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Critical Thinking, Thoughtful Writing:
A Rhetoric with Readings
, Third Edition
John Chaffee, LaGuardia College, City University of New York
Christine McMahon, Montgomery College
Barbara Stout, Montgomery College
Activity: Tom Randall's Halloween Party
Deliberating the Issues

Following the final summation, the judge will sometimes give specific instructions to clarify the issues to be considered. For the defendant, Thomas Randall, to be found guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter, the prosecution must prove that although he did not intend destructive results, he was guilty of irresponsible behavior that was likely to result in harm. Following the judge's "Charge," the jury then retires to deliberate the case and render a verdict.

In the same way that words are the vocabulary of language, concepts are the vocabulary of thought. Concepts are general ideas that we use to bring order and intelligibility to our experience. They give us the means to understand our world and make informed decisions, to think critically and act intelligently. The process of arriving at an informed conclusion regarding this case involves understanding the concepts of "freedom" and "responsibility." In order to conclude that the defendant was guilty of "irresponsible behavior that was likely to result in harm," it is necessary that we believe that he was responsible for his actions and their likely consequences: he knew what he was doing, chose to do it freely, and so must be held accountable. On the other hand, if we are to conclude that the defendant is not guilty of the charge, we must believe that he was not responsible for his actions. We must believe either that circumstances interfered with his ability to make a free choice or that it is unreasonable to expect that he would have been able to anticipate the destructive consequences of his actions.