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Sunday, January 19, 2014


I have recently completed a lengthy inquiry on whistleblowing:world wide, to be published next month under the title “ In the Public Interest”. I also submitted  to the earlier Treasury inquiry on corporate whistleblowing  and subsequently written an analysis of that inquiry. My main points taken from this earlier work,  are;
1, Australia needs a corporate whistleblower protection scheme , and needs one urgently.
2. The current whistleblower provisions in the Corporations Act cover only contraventions of that Act . They need to cover all wrongdoings against the law  , including health, safety and environmental violations .
3.Australia needs  a rewards scheme similar to The False Claims and Dodd Frank Act in the US. The economic and ethical arguments in support of  such a scheme are too large to be ignored.
4. Australia should not, as in the US, adopt a whistleblower protection scheme for each industry. Such an approach complicates the difficulties already facing whistleblowers. Instead, it  should adopt a scheme for all industries and for the public sector, as in the UK, with a comprehensive listing of wrongs against which  the government will provide protection.
5. ASIC’s  performance has been woeful. A more comprehensive solution is for the Commonwealth Ombudsman ( or similar body ) to act as a coordinating  and supporting agency for whistleblowing   The whistleblower can disclose his/her information to the regulator or the coordinator, as they wish.  

Peter Bowden ( Dr.)

Thursday, January 9, 2014


BE, MSc, PhD.

6 Teakle Street
Summer Hill
NSW 2130

61418 166 577
612 9797 6459

Ms Erlinda Hernandez
Bureau of Prisons
Residential Reentry Office
PO Box 7000
Butner, NC, USA,  27509

cc: Mr. Charles Samuels
Director of Bureau of Prisons
320 First St. NW
Washington, DC USA, 20534

Dear Ms. Hernandez:

At the suggestion of the Government Accountability Program in the United States, of which I am a supporter   I urge you to allow John Kiriakou (inmate 79637-083 at Loretto) to serve the last nine months of his sentence in a halfway house, so that he may resume productive contributions to society.

Kiriakou served in the CIA for over 14 years. During that time, he was involved in critical counterterrorism missions following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Throughout his career, Kiriakou received 10 Exceptional Performance Awards, the Sustained Superior Performance Award, the Counterterrorism Service Medal, and the State Department's Meritorious Honour Award.

In 2008, Kiriakou confirmed the name of a former CIA colleague to a reporter writing a book on the Agency. The name wasn’t made public as a result of the confirmation. Kiriakou, under threat of more severe terms and financial ruin, pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

But the real reason Kiriakou was prosecuted is because he is an anti-torture whistleblower who was brave enough to speak out against the agency's practices. He never tortured anyone – yet he is the only person to be prosecuted in relation to the torture program under the George W. Bush administration.

Kiriakou is an honourable and patriotic person . He does not deserve to be made an example of wrongdoing. I ask that he be granted at least nine months of halfway house time so that he may begin his life again as a valuable member of society and as a father to his five children.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this message.

Yours sincerely

Peter Bowden ( Dr.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


You think the recent rorting of expenses by our politicians is wrong? The rest of us pay our own way to go to the wedding of a friend or colleague.   We believe therefore, that  politicians, – not the taxpayer - should  pay their own expenses when they are invited to a wedding You also believe that the Prime Minister of this country, Tony Abbott, is wrong when  he refuses to take action on  the West Australian member Don Randall, who has chalked up  in more than $10,00 in questionable travel and expenses?  Or that the Prime Minister should question his own refusal to pay back the expense of attending an Ironman event ?

If your children attend an ethics class at any of Sydney‘s public schools they would agree with the Prime Minister. They will have learned that ethical decisions are a matter of discussion, even argument. This will be the method they will have been shown for reaching an ethical conclusion. They will have had much practice. They will possibly have also learned that argument and discussion in reaching moral decisions have been the method taught not only at schools but in our universities and colleges. A method that has existed since time immemorial.  There are no hard and fast rules on what is the right thing to do; only competing theories. If Tony Abbott wants to justify his position in not taking himself to task for unethical behaviour , or any of his ministers, he  will find a supporting  arguments in some of the Kantian theory, in one of a half dozen utilitarian theories ,  or in virtue theory. After all, it is a virtuous act for a politician to interact with the people in an Ironman series, and therefore fully justifiable that the people should pay for this or any other political rort.

Our children and our politicians, would make a better world, as we all would, if we all applied some empirical observation and practical common sense to documenting what we regard as right, and  what we regard as wrong. In short, an enforceable code of ethical behaviour for political life.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Julian Assange Right or Wrong ?


This discussion is wider than Julian Assange. It brings in Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and John Kiriakou – the CIA whistleblower who revealed that the US used waterboarding torture techniques, and received a 30 month prison sentence as a reward.

But the talk shall be confined to Assange, for it embraces the issues raised by all others
The talk also brings in those philosophers that have raised the question of a social contract – the contract that we, the governed, have with those who govern us - Thomas Hobbes., John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are the best known.  Machiavelli and Montesquieu have also added their contribution; Machiavelli on the power of the prince and Montesquieu  in "The Spirit of Laws" 1748,  on the separation of powers. Montesquieu advocated the freedom of thought, speech and assembly. He also left us with
..constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go
All, except Hobbes, and Machiavelli, treat the social contract as a contract between equals. Hobbes argues that we ought to be willing to submit ourselves to political authority. In The Leviathan 1651.That authority, for Hobbes was a powerful king.  "The war of all against all" he argued, could only be averted by strong central government.
Locke 1632-1704 views the basis of all morality, that we not harm others with regards to their “life, health, liberty, or possessions in  Two Treatises on Government.. 1689.  But does not  set out who , the people or the government , is the ultimate decision taker.
 Rousseau 1762  in The Social Contract has perhaps the most useful concepts for today’s world: In the  Discourse on Political Economy, he sets out that the law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to contribute personally, or through their representatives, to its formation.
My own construct is simple. I have a contract with those who are in government. When I come to vote, I have the right to know what that party and that representative believes, and how they act  - in dealing with  other politicians, and with other powers. I vote for the  representative and the  party that best represent my values. Although neither may be elected, I still have that right.. If that information is kept secret from me, that contract has been broken
In general I wish to know if the extent to which they reflect my own values, so that I make my choice as fully informed  partner .  Among many values I seek to identify, I would wish to know if they had behaved immorally, for I would like to believe that I would reject unacceptable behaviour.
On this basis, I believe that I have the right to the information released   by Assange, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and John Kiriakou.
 I place, however, two reservations or conditions on this assertion:

!. Whoever releases the information believes it to be true
2. That no harm is done by the release

Julian Assange, through Bradley Manning, released four sets of documents:

