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Critical Thinking & COVID-19 II: Credibility

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While assessing the credibility of sources is always important, the pandemic has made this a matter of life and death. Those of us who are not epidemiologists or medical professionals must rely on others for our information. While some people are providing accurate information, there are well-meaning people unintentionally spreading unsupported or even untrue claims. There are also people knowingly and maliciously spreading disinformation. Your well-being and even survival depend on being able to determine which sources are credible and which are best avoided. There are two types of credibility: rational and rhetorical. A bit oversimplified, rational credibility means that you should believe the source and rhetorical credibility means that you feel you should believe the source. The difference between the two rests on the difference between logical force and psychological force. Logical force is objective and is a measure of how well the evidence/reasons given for a claim support that claim in terms of showing that it is true. When it comes to arguments, this is assessed in various ways ranging from applying the standards of an inductive argument, to cranking out a truth table to grinding through a proof. To the degree that a source has rational credibility it is logical to accept the claims coming from that source. Psychological force is subjective and is a measure of how much emotional influence something has on a person’s willingness to believe a claim. This is assessed in practical terms: how effective was it in persuading someone to accept the claim? While the logical force of an argument is independent of the audience, psychological force is audience dependent. What might persuade one person to accept a claim might enrage another into rejecting it with extreme prejudice. Political devotion provides an excellent example. If you present the same claim to Democrats and Republicans while saying that Trump said it, you will probably get very different. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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