Critical thinking 2.0

by Captain Walker

Categories: Education, Psychology & Philosophy

In 2013 I wrote on ‘What is Critical Thinking?‘. Time does fly. That post was 10 years ago. From then I’ve continued to read up and expand my knowledge. My interactions on various forums has led me to a view that most people ‘out there’ demonstrate little if any of critical thinking mindsets. I decided to crystallise what has been learned for my own benefit. This post is best viewed on a laptop or desktop.

I start off with a mindmap (use a mouse on it; click icons for notes; drag; scroll; zoom etc). Below the mindmap is more stuff.

Logical consistency

This an essential aspect of critical thinking that I focus on because it is in this area I see too many failures. Logical consistency refers to the coherence and rationality of arguments and conclusions. It ensures that the relationships between statements, premises, and conclusions follow a clear, orderly, and reasonable structure, free from contradictions, fallacies, or inconsistencies. Developing logical consistency involves several key points:

  1. Identifying premises and conclusions: Determine the foundational statements or premises that serve as the basis for the argument, as well as the conclusions that are drawn from these premises.
  2. Examining the relationships between premises and conclusions: Assess whether the premises provide sufficient support for the conclusions, and ensure that the conclusions logically follow from the premises.
  3. Avoiding logical fallacies: Be mindful of common logical fallacies or errors in reasoning, such as hasty generalizations, false analogies, ad hominem attacks, or slippery slope arguments, which can undermine the validity of your conclusions.
  4. Ensuring internal consistency: Make sure that all parts of your argument are consistent with one another and that there are no contradictions or inconsistencies within the argument itself. This involves checking for discrepancies in data, assumptions, or reasoning processes.
  5. Testing for counterexamples: Consider potential counterexamples or alternative explanations that might challenge the validity of your conclusions. Evaluate these counterexamples to ensure that your argument remains logically consistent in the face of possible objections.
  6. Recognizing the limits of logic: While logical consistency is crucial, it’s important to understand that some problems or issues may not have clear-cut, logically consistent solutions. In these cases, strive for the most reasonable and well-supported conclusions, while acknowledging the limits of your argument.

By focusing on logical consistency, one can develop stronger, more persuasive, and reliable arguments and conclusions, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving abilities.

Errors

Errors of logical consistency are often categorised as logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are flaws or mistakes in reasoning that can undermine the validity of an argument. They can be classified into two main categories: formal fallacies and informal fallacies.

Formal fallacies: These errors occur when the logical structure of an argument is flawed, resulting in an invalid conclusion. Formal fallacies are usually easier to identify because they involve a clear violation of the rules of deductive logic. Some common examples (among many) of formal fallacies include:

a. Affirming the consequent: Assuming that if the consequent is true, the antecedent must also be true (e.g., If A, then B; B is true, therefore A is true).

b. Denying the antecedent: Assuming that if the antecedent is false, the consequent must also be false (e.g., If A, then B; A is false, therefore B is false).

Informal fallacies: These errors involve problems with the content or context of an argument, rather than its logical structure. Informal fallacies can be more difficult to identify and often involve subtle issues related to language, evidence, or assumptions. Some common examples of informal fallacies include:

a. Ad hominem: Attacking the character or motives of a person making an argument, rather than addressing the argument itself.

b. Straw man: Misrepresenting an opponent’s argument in order to create an easier target to attack, rather than addressing the actual argument.

c. False dilemma (or false dichotomy): Presenting only two options as if they are the only choices available, when there are actually more possibilities.

d. Hasty generalization: Drawing a conclusion based on a small or unrepresentative sample, leading to an overgeneralized or inaccurate conclusion.

e. Slippery slope: Asserting that a relatively small first step will inevitably lead to a chain of related events culminating in an extreme or undesirable outcome, without providing sufficient evidence for this chain of events.

Recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies is crucial for maintaining logical consistency in arguments and ensuring that conclusions are well-founded and persuasive. By being aware of these common errors and evaluating reasoning processes, one can become better at critical thinking skills and make better decisions.