April 2010                  The Apache helicopter gunship video, killing Reuters correspondents and civilians
July 2010                    The Afghan war logs
October 2010            The Iraq war logs. It was about this time that the Swedish sex allegations arose
November 2010        The Embassy cables
Under the concept that a social contract exists between us and those who govern us, I would argue that we all have a democratic and moral right to the information that was provided by Wikileaks. Some will claim that political discussions between members of say, cabinet, or between the diplomatic representatives of two powers, should not be public information. They argue that the process of reaching a decision is tentative, that political representatives would be unable to reach decisions if all their tentative negotiations were to become public. I disagree.  
I answer that tentative discussions would be recognisable as such  And in any case , the end position of that political leader  will come out over time, and that is the position I would like to know,
Before reaching the conclusion that I am entitled to the information released by Assange and Bradley Manning  I need, however, first to check that my two conditions –the validity of the information and the avoidance of harm.- have been met.
There is little doubt that the information was true, for it was presented as actual documents - Official US documents.  There was editing of the releases, but   they were obviously from the sources that they were claimed to have come from.
There has been much controversy, however,  over whether the editing was sufficient to eliminate harm to any Afghani or Iraqi who had worked with the US and allied forces, and particularly Assange’ s statement that  those who collaborated with the allied troops deserved to be named  ( Charlie Beckett with James Ball “Wikileaks;,2012, Polity ,p.86, quoting a Guardian Newspaper source).  Assange has denied this allegation but has argued that the risk “was the greater good”.
If the allegations against Assange are true, they raise serious questions about my willingness to support Assange’s actions. .There certainly was editing of the releases, although sketchy with the first set on Afghan. Also there has been no evidence since that any names were released to the detriment of the persons concerned. “.It should also be noted that after Manning’s trial, , Brig Gen Robert Carr, an intelligence expert who led a Pentagon task force investigating the damage done by the leaks, stated on the first day of the sentencing hearing in a military court in Fort Meade, that no-one named in the Afghan war logs was killed (BBC blog, “ Manning Sentencing”,1 August 2013,
A related issue is whether the information gave aid to the enemy. We need to acknowledge that in times of war, to provide such information is not acceptable. But it has not yet been shown how the information has been of value to the enemy..Bradley Manning was absolved of this charge
The issues of harm to collaborators must also be raised in the case of Bradley Manning , who had no ability to check the documents . I turn to that issue in a moment for they affect how we regard Assange,
One final concluding sentence:. Assange has been described in many unfavourable terms He has also fallen out with many of his colleagues, The editors of The Guardian, Daniel Domscheit Berg ,who has published a very critical memoir, in particular. He is described and comes through in the movie “ We steal secrets” as egotistical, uncompromising, self –opinionated.
My final statement is that it matters little, even if all these statements are true, One’s like or dislike of Julian Assange is immaterial,
To return to Bradley Manning:. He has stated that he could not keep quiet about the issues he saw in the documents -  the Apache helicopter; the US condoning the torture of captives by the Iraqi military, innocent people at Guantanamo Bay. Manning could not check all documents He therefore released information, some of which had  the potential to harm, both Afghani collaborators as well as US diplomats who were withdrawn after the embassy cables were released

The alternative for Manning was not to release the information . I trust that you join with me in saying that the world has advanced one step further through Manning’s release of that material. It has also moved forward, by Assange in publishing it.  Moving forward in the sense that we are all now better unformed on what our governments may do. And to take such action as we see fit.  We now have the information to say, publicly, “I disagree”. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Julia Gillard WAS unethical

This is a clear and unambiguous statement that Julia Gillard, Australia's Prime Minister, was  lacking in most commonly held ethical beliefs.  But first, so that I cannot be accused of bias, I need to assert that I am a near rusted-on Labor supporter. In the first version of this particular blog, I wrote that  that I would , with near certainty, vote for the Labor Party in the coming election.. That was when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister. I did vote that way, although Julia Gillard herself, had been deposed 

There is much evidence in support of my  assessment of Ms. Gillard’ ethical values. High on the list is her June 2010  deposing of Kevin Rudd,  then current Prime Minister. If  the institutions in a society are to sustain, economically and politically, a primary value held by anyone who elects their leaders must be loyalty to that leader. Chaos will reign otherwise.  Ms Gillard does not possess this virtue. Of course, any institution, and most of all the institutions that manage a country, must find for themselves the most effective leader possible. We have been told that there were many faults with Kevin  Rudd -  that he was a chaotic micro-manager, and rude to his staff . . None of us ever worked for Mr Rudd, nor did   the reporters who broadcast these accusations.  We, as did the news media, relied on those politicians who deposed him.  The politician who benefited most was Julia Gillard.

 To sum up in a basic moral though: If the people vote for a political leader, no matter how impossible to work with does  that leader turn out, then it is an undemocratic  to depose that leader. It is the policies he has broadcast that the people vote for, and their judgement on his ability to deliver.

The most damming of indictments against Gillard came in Peter Hartcher's analysis of the Gillard coup, presented in the Sydney Morning Herald November 18 issue.  Gillard  has always maintained that it was  a last minute decision on her part to issue the challenge , based onthe declining popularity of the Rudd government. Hartcher gives convincing evidence that Gillard instigated the coup well  before that meeting. Gillard denial is an untruth. 

Rudd was effective .It is easy to demonstrate. He ended 14 years of conservative rule by  John Howard. How many other Labor leaders had  tried, but failed? Kevin Rudd then gave us a series of decisions that still tell us why, in poll after poll, the Australian people prefer him as Prime Minister.

 First he gave us the apology to the aboriginal people, a defining moment in Australian history. Second he brought  this country through the Global Financial Crisis in a better state of economic health than most other countries. We have all benefited from Kevin Rudd’s decisions.  
He introduced the mining tax. It was supposed to raise $3 billion the first financial year and $10 billion over four years. His argument has undeniable validity - that the minerals under the ground belong to the Australian people, not the mining companies. The money could be spent on many needed services of government. In the face of fierce opposition by the mining industry, the mining tax was cut by Julia Gillard soon after she took over the top job. It has raised just $136 million.

It has been argued that even if she did  come to power by unethical  means , she has earned her position through the election held a couple of months later -  in August 2010, The  difficulty is that  her subsequent decisions exhibit the same  dubious values  that brought her to power. She first opposed voting for Palestine being given observer status in the United Nations , only partially caving in when facing opposition in her Cabinet There were  138 nations in favour to 9 against. Australia in one of its less glorious moments, abstained.   Regardless of your position in this dispute, it needs to be noted that both sides accept a two state solution. The observer position is a small step in that direction.  

Gillard has never back tracked on calling Julian Assange‘s release of the Wikileaks documents a criminal act, despite not being able to tell us what law he broke. Nor has she ever retracted this accusation.  

Then there was the crackdown on 457 visas – this is the visa that allows skilled immigrants into the country when there is a shortage of Australian Labour. Andrew Bartlett of the Australian Democrats put it neatly  in a post on  20/3/2013 in On Line Opinion  The Gillard and Hanson accord on 457 visas is a dangerous development

The cry that migrants are 'taking our jobs' is a myth with a long and ugly history in Australian political rhetoric.

 He went onto note– The fact that Pauline Hanson has come out in support of Prime Minister Gillard's pledge to "put Aussie workers first" starkly demonstrates the dangerous ground that the PM and a few trade unions have ventured onto with their calculated attack against skilled migrant workers.

Her record on combating corruption leaves much to be desired. Stephen Bartos, a former senior public servant, argues that corruption in Australia in the public service is most likely on par with that of other developed nations  (Canberra Times March 5, 2013) . He points to the current inquiry into the former NSW government as evidence, and the failure of the present Prime Minister- from the same political party, to commit to a crackdown on corruption.  Also that despite parliamentary committee recommendations there is no overarching federal anti-corruption investigative body; and that whistleblowing legislation had been inexplicably delayed for years, Australia is the only country in the developed world that provides no protection for its national government officials who  expose corruption

On the  list of unethical actions, but still not at the top of my   was the PM inviting   radio jock Kyle Sandilands to play the Easter Bunny at an egg hunt at her Sydney residence .This despite many of the offensive remarks that Sandilands has made .

