21 Critical Thinking

Why do we do it?

Do you believe everything you are told? Is everything on the internet correct? Hopefully you answered no to both of these questions.
Do you ever ask yourself: How do we know what someone tells us is correct? How do we know that they are being fair and open minded? Why should we believe them? Should we question an author’s motivation for writing the piece?
With the wealth of information available to us today, these questions become very important. In the academic community, the classic problem that first-second year students encounter is searching for an article and thinking that the battle is over when they find it. However finding an article or essays is only half the battle. We have to come to a judgment about whether or not it is a “good” article. In order to accomplish this we must be able to do two skills: we must be able to critically think and read. First we will discuss the critical thinking aspect.
Often times, especially in college, we are confronted with unfamiliar issues. A LOT of them! We will have to evaluate and analyze them in order to become more educated about the issue and those that are discussing them so that we can form OUR own thoughts on the issue. But before we can do that-we have to understand how to go about looking at these issues and with the proper mindset.
Also, what about when you are asked to write your own argument? Most students will often start out an essay with the conclusion already made BEFORE doing any research on the issue to attempt to understand the complexity of the problem and how the other sides also view the issue. Sound familiar? We have all been there at some point and if you let it continue, you will never be able to become that well rounded thinker who can still have a position on an issuer but at least demonstrate how that position is reached through fundamental research.
So if we were to come up with the nifty explanation as to what critical thinking is, we could simply say that it is looking at topics with the goal of identifying the problems with the issue, exploring the issues associated with those problems, evaluating the evidence that we are being offered to look at with the hopes that we will keep a open mind in that our initial opinion might possibly not be the correct one.
Sounds simple enough but it can be difficult because we are raised in a society/environment that many considered to be predisposed to conclusions on issues WITHOUT looking at the other sides. Yes…most of us are biased in some way but in order to critically think, we have to try and hold those biases at bay.

How Do We Do It?

In order to utilize critical thinking the process requires that we not only develop and support our own position on an issue, but also take the time to examine the other points of view as well. We look at other positions to see if we then would question our own beliefs based upon what we have now observed. In a perfect world we would always be correct, but we do not live in that world so we might be wrong and have to change or alter our position. There is nothing wrong with that! It shows that you have approached the subject with a open mind and are acceptable to new reasoning.
In order to think critically one must be thoroughly aware of their thought process. Some things to consider are:
  • Be open minded by not always assuming that you know the answer.
  • Explore other interpretations. Learn and grow from that exploration.
  • Be self aware of what your own biases are. If you know what your weaknesses are—then you can control them.

Interrogate your own line of thinking as much as others. Attack your line of reasoning just as you would attack someone else’s that did not agree with you. Apply the same standards to each side to judge.
When faced with a situation of differing points of view on an issue, some key questions to ask:

  • Is it fair?
  • What is it purpose?
  • Is it likely to accomplish its purpose?
  • What will the effects be? Can you weigh the potential harm against the potential good?
  • Who gains something and who loses something?
  • Are there any compromises that might satisfy different parties?

Questions to check your own critical thinking:
Your outlook to:

  1. Will I do research to learn about the issue?
  2. Can I examine my own assumptions about the issue?
  3. Open minded thinking?
  4. Am I open to new ideas?

Do you have the ability to:

  1. Evaluate assumptions and evidence?
  2. Summarize what arguments I have read?
  3. Report my findings in an appropriate way?

ASSUMPTIONS

These are thoughts or principles established or understood by a writer that they use in their argument as a cornerstone or key principle. They key is that although an author makes an assumption, it may not be a correct one. So recognizing when an assumption is used is very important when critically thinking and reading. They can be stated outright or they can be implied.
For example, in an argument one might make the assumption that rules and policies enacted after 9/11 are for the benefit of the safety of the population so as to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again whereas other might make the assumption that it is just another way for the government to get information on people and further invade their privacy.
Examining the assumptions made by the writer will tell us about the writer’s position and possibly reveal a bias rather than keeping an open mind.
Ways to examine assumptions:
  1. What assumptions does the author make?
  2. Are they stated or implied?
  3. Does the author acknowledge the use of the assumption?
  4. Is there evidence to support the assumption?
  5. Do you think that the assumption is appropriate? Do you think many other people would agree?

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Writing and Rhetoric by Heather Hopkins Bowers, Anthony Ruggiero, and Jason Saphara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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