Critical comes from the Greek word krinein, meaning “to separate, to choose”; above all, it implies conscious inquiry (4).
Conscious also means to be awake or aware. This suggests that by examining our reasoning, we can understand the basis of our judgments and decisions – ultimately, so that we can make better ones.
According to our textbook, to think critically, you must question not only the beliefs and assumptions of others, but also one’s own beliefs and assumptions (5).
- Identify important problems.
- Explore relevant issues.
- Evaluate available evidence.
- Consider the implications of the decisions.
Critical thinking is NOT collecting information to support established conclusion.
- Survey, considering as many perspectives as possible.
- Analyze, identifying and then separating out the parts of the problem.
- Evaluate, judging the merit of various ideas, claims, and evidence.
Adopt a Skeptical Attitude
Adopt a skeptical attitude not only toward ideas opposed to your own, but also toward our own views that seem to obviously right.
Issue: Gay Marriage Licenses
In a 2015 case from Kentucky, Kim Davis refused to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Who has a say in the matter? What is affected by this issue?
Obstacles to Critical Thinking
- The topic is too controversial.
- The topic hits “too close to home.” Personal experience with topic.
- The topic disgusts you.
Generating Ideas: Writing as a Way of Thinking
Writing helps writers to think. Prewriting, Brainstorming, clustering, lists,
Confronting Unfamiliar Issues
Since college can not prepare you for every possible issue you will face, it seeks to equip you with tools, methods, and habits of mind that enable you to confront arguments about any potential issue.
Identifying and Examining Assumptions
Assumptions may be explicit or implicit, stated or unstated.
Implicit Assumption: one that is not stated and often taken for granted.
Explicit Assumption: a clearly stated assumption.
What assumptions do you see in the issue?
“Most of us assume whatever we believe to be “right.” Though we were taught much of what we believe before we could critically analyze our beliefs, we nevertheless defend out beliefs as the truth” (Elder and Paul).
Ignorance – lack of knowledge or information.
Intellectual Arrogance – the tendency to confidently assert as true what you do not in fact know to be true.
Intellectual Humility – awareness of the extent of your ignorance.
People with a high degree of intellectual humility understand that there is far more that they will never know that they will ever know (Elder and Paul).
- Acknowledge that you may be wrong, until you find sufficient evidence to prove your belief.
- Notice when you argue if you are justifying your beliefs. Do you have evidence?
- Question your beliefs, especially religious, cultural, or political.
- Research from multiple perspectives.
- Explore new beliefs.
Identify weaknesses in your thinking.
- What do I truly know?
- Are my prejudices and biases influencing my thinking?
- What beliefs have I accepted without critical thinking?
- How have my beliefs been shaped from birth?
The unexamined life is not worth living.
A famous dictum apparently uttered by Socrates at his trial for impiety and corrupting youth, for which he was subsequently sentenced to death, as described in Plato’s Apology.
What is Baloney?
Bullshit involves language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence.
- Carl Sagan 1996 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection. Chapter 12 in Sagan (1996) The Demon-Haunted World
Baloney Detection Kit
AKA Skeptical Thinking
What’s in the kit? Tools for sceptical thinking.
What sceptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and, especially important, to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premises or starting point and whether that premise is true.
Among the tools:
Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the ‘facts’.
Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
Arguments from authority carry little weight – ‘authorities’ have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among ‘multiple working hypotheses’, has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.*
Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way-station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) – not just most of them.
Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle – an electron, say – in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate sceptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
- Journal response by Saturday.
- Read Chapter 2.