The Sydney Morning Herald (March 27, 2012) told us that Kyle Sandilands breaching decency standards. The media authority, ACMA, has found the comments he made were deeply derogatory and offensive. From now on Sandilands will be prevented from broadcasting any material that is likely to demean women or girls or face a loss of licence. The egg hunt was for sick children, but the inviting of Sandilands puts at question her earlier “mysogony” attack on the leader of the opposition.

Her opposition to gay marriage would appear to be driven by poll opinions. The position is also at odds with very simple moral guidelines of equal treatment and justice for all in  our society.  

Near top of my  list, however   is that Gillard describes herself as an atheist. As such she has a special obligation to promote moral standards.  In an era of declining church attendance and increasing doubt about religious beliefs, atheists have a duty to endorse, even build on the moral values of our society. They follow a long line of humanists, extending back over the centuries.

Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion (2006)  sets out ten commandments , which he found on an atheist website . They are sound commandments, enjoining us principally not to harm others in any and all matters, but also to think independently, questioning everything. They encapsulate the form of the Golden Rule that tells us :  “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.”  He then adds five more of his own, one of which asks us to leave unto others the freedom to enjoy their own sex lives, without discrimination. Gillard would not appear to follow this commandment.

Finally ( almost ) is the cutting off of the Deductible Gift Recipient tax status for donations to our ethical classes in schools  See David Hill’s condemnation of this decision in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 11, 2013 . Although not ostensibly a Gillard decision , she must be aware of the furore  it has created and  that has possibly resulted in the termination of the ethics classes in our schools.

For me, the issue at the top of the list is that she is a woman, - normally  the guardians and teachers of the moral values in our society. And that she is the first woman prime minister of our country.

Julia Gillard has tackled head on her principal perceived weakness among voters by framing the next federal election as being about trust. (SMH. March 27 ,2012 ), asserting “I am the one you can trust” , Can we ? 

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth, and of impiety. He was sentenced to death by a majority of his peers in a 500 person jury. Socrates accepted the penalty using the arguments set out in the Crito – that as a citizen, it was his duty to accept the laws of Athens. His acceptance appears at odds with his strong statements at his trial that he was innocent.

The Crito raises a conundrum. In fact, it makes no sense. I am not sure that Plato faithfully reported Socrates’ arguments. I believe that Socrates wanted to accept death, but that Plato put in his mouth those magnificent words about his duty as a citizen in order to make Socrates out as a more morally perfect man than he actually was. Socrates accepted death, not for the reasons Plato gave him, but for other reasons. For one of three reasons or more likely, a combination of all three:

1, He was guilty, and he accepted that, or at least accepted he had lost the confidence and support of a majority of his fellow citizens.

 2, He was 70 years of age, and not about to leave Athens, where he had spent the greater part of his life.  Xenophon, a pupil of Socrates, although not at the trial, states in his Apology that Socrates had come to regard death for himself as preferable to life. 

 3, Socrates was not about to take Xanthippe, his wife, and their children to some country that would accept a fugitive from Athenian justice. Xanthippe was a young wife, young enough to have three children, described as quite young in the Apology and Phaedo, 

Plato however, could not give these reasons.  He wanted to portray a stronger picture of Socrates. In a series of dialogues that extol Socrates’ virtues, he could not put forward a picture that painted Socrates as possessing fallible traits.

We come now to Plato’s version of Socrates defending himself in the Apology. Plato portrays Socrates as obviously believing that he was innocent.   This was likely a true picture, for many people were at the trial who could confirm Plato’s portrayal. There is however, a second part to the conundrum of Socrates’ trial and execution.  Was Socrates actually guilty? If not, why then did a majority of his fellow citizens condemn him to death?

I believe that they were following Anytus, who appeared in Meno, and who warned:              “Socrates, I think you are too ready to think evil of men: and, if you take my advice, I would recommend you to be careful”.   Socrates’ reply, in Anytus’ hearing, is quite derogatory of Anytus: ”… when he (Anytus) understands, which he does not at present…he will forgive me.”  Anytus apparently did not forgive, for he was the principle accuser, and the one who demanded the death penalty.

My own belief is that Socrates annoyed quite a number of people, including the two fellow accusers Meletus and Lycon , although we know little of them. Socrates can be extremely supercilious, claiming to know nothing, but nevertheless pointing out to people the error of their ways. An example is seen with Crito. Crito is a friend, and does not take offence, but in a so-called dialogue, Crito’s contribution to the dialogue is a series of agreements:  ‘yes,’ or ‘no’, ‘certainly not, Socrates’. Most of Plato’s dialogues portray Socrates holding forth on whatever the issue is.  

Those who are not Socrates’ friends will take offence. My particular favourites of these offensive monologues from Socrates – which remember, is Plato writing several years after Socrates has gone-  is in Meno, and in Protagoras.    

One philosophy blog states:

Many of Socrates’ opponents or collaborators in the dialogues are made to agree with Socrates for the purposes of the discussion when we – the readers – often feel that objections need to be made; the answers Socrates’ interlocutors give often seem rigged by Plato to go in the direction that he wants. This can seem acceptable in some cases because Plato is simply using the dialogue to expound his ideas and the artificiality of the responses is not relevant to the philosophical point he is making. (Philosophy Blog  2013)
I agree with this analysis. I believe that Socrates is particularly scathing of Protagoras, who is an avowed sophist.  My own reading of that dialogue is that Protagoras is just as believable as Socrates. One of the co-accusers of Socrates at his trial, Lycon, was a possible supporter of the Sophists.

There are other reasons why the accusers acted. A dislike for Socrates’ support for the Thirty Tyrants would have motivated all three. Neither Plato nor Socrates was an advocate of democracy. Meletus was also a poet, a profession not strongly endorsed by Plato and Socrates. These reasons may have caused the three to argue to the jury of five hundred to condemn Socrates. My own belief, however, is that Socrates had offended too many prominent Athenians through his supercilious dialogues, and these were the reasons why a majority of his fellows voted the death penalty. Death may seem to us a severe penalty, but we have to remember that the death penalty was accepted practice in Athens at this time. History has recorded, with occasional exceptions, that nations have executed people for crimes of different types for many centuries.  The Code of Hammurabi, chiselled into tablets in 1760 BCE, stipulated the death penalty for 25 different crimes.   Today’s arguments against death were irrelevant.

Socrates must have realised that he had offended many people, perhaps even during his trial, and that realisation was possibly another contributor to his decision not to fight the death penalty - to choose death instead.

Friday, December 7, 2012

New whistleblower protection in the United States

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act was passed into legislation by President Obama in November 2012 , Approved unanimously by Congress, this act updates and strengthens the earlier act designed to protect public sector whistleblowers . For the Washington Posts report on it click here.

 The new act has been thirteen years in the making, strongly lobbied by a number of whistleblower support Groups including the Government Accountability Project GAP,

The new legislation protects  Federal employees  (in addition to existing protections ) from reprisal if they: are not the first person to disclose misconduct; disclose misconduct to co-workers or supervisors; disclose the consequences of a policy decision; or blow the whistle while carrying out their job duties.

 GAP Legal Director Tom Devine states

"This reform took 13 years to pass because it can make so much difference against fraud, waste and abuse. Government managers at all levels made pleas and repeatedly blocked the bill through procedural sabotage. But once there were no more secret 'holds,' the WPEA passed unanimously, because no politician in a free society can openly oppose freedom of speech. Over the years, earlier versions of this law had been called the Taxpayer Protection Act. Nothing could set a better context for fiscal cliff negotiations than a unanimous, bipartisan consensus to protect those who risk their careers to protect the taxpayers. This victory reflects a consensus ranging from President Obama to Representative Darrell Issa. The mandate for this law is that the truth is the public's business."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012



Peter Bowden

Published by Tilde University Press and able to be ordered through Amazon, through Macmillan in Australia, or directly from the publisher (here)

What are the advantages of this book ? 

