Inferences and AssumptionsHow to Tell Them Apart
September 18th, 2003
As you work your way through the decision making process, or another activities that are aided by using critical thinking, it is important to recognize and challenge your inferences and assumptions. However, it is difficult to do that if you do not know the difference between an inference and an assumption. With a solid foundation, you can better challenge your assumptions and question your inferences. A good place to start is with the definition of an assumption. Linda Elder and Richard Paul define an assumption as "something we take for granted or presuppose" (p. 34). These are beliefs, ideas or concepts that we take as self evident, whether or not they are, indeed, factual. Assumptions are used to fill in the gaps where our facts and evidence may be thin. An inference is a conclusion you draw based on the evidence and assumptions you have collected (or have not collected). An example that Elder and Paul use is "we meet a tall guy and infer that he is good at basketball" (p. 34). Our assumption is that all tall men are good at playing basketball. We have met a tall man; therefore he must be good at playing basketball. If our assumption is correct, then our conclusion is sound. In this case, our assumption was not correct, so our inference or conclusion cannot be trusted. Emotions and language can be looked at as part of what the authors called "different viewpoints" (p.34). These different viewpoints can be caused by a variety of factors, including upbringing, language barriers, attitudes, concerns, age, sex, race and a whole host of other issues. An example of how emotions might cause differing viewpoints is the issue of gun control. There are many people in American that hold strong beliefs on the issue. However, there are also many people that just do not care about the issue. In other words, one person has strong emotional ties to the issue and is less...
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