Think

Matt K–frequent commenter–writes (I hope he doesn’t mind my putting this right up here on the front page):

>I wonder if there is a set of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions that constitute good critical thinking. We may not be able to articulate this set of conditions, but I suspect we can come close. I usually ask myself if the information that I provide about how one critically thinks is sufficient enough to allow the person to do it successfully.

>If we analyze the points given by Bartholomew and Radford it would appear that a person could not be a successfully critical thinker with just what was provided. Iíll focus just on one problem. Statement four tells us that we should analyze assumptions and biases. Exactly how is one supposed to do this given the few other guidelines that are provided? What I suggest is that one needs to have a rule set that defines what is good reasoning and what is incorrect reasoning. Perhaps the eight provided statements are meant to serve as the foundational axioms of the rule set. If so, then it appears that the rule set is incomplete. I have no means to know that when I analyze assumptions and biases if I have done anything worthwhile or simply wasted my time. Perhaps Bartholomew and Radford mean that I should merely identify biases and assumptions in peopleís arguments, which seems like a good start. But what should I conclude when I discover these assumptions and biases?

>I generally view simple guidelines, like the ones given by Bartholomew and Radford, as being good common sense suggestions. However, if one wants to be a good critical thinker one needs to do more than merely follow these few common sense guidelines. Itís doubtful, though not impossible, that one can do algebra correctly without knowing the rules. I believe that critical thinking works in a similar way. Most people have an intuitive sense of how to logically think, but to do it well consistently one needs to have a full set of rules to tell them when they are doing it correctly and when they are not.

I’d agree with him about the intuitive part. Thinking critically is an activity quite unlike the other activities one can acquire by learning. But one learns to do it somehow.

But I’m curious about the idea a set of rules for responsible thinking. And I thought I’d ask the crowd to help us add to them. Some have already provided their rules in the comments. But I’d like to proceed a little more systematically. Yesterday I wrote that one ought to have an initial sense of what the cognitive task is. Anyone want to suggest a second step?

One thought on “Think”

  1. I propose for the second rule:
    “How does it fit with what I already know, or my presumptions?”
    But I do think that it is important to include a little introspection about “why do I care?” or “Why am I thinking about this” because sometimes how one answers that question reveals a motive or bias that would influence ones thinking. It might be cause to “think twice”. For example, in a discussion, podcast, article, if one reads something that sparks a reaction, is it a reaction that comes from (say) emotion, disagreement, or confusion? Politics and religion are two areas that I can think of off the top of my head that would fit the type of subject I’m talking about. My reaction could be (say) anger, support, competition or completely self serving. Answering the question of “why do I care” might start one off on the right foot.

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