The book is very different to anyother ethics book that you have read . It does contain the ethical theory that you have read elsewhere , but it takes it much further, in that it also  gives you those ethical theorists- Beauchamp and Childress, Gert, and Frankena  that have pulled together the theories into a coherent whole.

A greater strength however , is that it   draws on 22 contributors across 14 different disciplines - all members or associates of the Australian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics - each writing for his or  her own discipline . Each is skilled in the discipline, and knowledgeable of the ethical issues that it faces.

The book is necessary reading  for teachers of ethics in all  disciplines, and for ethics officers in the workplace,charged with developing and running an ethics program in their organisations.

The book has the subtitle "Strengthening ethical practices ". In total  , it describes  seven practices that ,if taught,and applied in  the work place , will bring about  improved ethical behaviour , These seven are described in this blog  (Here), reproduced below 

Seven practices to strengthen ethical behaviour 

a)    Strengthening our ability to recognise when we ourselves have been unethical. Since first writing those words, I have come across two more references to the fact that we fool ourselves when we judge our own ethical or unethical behaviour (Dorothy Rowe,  Why we lie, and Dan Ariely The (honest) truth about dishonesty.  How we lie to everyone - especially ourselves). Both are psychologists.  Ariely documents numerous experiments that will convince any reader of our underlying dishonesty. 

b)    Steps to encourage us to speak out against wrongdoing (this is blowing the whistle on wrongdoing  – well proven in its effectiveness in stopping unethical or illegal activities), The research that demonstrates this conclusion is available HERE

c)    Developments in codes of ethics that make them effective. See Vanya Smythe’s article in Applied Ethics. The research is not a 100% guarantee, but still convincing.  

d)    Policies adopted by private sector organisations to institutionalise ethical behaviour, The paper documents a half dozen practices- all recent developments - in current use.  

e)    New programs for ensuring greater honesty in government.  Both d) and e) document the programs. Extensive research is under way to identify their effectiveness. 

f)     Building action on empirical findings, not argument.  This is the disputed issue – see below.
g)    Teaching these practices

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Whistleblowing and Justice

The recent Global Financial Crisis, from which the world is only now recovering, has had a massive negative  impact .Many have seen their savings decimated, those about to retire  or already retired , have suffered immensely. Job losses have been huge The causes of the GFC are debated, but widely attributed to unethical or at least inadequate sub-prime lending practices by financial intermediaries. Yet few whistleblowers came forward to warn the financial community , or the regulatory authorities  of the perverse practices of Lehman Bros,  Goldman Sachs ,etc. who were at the heart of the problems. The CEO of the last mentioned company has publicly argued for a reduction in old age entitlements (here) .

Some writers even attribute the crisis to the growing inequality  between the rich and the poor,  noticeable worldwide but particularly in the US. From 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1 percent. Timothy Noah in The United States of Inequality writes

The United States' economy is currently struggling to emerge from a severe recession brought on by the financial crisis of 2008. Was that crisis brought about by income inequality? Some economists are starting to think it may have been. David Moss of Harvard Business School has produced an intriguing chart that shows bank failures tend to coincide with periods of growing income inequality. "I could hardly believe how tight the fit was," he told the New York Times. Princeton's Paul Krugman has similarly been considering whether the Great Divergence helped cause the recession by pushing middle-income Americans into debt. The growth of household debt has followed a pattern strikingly similar to the growth in income inequality (see the final graph). Raghuram G. Rajan, a business school professor at the University of Chicago, recently argued on the New Republic's Web site that "let them eat credit" was "the mantra of the political establishment in the go-go years before the crisis." Christopher Brown, an economist at Arkansas State University, wrote a paper in 2004 affirming that "inequality can exert a significant drag on effective demand."


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Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Reply to Hugh Breakey,

On his blog , , Hugh posted a series of  four arguments disputing my claim that moral philosophy had lost the plot.  His article is Ethical conduct: What’s philosophy got to do with it?  My claim was that moral philosophers, teaching and writing on ethics, are ignoring a number of recent developments that will strengthen ethical practices. My claim was first launched on our philosophy café website (here) , but followed up in Australian Ethics , a journal for which Hugh is the editor.

The following paragraphs contain my reply to Hugh


I accept all Hugh’s four arguments. With possibly the exception of his fourth. Of course moral philosophy has added to our knowledge and comprehension of ethical behaviour. There will not be a teacher of ethics in any of the disciplines and professions across a university or college who has not read Plato or Aristotle, nor the many books on ethics put out by today’s moral philosophers.  He or she will have engaged in a struggle, often desperate, to come to grips with what is to act ethically, what is wrongdoing, how do they stop it,  and finally can they , and if so how,  teach these concerns  in a course. The consultant or newly appointed ethics officer in the workforce will of necessity have examined the same sources, read many of the same books. And just as desperately wonder how to implement these principles in his or her organisation.

It will have been a time of much learning. Teachers of engineering, medicine, pharmacy, business, social work, etc., newly volunteering to teach the ethics course in their disciplines, or ethics officers in the workforce, will have much to learn. It will be a time of great fulfilment. Even enjoyment. They will nevertheless face problems. Taking the four benefits of philosophy that Hugh raises:

To obtain the first benefit, they will necessarily have read the moral theories. They may not come to the conclusion that Hugh puts forward: that “moral philosophy can be important (by) …forcing practitioners to face up …to universal principles of proper conduct”. The newly appointed ethics lecturer or consultant will learn that there are no universally agreed principles of moral conduct. The arguments that he referred to, started by Plato and Aristotle, are still on- going. Two thousand three hundred years later we still not have agreed on the difference between right and wrong. We are still arguing. Richard Joyce, a well published philosopher, is one among many who portrays a negative picture: The theories are plentiful, the convolutions byzantine, the in-fighting bitter, the spilt ink copious, and the progress astoundingly unimpressive” (Moral Fictionalism, Philosophy Today ,  No.82, 2011, pp14 -17)

Our ethics specialist then has a massive problem in deciding what they say in class or in the workplace. They have a choice from multiple ethical theories (fifteen according to one of Peter Singer’s books). In essence, however, there are three major theories – deontology, utilitarianism and virtue. Each of course has multiple versions, and each is being still argued. The arguments, according to an article in the same Singer book, are described as   “internecine warfare”.   For a less bitter dispute, see Hugh’s blog on why he is no longer a utilitarian, and my response on why I am totally committed to utilitarianism ( but in one of the many versions).   

His second benefit is clearly a benefit. Let us assume that you, the reader, are the newly appointed lecturer or ethics officer. You will come to a conclusion on each of Hugh’s points:

1.       cultural relativism: the view that morality is just whatever the local culture says it is,
2.       psychological egoism: the idea that people only do whatever they think will make them      happy, and;
3.       religious necessity: the view that the only reason people can genuinely be moral is if they believe in God.

You may reach a position on all three of Hugh’s assertions. You might become, as I have become, an absolutist, the opposite of a relativist. I believe there is a right and a wrong in every human situation, no matter how ethically complex.  But if you do reach a conclusion, you will realise that your conclusions will still be subject to dispute. Hugh states: “I acknowledge there is much that may be said in favour of versions of each of them”. His statement is true. There are many current arguments against my absolutist position. If you read  Plato’s Euthyphro, you will realise that some of these issues have been argued for a very long time, and are still argued today.  "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?" 

