What is Critical Thinking? Merriam-Webster (2004) defines thinking as: the action of using one's mind to produce thought. Although when trying to define "Critical" thinking, you have to take it even further. Critical thinking is a process that your mind has to go through to produce that thought. Critical thinking can be defined as being able to examine and issue by breaking it down, and evaluating it in a conscious manner, while providing arguments/evidence to support the evaluation (Unknown, 2004). .Within this paper I will address the how and why critical thinking is so important in our everyday lives.
Asking questions and using the answers to understand the world around us is what drives critical thinking. There are eight characteristics of critical thinking, perception, assumption, emotion, language, argument, fallacy, logic and problem solving (Wade 1995).
Perception is the way we view and understand things. How we look at them. We will not have the total view of things if we do not question them. Using questioning, we sharpen our perception of the event. Perception is not always reality; it is formed around past experience and available resources. Influences of those around us also effect our perception. Merriam-Webster (2004) defines perception to be knowledge by the senses and/or intellect by the mind of what is presented to it. Perception therefore, can be both physical and intellectual.
Tools and Techniques 3
Assumptions are evaluations or generalizations influenced by values and based on observing cause and effect (Carter, Bishop, Lyman, 2002 pg. 100). They can often hide within truthful statements. An assumption can influence your
choices and many people don't question whether their assumptions make sense. Assumptions can be learned from many sources such as parents, educators, the media and personal experiences. They can close you're your mind to opportunities and even cause harm (Carter, et all, pg 100). Using your critical thinking you must analyze them to be true or false. We must learn to see and think without assumptions, stereotypes, or expectations.
Emotion and personal feelings are often referred to as barriers to critical thinking. They do have the ability to "bury, twist, and fragment the thinking process" (Kirby & Goodpaster, 1999, p. 30). However, these same emotions and feelings are a necessary part of the critical thinking process. "Thinking without feeling is often cold and sterile" (Kirby, p. 291). In order to use feelings to an advantage versus a disadvantage, a person must become aware of the feelings that exist about a topic or situation. Rather than view feeling and emotions as barriers to critical thinking, use them as a positive force to empower creative thought.
Language plays a critical role in our thinking. Without it most of our thinking would not be possible. (Kirby and Goodpaster, p. 94 (1999). We can still use our critical thinking skills by using the images in our mind or our emotions, but language is the main source of thinking. To have an even richer
Tools and Techniques 4
understanding of language we need to understand metaphors. Merriam-Webster online dictionary (www.meriam-webster.com) defines a metaphor as: "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them". The
more words and metaphors that we learn the better our critical thinking skills will be.
An argument has one or more premises and one conclusion. A premise is a statement that is either true or false, that is offered in support of a claim being made. The conclusion is also a sentence that is either true or false. There are two main types of arguments, relevance and insufficient. A relevance argument is an argument such that the premises provide complete support for the conclusion. An insufficient argument is an argument that the premises provide some support but not enough for the conclusion. A valid argument means that all of its premises are true, then all of the conclusion must be true. If it is invalid it has one or more false premises and it will be insufficient.
Fallacies should be in a report all by themselves but they are a part of the critical thinking process. A fallacy is an error in the reasoning of arguments. All of the premises could be true and still have a false conclusion. Fallacies are common in everyday life and knowing how to identify them prevents us from falling victim to their deceit. To do so would cause our thinking to be unreasonable and inhibit good decision making or problem solving. Fallacies fall into two categories: fallacies of relevance and fallacies of insufficient evidence.
Tools and Techniques 5
A fallacy of relevance happens when the ideas are logically irrelevant to a conclusion even though they appear to be good ideas. A fallacy of insufficient evidence are ideas that do not have enough evidence to support the conclusion, even though the evidence they do have is significant to the conclusion.
An example of a Fallacy of Relevance is a personal attack fallacy. This is the denial of someone's ideas or arguments by attacking the person rather than the idea or argument (Kirby, 1999). By attacking the person instead of the idea, one tired to prove that the person's ideas are bad because the person's character is bad. You can see allot of this type of fallacy during election campaigns. An example of a Fallacy of Insufficient Evidence would be a questionable cause fallacy. This fallacy is when a person states that one thing is the cause of something else, even though there is not enough evidence to support that claim. The ability to identify facts and fallacies in an argument can help a person to understand the significance they have to critical thinking and decision making.
To think logically is the heart of critical thinking (Kirby et all, pg 134). There are two types of logical thinking. They are deductive and inductive thinking. Deductive thinking must have two or more premises and the conclusion must come from those premises. The basic form of deductive thinking is a syllogism (Kirby, pg 135). An example of a syllogism would be:
All flowers are plants.
A rose is a flower.
Therefore, a rose is a plant.
Tools and Techniques 6
Inductive thinking only deals with some members of a class. We then draw a conclusion that all members will fit that class. An example of inductive thinking would be:
All men are dogs.
Charlie is a man.
Therefore, Charlie is a dog.
When you get to the point that you can think logically about the world around you, you are well on your way to becoming a great critical thinker.
Problem solving is applying critical thinking to achieve goals and personal harmony that are important in our lives. (Kirby, et all pg. 251). There are two methods of problem solving. They are algorithm and heuristics. Algorithms deal with a step by step procedure and is generally very time consuming. This method of problem solving is more efficiently used by computers. The other type is heuristics and it is based on trial and error. This method is faster, but it can also lead to less accurate solutions (Unknown, 2004 pg. 451). Each person forms concepts, decisions, and solutions in a different way. It is important to first define what exactly the problem is. When the source is found steps can then be made to fix the problem at hand.
In conclusion there are many ways in which we may improve our critical thinking skills. Mastering the eight characteristics will undoubtedly make you a better thinker. Scientist have recently been making amazing progress in figuring out how human being think, we still don't know quite how we do it. But for centuries we have been applying different way of reasoning from what we
Tools and Techniques 7
already know, and arriving at something that we didn't know before we started thinking.
Tools and Techniques 8
Carter C., Bishop J, Lyman S. (2002). Keys to college studying: becoming a lifelong learner. Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Kirby, G.R., Goodpaster, J.R., & Levine, M (1999). Critical thinking (2nd ed.). Boston Pearson.
Merriam-Webster Online (2004). Retrieved on August 9, 2004, from http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary
Wade, C. (1995). Using writing to develop and assess critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 24-28.
Unknown (2004). Student handbook, college and university edition, vol 4. Harper Collins Publishers.
Unknown, Promoting and assessing critical thinking. Retrieved from http://www.trace.uwaterloo.ca/PandACThinking.html on August 9, 2004.