Fact-checking is not enough. We need argument-checking.

I see more fact-checking on Facebook than I used to. While I’m glad to see fact-checking catching on, fact-checking isn’t enough — or so I’ll argue in this post.

1. Fact-checking: The problem

Let’s say that you and I agree on all the facts. Now let’s say that we start arguing. Will we argue well? Not necessarily!

After all, we can reason badly even if we agree on the facts. Specifically, we can jump to conclusions that don’t follow from the facts. So fact-checking our argument(s) won’t necessarily fix all the problems with our argument(s).

2. Bad Arguments

Consider some of the claims that people make:

One Way To Do Philosophy: A Flowchart

I like philosophy. And I like flowcharts. So — obviously — I had to make a philosophy flowchart. It outlines my process as a philosopher.

1.  The Process

According to the philosophy flowchart, my philosophical process is pretty straightforward. There are just a few steps.

  1. Look for a thesis.
  2. Look for an argument.
  3. Determine whether you care about the thesis.
  4. Take a stance.
  5. Give an argument.
  6. Evaluate the argument.
  7. Document and/or repeat.

2.  Try Out The Process

Let’s see how the philosophy flowchart would work. Imagine that you’re reading Peter Singer’s “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (1974) [PDF]. Here’s how I’d proceed:

Step 1. Look for a thesis.

Singer was pretty kind to his reader. He made the thesis fairly clear. It’s just this:

Thesis: “[most people in affluent countries] ought to give lots of money away, and it is wrong not to do so.”

Step 2. Look for the argument.

Singer has also made it pretty easy to find the argument for his thesis. The premises are as follows:

Premise 1: “Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are very bad.”

Premise 2: “If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else of comparable moral significance, [then] we ought, morally, to do it.”

Premise 3: “([For people in affluent countries] It is within our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else of comparable moral significance — e.g., by giving away lots of money away.)”

Step 3-7: …you get the idea.

Challenge. If you’ve never run read or written anything about Singer’s paper and you’re interested in the thesis, then you might consider the following challenge:

  • (re)read the paper
  • complete the remaining steps in the flowchart
  • share your results in the comments.


Singer, P. (1972). Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(3), 229–243. [PDF]