Hugh’s third position is that moral philosophy, and in particular ethical argument, can change behaviour. I have no disagreement. My position is that moral philosophers do not go far enough – they stop short, even exclude, many activities that can strengthen ethical behaviour. Let us remind ourselves of the seven areas set out in the original article:

Seven practices to strengthen ethical behaviour 

a)    Strengthening our ability to recognise when we ourselves have been unethical. Since first writing those words, I have come across two more references to the fact that we fool ourselves when we judge our own ethical or unethical behaviour (Dorothy Rowe,  Why we lie, and Dan Ariely The (honest) truth about dishonesty.  How we lie to everyone - especially ourselves). Both are psychologists.  Ariely documents numerous experiments that will convince any reader of our underlying dishonesty.

b)    Steps to encourage us to speak out against wrongdoing (this is blowing the whistle on wrongdoing  – well proven in its effectiveness in stopping unethical or illegal activities),

c)    Developments in codes of ethics that make them effective. See Vanya Smythe’s article in Applied Ethics. The research is not a 100% guarantee, but still convincing. 

d)    Policies adopted by private sector organisations to institutionalise ethical behaviour, The paper documents a half dozen practices- all recent developments - in current use.  

e)    New programs for ensuring greater honesty in government.  Both d) and e) document the programs. Extensive research is under way to identify their effectiveness.

f)     Building action on empirical findings, not argument.  This is the disputed issue – see below.
g)    Teaching these practices

Plus a final section (h) – The implications of these findings

My argument is short. Each of these practices, as outlined in the original philosophy café paper ( - recent talks), if adopted, will strengthen ethical behaviour.  Yet none of these practices, with a few exceptions, is taught in the schools of moral philosophy around the world, or set out in the major publications on ethics written by philosophers.

We come to Hugh’s fourth point, the “unwarranted distinction between argument and empirical evidence” (point (f) above). To this writer, the fourth is the same issue as the fifth point: “Before concluding, though, I must respond to the important point … about philosophical disputations”. 

The first statement to make is that five of the concerns I have listed above are based on empirical evidence. There is research that tells us these practices work. If promoted in ethics courses in our colleges and by ethical programs in our places of employment, they would bring about strengthened ethical behaviour. Irregular – but still improvement. Yet they are not endorsed by the vast majority of moral philosophers. Why not? I can only give a speculative answer– that philosophers have been educated with a preference for argument, and these findings are the result of applied research, that for the most part, comes from other disciplines.

I have outlined my thoughts on arguments in a separate paper, Critical Thinking,   on my blog  That paper uses three references to define what philosophers describe as critical thinking. The three references are:  Jill LeBlanc, (1998) “Thinking Clearly. A guide to critical reasoning, Lewis Vaughn, (2008, 2nd. ed.) The Power of Critical Thinking and the notes for an undergraduate course on Creative Thinking at Macquarie University. Each asserts that the philosophical position is to use argument as a basis for thinking critically. The following paragraphs summarise the reasons (set out in the blog) that contradict their claim that argument can generate critical thinking:

1. Argument, as promoted by the three references, ignores a number of practices in other disciplines that can generate creative, forward looking thinking – thinking that answers the question of what should we do? Principal among these is quantitative evaluation techniques. The three references also ignore approaches used to generate creativity in thinking, as well as techniques such as decision trees and influence diagrams used to assess the impact of adopting different courses of action.

2. Argument generates criticism. Almost by definition it requires a ‘for’ and an ‘against’ if an argument is to occur. As a method of thinking, it does not generate building on what has gone before. Arguments occur to destroy, or at least contradict, what has been developed so far. These pages, for instance, are an argument.

3. Argument does not lend itself to rigorous quantitative techniques. Empirical research at times requires statistical analysis. If the three references are taken as a guide, their coverage on statistics is such that any statistics based quantitative analysis would be beyond their readers.

4. Argument based critical thinking relies on inductive and deductive reasoning. In the long run, both types of thinking come down to observation – to empiricism. Strong empirical capabilities will generate strong arguments, but, I assert, empirical research is not a philosophical virtue. This may be the reason why philosophers have been arguing with each other for over 2000 years.
Finally, I come to the final two points – g) the teaching of these practices, and h) the impact if they are not taught. In the original paper, I suggested that society was the bigger loser, for we are not obtaining the full benefits of the discipline of moral philosophy. It is a discipline  which, although it  assures us that  it is the mother of ethical theory and practice, does not teach a full set of approaches to strengthening ethical behaviour, nor undertake the  research necessary to assess and improve developments already underway. 

On reflection, I now believe that it is the student of ethics in our schools of moral philosophy who is the bigger loser.  Teachers and practitioners in ethics can search out these new developments themselves (although with some difficulty). Students, however, take ethics courses. Many, one suspects, hope to work at extending ethical practices as widely as possible throughout our communities. Instead, they have been given an incomplete knowledge of developments and capabilities in ethics work in government or the private sector. They have been turned out – for only a few - with the capacity to on-teach what they have learned so far. And that learning is circumscribed. It is also of limited value in the work day world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Critical Thinking

The Society for Applied Philosophy argues on its website that “many topics of public debate are capable of being illuminated by the critical, analytic approach characteristic of philosophy.” This essay argues that critical thinking in philosophy, as described in courses with that title, as well as in reference books on the topic, and in particular in the emphasis on argument, does not fully meet its objective, if that objective is to strengthen our ability to think critically.

I shall first define critical thinking. Then, using three philosophical works as benchmarks, I shall assess whether the thinking methods that they propose is capable of clarifying  issues  of public debate. The assessment, on the whole, finds that deeper, more analytical methods from other disciplines will strengthen our capability to think critically on issues of concern to us individually and also as members of organised society.

The three benchmarks are:  Jill LeBlanc, (1998) “Thinking Clearly. A guide to critical reasoning, Lewis Vaughn, (2008, 2nd. ed.) The Power of Critical Thinking, and the course notes for an undergraduate course on Creative Thinking at Macquarie University. 

 What is critical thinking?

This examination in part depends on a definition of ‘critical thinking,’ and in part, through an answer to the question of why we should teach it. It would seem almost axiomatic that to think critically would be to strengthen our ability to think through and decide on the issues and concerns that face us, and our communities. This is consistent with the SAP statement above, which implies that we need a critical, analytical approach to throw light on ways to resolve issues of public concern.  Such thinking is also consistent with the SAP statement
of its own objective:

The Society for Applied Philosophy (UK) was founded in 1982 with the aim of promoting philosophical study and research that has a direct bearing on areas of practical concern.

The term ‘critical’ has at least two meanings. One is to find fault; the second is the meaning implied by the immediately preceding paragraphs – that it is to think through issues of significance to ourselves and our communities. I will use the second definition as the only one which is useful, and draw on the three references to explain why it is ‘crucial or decisive’, to use a Lewis Vaughn description. He states: “You came into this world without opinions or judgements …and now your head is brimming with them”. He further adds:  “the quality of your beliefs is the fundamental concern of critical thinking.”  (op.cit .p. 1)

‘Ultimately, what critical thinking leads you to is knowledge, understanding and - … empowerment’  (op.cit.p.1)

“Critical thinking enables problem solving and active learning” (p.5)

An examination of various references on this topic gives similar conclusions. One series of definitions, however, is that critical thinking comes down to argument. Jill LeBlanc, in her treatise on thinking clearly emphasises the role of argument. “Our ultimate goal in studying critical thinking is to learn to evaluate arguments” (p.1.). She defines an argument as: “… an attempt to justify or prove a conclusion” (p.2).

