Critical Thinking (Part 1)
Critical thinking is something I really enjoy as it has helped me make sense of things, it has helped me have great discussions with friends, and it has protected me from being sucked in by other people's arguments.
If you are not aware what critical thinking is, let me say that it is a way of reasoning that uses logic and creativity to look at the assumptions of an argument and to draw a correct conclusion. This is of course a very simple explanation of critical thinking. If you want to know more about it, then check out critical thinking at Wikipedia.
I think that too often our beliefs are wrong, we make bad claims, we make wrong a inference from given evidence, we make bad judgment calls, we arrive at wrong conclusions, we make wrong decisions, we accept flawed arguments, and so on... simply because we don't know how to think critically. Critical thinking is a part of life skills we should all have as it can also help with problem solving ... and let's face it, life has its problems.
I would like to share with you the several critical thinking strategies that I have become aware of and used so you too can learn to think critically.
Critical Thinking 1: If... Then...
One of my critical thinking strategy is 'if... then...'
I have found this way of thinking to be very useful when people put forward arguments that I know are one sided and based on self-interest.
- in Australia, people are not happy with the many perks our politicians have on top of their salaries. One of our Ex-Prime Ministers justified these perks with the statement 'if you want the best people to be politicians, then you need to pay them well'. This sounds like a valid argument, except that he did not apply that same argument to all the other government employees such as teachers, nurses, police, and so on... (who generally are under-paid for the work they do) as his argument really is 'if you want the best people for a job, then you need to pay them well'. My 'if... then...' argument pick up the flaw in his argument in that 'if it applies to politicians, then it applies to everybody else'. And if it only applies to politicians and not to everyone else, then they need to explain why!
- I had a discussion with a friend once about domestic violence and stated that if it is wrong for a man to slap a woman, then it is wrong for a woman to slap a man. She disagreed stating that men hit harder than women do. I found her reply as an invalid argument as it implies that if a man hits a woman like a woman does, then it's ok which of course it isn't. We agreed to disagree and I maintain my if... then... argument.
I have found that many times, people make arguments to justify what they have done or what they want to do. Using this technique, I have been able to 'see through' what they were doing.
Critical Thinking 2: Is 'therefore...' correct?
When I studied Maths at Uni, there was a proof method that was used to prove certain mathematical things. The proof method went as follows: let us assume that a mathematical thing is true, and then make logical mathematical deductions based on that thing. If it turns out that the final deductions are wrong, then the initial assumption made has to be wrong. This is also one of my critical thinking strategies.
- when I worked as a teacher in a school, the secretary there made a joke to the effect that when God made man, he thought that he could do better and made the woman (or that he made man as a test run before making the woman). If we take her joke seriously, then, although she attempted to say that women are superior to men, what she was really doing was insulting God by saying that he couldn't get it right the first time. Which of course is not true as we know that God does everything right the first time around. So, her premise that leads to God needing a practice run is wrong. I know she meant it as a joke but I am using it as an example of faulty logic as her premise belittles God as a consequence.
Critical Thinking 3: Is 'therefore' impossible?
As in Critical Thinking 2, you start with initial assumptions, and then consider the questions or conclusions that arise. If these questions or conclusions are 'impossible', then the initial assumptions have to be wrong.
This is actually a harder one to work with as what one considers to be 'impossible' may not be 'impossible' to someone else ie. there is a certain subjectivity to this.
- can't think of an example at the moment, ggrr!!!
Critical Thinking 4: Justifications are not always right.
This way of critical thinking is not so much a way of thinking as a way of being cautious about things people say, and it goes like this: just because someone can justify what they are saying, doing or believing, does not mean that they are right.
- I had a discussion with a friend once about the near death experiences that people had ie. soon after dying, they saw themselves floating near the ceiling and could look down on the room and see everything. And when they came back to life, they could describe everything they saw in the room. He explained it away quite rationally and it all sounded very plausible until I heard the story of a person blind from birth who had the same experience. This person, who had never been able to see, could describe in great detail such things as the surgeon's tools laid on a tray. It became clear to me that my friend's explanations, rational as they sounded, were simply not true.
This way of critical thinking does not mean that we should be sceptical about everything people say, but it does mean that we should think about what is said and decide for ourselves whether what they say is true or not.
Critical Thinking (Part 2)
This is the first part to my article on critical thinking. You will find the second part at the following link: critical thinking (part 2)
Serge M Botans
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