Critical Thinking

Critical THinkingI spend a lot of time in my various blogs talking about using my Critical Thinking skills to analyze a situation but I realized that I haven’t really defined the concept. So, today I am to rectify that issue.

Critical thinking is a process of thinking that questions assumption. Basically, instead of assuming something is true it is often best to examine the assumption with an eye towards facts. It’s pretty easy to hear something that you believe in general principle and immediately take it as fact without examination.

Often when I get into discussions with friends and families they make a statement that turns out to be untrue. I don’t think they are lying. I think, largely, they heard something they wanted to be true and therefore didn’t examine it critically but simply repeated it.  This is particularly dangerous because other people told this “fact” then repeat it down the line. This can be an incredibly powerful form of propaganda.

As a quick example, when President Bush began to mention Iraq and the September 11 attacks together people immediately began to believe that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were behind the terrorist activity. How many of you repeated this lie?

More recently I’ve had several friends say that six witnesses corroborate George Zimmerman’s story in the Trayvon Martin slaying. This is also false. Have you repeated it?

My point isn’t that you’ve made mistakes because I’ve certainly made many myself. My point is that it is important to examine propositions from a Critical Thinking point of view.

Critical thinking comes from something called the Socratic Method. This is the examination of an idea through questions. It basically involves doing the following when presented with an idea:

  • Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems
  • Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving
  • Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information
  • Recognize unstated assumptions and values
  • Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment
  • Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments
  • Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions
  • Draw warranted conclusions and generalizations
  • Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives
  • Reconstruct one’s patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience
  • Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life

This is a tough list to parse but it basically is the idea that you should always demand evidence. Just because something sounds true is not good enough. This is where it is diametrically opposed to Faith Based Thinking which demands no evidence. In Faith Based Thinking we do not question, we simply assume truth without evidence.

What I find particularly fascinating is that most people engage in critical thinking when it comes to home decisions, work decisions, and shopping decisions. We go to great lengths to make sure the decisions we make about our life are correct by looking at all the facts, examining multiple ideas, researching online, and otherwise avoiding bad decisions.

Conversely, it seems almost a given that in regards to social issues, political issues, and religious issues that Faith Based Thinking dominates. If a politician of the party I identify with says something then I immediately turn off my brain and support it. If someone from a group that I don’t normally agree with says something I immediately disagree without any examination.

I would suggest that we should put as much effort into making political and social decisions as we do to that next major purchase. That is if we want to make an accurate decision. If we want to be wrong a lot then continue to simply take whatever the politicians from your party say at face value.

So, there it is. Critical Thinking. I’ll probably revisit this topic using a real-world example soon.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

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