The Macquarie University course ‘Critical thinking’, emphasises reasoning; “Our aim in this course is to teach you the fundamentals of good reasoning. We will illustrate these fundamentals by looking at reasoning from newspapers, journals, advertisements, textbooks, and some philosophical works.”

Despite the wide ranging definition that he uses, Vaughn also agrees with the emphasis on argument “Arguments are the main focus of critical thinking”, (p.10),

The Macquarie statement leaves unanswered, or at least only implies, a more fundamental question – why do we need good reasoning.  For this answer I will again draw on Vaughn - that it is to lead us further to knowledge. I also argue that in attempting to think critically we are seeking answers to the long asked questions “What should we do? “, “How should we lead our lives?”. The baseline references draw upon the early Greek philosophers in seeking answers to these questions. They are, in a strong sense, philosophical questions.

The Macquarie unit also places an emphasis on argument, but provides a wide ranging objective behind this approach: We do not argue solely to make someone agree with us, but to find the truth about some matter, and to provide good reasons for others to believe our conclusions.”

LeBlanc also reaches beyond the argument to embrace wider issues. She says: “If you accept a candidate’s arguments to vote for her, you cannot forget that her policies will affect the lives of many citizens. Will her policies change their lives for the worse?”

These statements again bring up the issue that critical thinking has as one of its objectives, developing our thoughts, and arguments, on the broad social issues that we face in life. Finding a solution to the refugee boats coming to Australia and the loss of life with them is a good example.  But in the broad, I would argue that the objective behind attempts to think critically is to advance knowledge.

 Uncertain origins

The above propositions put forward the early Greek philosophers and the dialectic approach to explain the development of critical thinking. De Bono (2000) also makes this assertion. However, other references claim a development of critical thinking concepts as late as the 1980s (Tucker, 1997).

Critical thinking (CT) gained widespread recognition as a behavioral science construct in the
1980's when Goodwin Watson and Edward Glaser’s ‘Critical Thinking’ Appraisal became a
widely used tool for assessing the effects of undergraduate education on reasoning skills,

Subsequent paragraphs in this essay tend to draw the conclusion that there are several theories on critical reasoning. As the three base references are philosophical in origin, and as the authors themselves are philosophers, we can reasonably categorise as philosophical, the critical thinking methods in this paper in the comparison with other disciplines

Concerns with the suggested approach on thinking critically 

The questioning of this approach is based on three concerns:

1. That it does not present the full pedagogical content of what is required to think critically.

2. That critical thinking, as defined, is oriented excessively to criticism - that it does not build        on itself. It is a thinking approach that can be contrasted with that of the sciences.

3. Some of the concepts that are presented are misleading

In a sense these are sins of both omission and commission.    ;

Omissions in concept and practice


This primary concern arises from the implications of LeBlanc’s statement on the importance of critically examining political commitments, and the impact that they have on our lives. Evaluation practices attempt to question our thinking about policies that affect ourselves (and our societies). Yet evaluation does not appear to be covered in any of the referenced texts on critical thinking. I argue that effective evaluation is necessary for the putting forward of arguments and deciding of answers to the many questions that we are asking of ourselves, of our societies, or our governments.

I will first briefly explain evaluation and then expand on its role in thinking critically

Evaluations can be put in terms of an argument. If I state for instance, The intervention in the Northern Territory indigenous communities has proven successful; and if I provide positive statements from several politicians and public servants as reasons for supporting this assertion, then I have an argument. And, I trust, an example of critical thinking[1].

If a formal evaluation of this program has been undertaken, I have a strong factual basis behind the conclusion that has been drawn. An independent evaluation will tell me what has worked, what has not, and will give indications, sometimes quite powerfully, of what should or should not be done in the future. In short, evaluations provide sound arguments behind adopting a particular course of action. Much new legislation and many policy initiatives require that they be evaluated after a stipulated period of operation. 

There are many programs set up by public authorities , charities and other  non-government agencies, and even by private businesses, the evaluation of which lead society into new ways of thinking. Examples include the benefits of early interventions in education; provision of mental health services, types of prison reform, ways of stopping unethical conduct in the public sector, and so on. These are all social issues about which we need considerable critical thinking.

Evaluation has many components: ex-ante evaluation (which is an evaluation of the thinking before it is put into practice), impact evaluation, process or on–going evaluation, ex-post evaluation. These components and their role in collective thinking have not changed greatly in several years. See Bowden (1988) and texts such as De Coninck et al (2008). These texts describe methods of analyses that are designed to strengthen our thinking on programs, small or large, that have the potential to contribute to the betterment of society, 

Creative thinking

A second aspect of the critical thinking process that raises a concern is that the texts mention nothing on creative or innovative thinking. It could well be argued that much  thinking that is important, that is attempting to resolve the question of what should we do about a particular issue, requires creative or innovative thinking.   It is questionable whether the methods set out for analysing arguments engender creative thinking. The Macquarie notes for instance specifically mention that one of the two types of reasoning even prevents imaginative reasoning: 

A deductive conclusion may be used to arrive at something which is implicit, but will not allow us to arrive at genuinely novel facts.

There are several approaches to generating innovative thinking that could be taught. This writer’s favourite is The Five Whys - a thinking process developed by the founder of the Toyota Car company. It asks in succeeding order why a particular problem is occurring. An example is Why is the world is facing economic problems at the moment? – Because of the Global Financial Crisis…Why did this crisis occur? – Because loan funds were too cheap…Why were loan funds,,,, etc., etc. 

Other creative thinking concepts are Edward de Bono’s concept of Lateral Thinking (1970), or his revised Six Thinking Hats (2000).There are many others – brainstorming, delphi techniques, etc. - available in the literature.

Critical thinking as criticism

Yet another concern, related to creative thinking, is the negative aspects of critical thinking. To be critical is one definition of a criticism.  It is relatively simple to pull apart an argument.  It is much more difficult to build a thought that wins acceptance, that advances knowledge.   My concern is that the emphasis on argument and on the analysis of arguments makes it much more difficult to move thinking forward.

The skill at unmasking error, or simple intellectual one-upmanship, is not completely without value, but we should be wary of creating a class of self-satisfied debunkers (Roth, 2010)

It could well be argued that this difficulty has also likely been the reason why little agreement is achieved in philosophical thought. Many examples can be given of this disagreement. John Stuart Mill, in the opening sentences of Utilitarianism ,writes:

From the dawn of philosophy, the question concerning the summum bonum, (the controversy respecting the criterion of right and wrong) has been accounted the main problem in speculative thought, has occupied the most gifted intellects, and divided them into sects and schools, carrying on a vigorous warfare against one another. And after more than two thousand years the same discussions continue,….

An even more telling example of the negative power of argument is seen in some of these ‘sects and schools’ .The Beauchamp and Childress formulae, for instance (2001), a combination of Kant and Mill, although developed for biomedical ethics, provide an extremely wide ranging set of ethical guidelines. They are taught in the health sciences disciplines throughout much of the world. But they are disputed.

