, (Review)

(The 3rd edition of the book, by Johnson & Blair)

This book was published by two philosophy professors from the University of Windsor, in Windsor, ON, Canada.

While not directly related to law, the content can be applied to people involved in legal matters. In such cases, a person will try to make factual, logical, and well reasoned arguments while trying to refute the facts, logic, and reasoning of the other side. Being able to debunk an opponent, while preventing yourself from being debunked is a sign of a well put together case.

Of course, one trying to make an argument (or a legal case for that matter), may be lacking in facts, logic, or reasoning. In that case, there are 2 basic pathways: (#1) admit they have nothing; or (#2) try to debate using less than honest tactics. While (#1) does happen often, (#2) is by far the more frustrating one to deal with.

In a legal sense, (#2) will mean going to court/negotiation/arbitration knowing that you don’t have any basis for being there. It adds to time and expense of these proceedings. Happily though, dishonest argumentation can usually be defeated by having stronger arguments.

Here is the previous post on, and here is the original article. Here, Mr. Reed goes through the vast array of dishonest tactics used in debating.

As for the Johnson/Blair book, it goes through many types of arguments and statements. Various logical errors and gaps are explained, as is cause-and-effect. Many examples are shown of drawing conclusions where the available information is insufficient or irrelevant. By deconstructing those fallacious arguments, you will likely make far less of them in the future, in order to avoid the same thing from happening to you.

A Brief Outline of the book:
Chapters 1-2: Identifying and Constructing Arguments
Chapters 3-7: Fallacies
Chapters 8-9: Analyzing and Constructing Arguments
Chapter 10: News Media

On some level, the book is a rather dry read, as is the John T. Reed article. If this topic is not of interest to a person, there is nothing I can do to make it sound exciting. However, it picks apart many common errors, and goes through the errors. For someone looking to improve their reasoning and argumentation, it is a tedious, but worthy read.

The techniques shown here are not solely applicable to Canada or the United States. Being able to defend one’s self logically (hence the title), is a universally applicable skill. Defend yourself!

Critical Thinking #1: Honest v. Dishonest Debate Tactics, (Review )

Note: This is a response to a posing in August 2015 by John T. Reed. Mr. Reed goes on to list the 2 ways which you can HONESTLY debate someone, and then the myriad of ways one can DISHONESTLY debate another. Mr. Reed has no affiliation with this site, and this review is based on reading his website.

The webpage can be found click here.

Mr. Reed lists 2 ways to HONESTLY debate. They are:
1. pointing out errors or omissions in your opponent’s facts
2. pointing out errors or omissions in your opponent’s logic

He then goes on to cite dozens of ways you can DISHONESTLY debate. Here are a few:
(1) Name calling;
(2) Changing the subject;
(3) Straw-Man arguments (misrepresenting a person’s views);
(4) Conflating facts and opinions;
(5) Manipulating language;
(6) Badgering a person (keep repeating the question);
(7) Finding small errors (arguing the minor points while avoiding the major ones);

Mr. Reed early on expresses his frustration at how people debate. To quote him:

One of the great disappointments of my life is discovering how thoroughly dishonest most people are. Some people will, on the slightest provocation, fire off a statement or paragraph that contains three, four, five, or six different, intellectually-dishonest arguments in a matter of seconds. Alan Colmes who regularly appears on Fox News is one of them. Juan Williams is another.

The page is well worth a read. Going through it, these examples can regularly be found in both the media and politics. People do get exposed to these dishonest tactics and often do not realize it.

Why This is Important to This Site
Aside from being a very interesting read, the lessons here are applicable in the topic of law.

Mr. Reed argues that debate consists of: (a) Facts; and (b) Logic. In other words, the logic which connects those facts form the basis of argument. Similarly with the law, it mainly consists of: (a) Facts; and (b) Law. Facts are tried, and their applicability to the law is then contested. Actually, the practice of law really is just a form of debate.

Overall it is a very thorough list.