Critical Thinking: Synopsis and Exemplification
by Dr. George Hole
Memorize the components of critical thinking. Use them to
explore ideas in this course. Extend critical thinking into areas of your daily life,
especially decision making. Raise questions about critical thinking. Test whether
critical thinking enhances the clarity and meaning of your living. Test your
alternatives to critical thinking.
Critical thinking does not mean negative and faultfinding. It means characterized by careful analysis; forming a crisis, decisive, dangerous, causing anxiety.
The components of Critical Thinking [abbreviations for text-marking]
- Identify basic issues [bi] and formulate questions [q]
- Clarify meanings [=, /, eg]
- Uncover assumptions [a] and contexts [cxt]
- Consider alternative viewpoints [/vp]
- Evaluate reasons [R+, R-, arg] and criteria [v+, v-]
- Making connections [->, =>] and draw warranted conclusions [c]
Identify a basic Issue:
What kind of procedure should I use to figure out how to make life decisions?
Consider alternative points of view:
In addition to "Do critical thinking" as an answer to this issue there are competitors like "Follow authority" and "Follow my passions."
I am free to make a choice between these three alternatives.
Draw a conclusion based on an argument:
I would follow authority if these three conditions were true: Authorities were wise, in agreement, and were knowledgeable about me as an individual. From experience I have learned that authorities are sometimes not wise, not in agreement with each other, and do not know much in particular about me. So, if I am to "Follow authority" as a life-strategy, I need to figure out what authority to follow and why. For this I need some critical thinking. A similar argument can be constructed for the need to do critical thinking about the option "Follow my passions."
Thus, it looks like critical thinking is a necessary life strategy.
The previous argument is a "weak alternatives argument." It looks at weaknesses of the options to critical thinking, not any of their strengths, and does not consider any weakness of critical thinking.
Draw a warranted conclusion:
A fuller examination of critical thinking is necessary before a justified conclusion can be made.
Quick reasons against doing critical thinking:
- It is too difficult
- There are more important things to do
- One question always leads to another and another
- There never are definite answers.
- The truth of each reason needs to be examined.
Dangers in doing critical thinking: (need to be considered. It can lead to unpleasant results like):
- Confusion, doubt, and uncertainty
- Loss of a significant belief
- Conflict with others, especially authorities.
Reflective reasons in favor of doing critical thinking:
It can have the opposite effect for each of the previously listed unpleasant results. Doing critical thinking can lessen confusion, doubt, and uncertainty; lead to a new or strengthen significant belief; and lead to less conflict with authority and one's own passions. In addition there are these benefits of doing critical thinking:
- I become more autonomous and less influenced by popular forces and fads
- I make less thoughtless and impulsive mistakes
- I better understand and care for my basic values.
As I do critical thinking I am more aware of how much of my thinking is subconscious, automatic, irrational and self-serving. I am also more aware of many substitutes for critical thinking. It is too easy to believe the following provide me with a justification for my beliefs and values:
- The strength and sincerity of my belief
- The comfort it gives me
- The agreement I have from others about it
- The fear and guilt I would have if I changed it.
There is a structural similarity between critical thinking about ideas and making decisions. These critical-thinking components are readily modified to apply to decision-making. In abbreviated notation: /vp ->options, R+, R- ->positive and negative consequences for an option; v+, v- ->basic values for making the decision; c -> warranted decision. To make a good decision about doing more critical thinking I need to explore and examine my ideas about myself and life and my basic values. This involves more critical thinking. So, I will decide to do more critical thinking, with honesty, courage and mindfulness, about this decision and anything that matters.
Virtues that support critical thinking:
- A vision of life in which questioning is both necessary and worthwhile
Thinking vices: (not an exhaustive list)
- Closed-mindedness: "I already know."
- Pride: "I don't want to appear foolish by asking a question."
- Fear: "I may find out something I don't want to know."
- Dependency: "That issue is too complex; let someone else think about it."
- Lazy trust: "I'll just follow my feelings and everything will work out fine."
- Consider making the following commitment: I vow to practice critical thinking and to understand and assess the virtues that are involved in doing critical thinking and make a responsible decision about the place and value of critical thinking in my life.
To put into practice a commitment to do more critical thinking make tactical commitment to ask yourself and others proto-philosophical, dialogue-questions about anything that matters, call it X (e.g. love, honesty, success):
- What is X? What do I/others mean by X?
- How do I/others know about X?
- What do I/others assume about X?
- What are some alternatives to X?
- What is like "inside" the alternative?
- What is the worth of X?
- What are reasons and criteria to test X?
- What connections are there to X and other things that matter?
- What should I conclude about X?
Criteria for assess critical thinking:
Bi : clarity-scope-complexity
= : precision (of definitions, examples, distinctions)
a : truth-support and reasonableness
/vp : appropriateness ( avoid straw man argument)
R+/R- : completeness, compellingness, fairness; criteria explicit
c : completeness, coherence, illuminating connections
a : reciprocal and reflexive evaluations