 Bernard Gert’s formulation of a common morality (2004) has been treated in an even more cavalier fashion. It is perhaps an even more encompassing theory. But at a relatively recent symposium, it is attacked by every philosopher who had a say on Gert’s prescriptions. (AJPAE, 2005) The essence of their attack was a counter-argument, not an attempt to find a universal formulation.
In one clear example of the negative approach engendered by argument, in  a book edited by Peter Singer, one philosopher describes as ‘Internecine warfare’, the conflict between deontology and utilitarianism, before going on to put forward his arguments for his own theory – Virtue Ethics  (Pence 1993). LeBlanc, in her definition that “critical thinking is to learn to evaluate arguments”, sets a scene where our thinking is not to portray a positive, forward looking or innovative  picture, but to assess whether the argument, and therefore thinking behind it, is faulty. Possibly of greatest significance is that part of a course on thinking critically which teaches you to recognise logical fallacies.  The Macquarie Notes tell you that some references provide over 90 different fallacies. Macquarie itself has upwards of twenty - ambiguity, equivocation, vagueness, unclear meaning, vacuity, question-begging, circular, relevance, straw person arguments being among them. There is only one purpose in learning these fallacies – to recognise fallacious arguments. In other words , to tear them apart.  Positive thinking – the advancement of knowledge  - would not use these techniques.
A contrast can be drawn with the thinking approach of the sciences. Any new theory will face opposition, often widespread, and often critical. Look for instance at the controversies over the hobbit discoveries in Indonesia (Homo floresiensis) or over global warming. The professional recognition will go in the long term, however, primarily to those who build on or take these theories further. The methods used will primarily be empirical.
The value of empirical research
A fourth concern is the near complete ignoring of empirical research, and in particular, the use of statistical analysis in research. None of the base line references noted above have provided much of substance on empirically based research. Yet if we quote a research project with a heavy statistical content as a premise in support of an argument, it is necessary that we have also the statistical capabilities to evaluate that research paper. Uncritical acceptance of a statistical analysis, due to inability to assess the statistics, is uncritical thinking, not the reverse.  This issue is linked with the concern about the validity of other types of argument, discussed in the following paragraphs.
Concerns over misleading content

The concerns of this paper about argument as a basis for critical thinking are not without support. One example is from Louis Pojman who, writing with Lewis Vaughn in the sixth edition of a widely used undergraduate text, Philosophy. The Quest for Truth, states that he has “striven to present opposing views on virtually every topic“(2009).  His is a questionable assertion, for the truth rarely has two sides. Nevertheless, Pojman does assert that all philosophical issues have one position and a counter argument.  Bernard Williams also speculates that philosophy is about reflective, persuasive argument (1985). Many publications on philosophical ethics, including those of JS Mill cited above, are often little more than arguments that refine and re-interpret the various differences and arguments over ethical  theory.

It is apparent that the “internecine warfare” is a well-established feature of moral philosophy. Such a concept may cause few problems when the wrongs are simple and straight forward.  The problem is a real one for many teachers and trainers in ethics however, when the ethical issue is unclear. Such issues exist in almost every discipline,

John Lachs decries this approach. He argues that “young philosophers (in the US) are taught that argument is king …that knowledge of facts is superfluous” (2009). These paragraphs endorse Lachs’ viewpoint.

The adoption of argument as a way of thinking is widespread .Ethical classes recently introduced into Australian  schools (in NSW) have a session on argument .One of the Year 5 topics is ‘The Structure of Arguments’. The aim for this session is

This topic introduces students to the most fundamental tool of logical (and hence ethical) reasoning, viz. the philosophical one of argument.

The children’s ethical classes reach as far as defining and discussing deductively valid arguments.

Inductive and deductive arguments

I have particular trouble with inductive and deductive arguments.  According to Vaughn “arguments come in two forms, deductive and inductive.  A deductive argument is intended to provide logically conclusive support for a conclusion; an inductive argument is intended to provide probable  - not conclusive – support for its conclusion” ( p.68)

Inductive arguments can present facts

I have a particular difficulty with inductive argument being classified as weak or strong, never valid. Yet a deductive argument can be valid. In the disciplines with which this writer is familiar, most development is based on observation. And facts. But if we take an example from the Macquarie Notes:

Every flame I have ever put my hand in has burnt me. Therefore, if I put my hand in this new flame, it will burn me.

“Is this argument valid?”  The Macquarie course argues that it is not valid …….”because it is possible that putting my hand in this new flame might not burn me. Perhaps this flame is entirely different from every other flame I have experienced, and would have some entirely different effect. It would be possible for the argument to have its premise true and conclusion false, so the argument is not valid”.

The argument is, of course, valid (in the normal sense of the word). It is a fact that you will be burnt, because of the laws of physics.

The sun will rise tomorrow. It is not only because thousands of years of observations say it will, but the physical laws of the universe saying that it will.  If we come to know that it will not rise tomorrow, it again is due the same laws and the functioning, or perhaps malfunctioning, of comets, asteroids, and other missiles in space.

Perhaps the strongest argument that inductive reasoning can present facts is in a research thesis.  When first set out, it may only be a theory – that this particular drug X will prevent illness Y. The presentation for obtaining funding will be an argument. After the research, if successful, and years of verifiable use, it has become a fact. Penicillin is a good example.

“Inductive arguments are not truth preserving” is a statement by Vaughn (p.10), a statement repeated by  all three references. True, the white swan observation until the black swan was sighted was misleading, but it had no impact on useable knowledge. Many inductive observations have produced great advances for the human race. To criticise them as not truth preserving is to deny the value of these analyses.

Deductive arguments

Leblanc includes what she describes as categorical statements, or categorical syllogisms, under this category. A frequently quoted example is: 

All humans are mortal,
Socrates is human
Socrates is mortal

My concerns are twofold: One is the definition: “these are arguments which, if the premise is true, the conclusion must be true’ (LeBlanc p.110).The second is that along with a belittling of empirical research has been the elevation of deductive arguments to the possibly of being valid.
The validity of deductive arguments

Valid, according to the dictionary has several meanings - sound; just; well-founded; producing the desired result. Yet we can get a situation where an argument can be valid but still be faulty due to unacceptable or faulty premises. To this writer, a faulty argument is an invalid argument.  Most observers would have the same response.

LeBlanc states: “it is sometimes said that deductive arguments are true in all possible worlds.“ (p.110). If the premise is correct, the conclusion is correct. In this case the argument is stated to be ‘valid.’

The premise however, may not be true. We can question not only its truth but its relevance. Her example is                    
If I were an earthworm, I could fly.
But I cannot fly,
So I am not an earthworm.

LeBlanc asserts that this argument denies the necessary condition. Therefore, it is “a good argument”.  But the other premise is false – you are not an earthworm and they cannot fly; so overall it is an invalid argument.

Dorothy Rowe, in her Why we lie (2011) sets out an argument where the premise is true, but “which can make an entirely false deduction “(p.41):

This new person looks very much like my cousin Harry
Harry is a liar 
Therefore this new person is a liar.

The Rowe argument appears illogical yet the premises are true.  The two guidelines appear to contradict. The Rowe argument however could be inductive – by analogy. Her use of the term “deduction’ and the similarity of the arguments illustrates this writer’s concern with definitions and terminology. The use of commonly accepted terms in an unfamiliar setting can easily mislead.

Deduction relies on observation, on research

The statement that t for a deductive argument he premises have to be true before the argument can be acceptable makes considerable sense. The reference texts tell us that there are four reasons for accepting the premises – common knowledge, personal experience, expert authority, and research (LeBlanc p.111). All are based on observation. 

The deductive argument, therefore, in the ultimate analysis, relies for its validity on induction.

Advancement of thinking

Another concern under this category is that it is very difficult to identify a deductive argument which advances knowledge. Most deductive arguments, it would appear, are conditional.  A conditional argument is possibly the most common deductive argument. Such an argument takes the form. “Only students with B+ grades can enrol in the subsequent unit’.

It would seem that if an argument relies on a condition, then for the argument to advance knowledge the condition would have to be filled. But we can never be sure that the condition can be met, or whether wide observation or some empirical research is necessary to determine if the condition can be filled. Take the example of a conditional argument that attempts to advance our thinking:

The argument for introducing internet censorship is that our children can find disgusting websites. These websites harm our children in that it gives them a distorted view of life.
But censorship is contrary to the widespread endorsement of the freedom of speech.
And we cannot prove that these websites cause any harm to children. If we could prove that children were harmed we could advocate censoring the internet.

Other arguments – ending war in the Arab countries, reducing crime in the streets, will usually be conditional on some premise of which we cannot be certain. Until the condition is fulfilled, and found to be valid, there is no way in which the argument would move us forward.

The exception occurs on programs which have been evaluated.  In other words, if  we have obtained strong evidence, proof even, that the condition has been effective. An example can be drawn from an argument on childhood education strategies that children of low income, low education families would do better in their school studies if they received a one year or two year ‘head start’ at school.  This was a conditional argument.  An ex-ante evaluation said yes, it was likely that they would do better. The program was put in place; an ex-post evaluation proved the assertion to be correct. The program had an impact on early childhood education for all children as well as for minority children (Graham, 1984).

Excessive definitions

The above paragraphs have been leading to the concern that “critical thinking” as defined, introduces a raft of definitions that do not assist in clear, innovative thinking capabilities. It can be argued that ‘clear thinking’, as expounded by the references quoted in this paper, consists primarily of a series of definitions that are used to categorise types of arguments or parts thereof. It is difficult to determine how these definitions strengthen a person’s creative thinking. Examples are the terms inductive and deductive reasoning themselves, noted earlier, when in the final analysis, all reasoning relies on observation of some type. Deductive reasoning is possibly the more serious offender - sufficient and necessary conditions; denying the necessary condition; affirming the sufficient condition – in particular, are concerned with conditional statements, LeBlanc describes her chapter on categorical logic ( the ‘Socrates is human’ logic) as ‘terminology-intensive’ (p. 54).

Linked and convergent premises, sub arguments, counter considerations, etc. are other definitions where the contribution to strengthening critical thinking in the positive sense argued in these pages, is difficult to identify. The definitions, and what is argued as excessive terminology will assist a reviewer in pulling an argument apart , in determining what is wrong with the argument. They do little to strengthen  innovation  in thinking  - to create positive, forward looking thought.

The reliance on definitions is epitomised in one lecturer’s statement: “Only DEDUCTIVE arguments can be valid or invalid (inductive arguments can be strong or weak, such as arguments based on "research" and observation)”. An argument where “a wrong premise can produce a valid conclusion has to be deductive by definition”. (personal correspondence).

Other disciplines conceive critical thinking differently

Under this category first must be mentioned a work by Linda Elder and Richard Paul. Elder is the President of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. They argue that “all reasoning is based on data, information and evidence” (Elder & Paul, 2007,Loc, 163). They assert that there are eight universal structures of human thought: That it generates purposes, raises questions, uses information, utilises concepts, makes inferences, makes assumptions, generates implications, and embodies a point of view. Aspects of their structure coincide with the main themes put forward in the baseline references, but for the most part, the two thinking schemes are very different. One obvious difference is their  argument that  basis behind all thinking is empirical.

A second issue is the variations in critical thinking methods advocated by the different disciplines. If you search the holdings of a major library for texts on critical thinking, you will locate many, numbering in the several dozens. A sample of topics covered in a major university library include critical thinking for language, for sports students, nursing, psychotherapy, dental research, social care, sex and love and several others.

Most do not define critical thinking as argument. Taking just one example Critical Thinking in the Intensive Care Unit; (Cohen 2007), the author draws on the following for a definition:

Alfaro-LeFevre (1999) defines critical thinking as careful, deliberate, outcome-focused (results oriented) thinking that is mastered for a context. Critical thinking is based on scientific method; the nursing process; a high level of knowledge, skills, and experience; professional standards; a positive attitude toward learning; and a code of ethics. It includes elements of constant revaluation, self-correction, and continual striving for improvement.

Another example is Critical Thinking by a psychologist and business consultant (Feldman, 2009). He sets out four strategies for becoming a critical thinker. Elements of his analyses coincide with aspects of the three baseline references, but much of his work has no parallels.  His examination of reasons to doubt certain types of argument largely duplicate the baseline references, for instance, but his treatment of explanations however, is considerably more detailed. Covering roughly 20 % of the book, he treats explanations as a tool for strengthening ‘discovery and understanding’. LeBlanc assigns 9 pages out of close to 300 to explanations -  a much less detailed coverage, and to this reader, quite superficial.

Yet a further example is peer review. Although much criticised, peer review is a process which is universally used to assess whether a particular line of thinking advances human knowledge. The methods adopted in peer reviews across the disciplines would appear to vary widely. They are not based on argument ,and  do not necessarily follow the concepts presented in the three references that this paper has used.

That different disciplines advocate different methods of ensuring one’s thinking is critical, do not necessarily condemn the methods advocated in the three references.  But they do throw doubt on any claim to a comprehensive coverage.  The differences also suggest the possibility that other methods may be more effective.

In conclusion

To sum up this argument: If we define critical thinking according to the concepts set out in the three references that opened this paper, then those concepts fail to provide a complete outline of possible approaches to strengthen critical thinking. They also could also  ,in the concepts that they do put forward, mislead a student into  adopting less effective methods.

Alfaro-LeFevre, R. 1999. Critical Thinking in Nursing: A Practical Approach. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
AJPAE. Australian Journal of Professional and Applied Ethics  (2005) Book Symposium. Vol.7 No. 1
Bowden P (1988) National Monitoring and Evaluation , Avebury , Aldershot
De Bono, Edward (1970). Lateral thinking: creativity step by step. Harper & Row
De Bono, Edward (2000). Six Thinking Hats  Penguin London

De Coninck, J  et al (2008) Planning, monitoring and evaluation in development  organisations Sage, Los Angeles 

Elder, Linda and Paul,  Richard (2007) The Thinker's Guide to Analytic Thinking . Kindle Edition

Graham, H. (1984). The uncertain triumph: Federal education policy in the Kennedy and Johnson years. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lachs, John “Can philosophy still produce public intellectuals? Philosophy Now,  September/October, 2009.

LeBlanc  Jill, (1998) “Thinking Clearly. A guide to critical reasoning. New York, WW Norton
Pence, Greg (1993). ‘Virtue Theory’ in Peter Singer (Ed.). A Companion to Ethics, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers, p. 249.

Pence, Greg (1993). ‘Virtue Theory’ in Peter Singer (Ed.). A Companion to Ethics, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers, p. 249.

Pojman, Louis P and Vaughn, Lewis (2009) Philosophy. The Quest for Truth (7th ed.). New York Oxford University Press

Roth, Michael, “Beyond Critical Thinking.” The chronicle of higher education. Jan 3 2010
Rowe, Dorothy (2011)Why we lie.  London, Fourth Estate , Harper Collins

Society for Applied Philosophy (2012) on the website for its annual conference:

Tucker, Robert (1997),  Less than Critical Thinking.  Accessed August 2012

Vaughn, Lewis, The Power of Critical Thinking (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, 2nd. ed.)

Williams, Bernard (1985) Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. London, Fontana

1.    The Macquarie University course, PHI 120, Critical Thinking, is online. Quotations and references are available only to those with a password.  Excerpts containing the online references will need to be accepted without verifying,

[1] This program was introduced by the Australian federal government in 2007 to address claims of rampant child sexual abuse and neglect in Northern Territory aboriginal communities