Core skills for critical thinkers

To become an effective critical thinker, it is essential to master a set of core critical thinking skills that will enable better analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of information in a logical and coherent manner. These skills include:

  1. Observation: Carefully examining and gathering information about a situation, problem, or issue, while being attentive to details, patterns, and discrepancies.
  2. Active listening: Engaging in focused and attentive listening to understand and interpret the information, arguments, and perspectives presented by others.
  3. Analysis: Breaking complex information or arguments into smaller, more manageable components, identifying patterns, relationships, and underlying assumptions, in order to better understand the issue at hand.
  4. Evaluation: Assessing the credibility, accuracy, and relevance of information, arguments, and evidence, while considering potential biases, limitations, and alternative perspectives.
  5. Inference: Drawing logical and well-supported conclusions based on the available evidence, while being mindful of potential errors or fallacies in reasoning.
  6. Synthesis: Integrating and combining different sources of information, ideas, or perspectives in order to develop new insights, solutions, or understanding of a problem or issue.
  7. Problem-solving: Identifying and defining problems, generating potential solutions, evaluating the pros and cons of each, and selecting the most appropriate course of action.
  8. Decision-making: Weighing the available evidence, alternatives, and consequences to make informed and rational choices, while considering the potential risks, benefits, and trade-offs.
  9. Communication: Effectively conveying and receiving information, ideas, and perspectives, both in written and verbal form, while being clear, concise, and persuasive.
  10. Self-reflection: Continuously examining and assessing one’s own thought processes, assumptions, and biases, in order to refine and improve critical thinking skills and personal growth.

Advantages

Mastering critical thinking skills and acquiring the mindset requires practice, patience, and a commitment to lifelong learning. By consistently applying these skills in various contexts and situations, one can develop the ability to think more critically, make better decisions, and solve problems more effectively.

Economic

Overall, the economic advantages of critical thinking skills are significant and far-reaching, making it an essential skill for individuals, organizations, and society as a whole.

  1. Improved decision-making: Critical thinkers are better equipped to analyse information, weigh pros and cons, and make informed decisions. This can lead to more efficient allocation of resources, reduced waste, and better financial outcomes.
  2. Enhanced problem-solving: Critical thinking enables individuals and organizations to identify and address the root causes of problems, rather than merely treating symptoms. This can result in more effective and lasting solutions, reducing costs and increasing productivity.
  3. Increased innovation: Critical thinkers are more likely to question assumptions, challenge conventional wisdom, and explore alternative ideas or perspectives. This can foster creativity and innovation, leading to new products, services, or processes that create a competitive edge in the market.
  4. Better risk management: Critical thinking skills can help individuals and organizations to more accurately assess potential risks, weigh their consequences, and devise strategies to mitigate or avoid them. This can result in more stable and resilient operations and reduced financial exposure.
  5. Improved collaboration and teamwork: Critical thinking promotes open-mindedness, effective communication, and active listening, which can lead to more productive collaboration and teamwork. This can improve overall organizational performance and contribute to economic success.
  6. Enhanced adaptability: Critical thinkers are better equipped to learn from experience, adapt to change, and embrace new challenges or opportunities. This can be a valuable asset in today’s rapidly changing and competitive economic environment.
  7. Higher employability: Individuals with strong critical thinking skills are often in high demand by employers, as they are seen as more adaptable, innovative, and effective problem solvers. This can lead to better job prospects, higher income, and greater job satisfaction.
  8. Stronger leadership: Critical thinking skills are essential for effective leadership, as they enable leaders to make well-informed decisions, inspire and motivate others, and navigate complex challenges. This can contribute to organizational success and growth.

Disadvantages

It is unlikely one will ever be able to switch off critical thinking skills, once they are developed to a high level. From my experience only – which ought not to be generalised – it becomes increasingly difficult to form close relationships with people who ‘think stupidly’. If socialisation and a wide social network is one’s higher priority then do not develop critical thinking skills.

  1. Overthinking: Critical thinkers may sometimes overanalyse or overthink situations, leading to analysis paralysis, delayed decision-making, or excessive focus on minor details at the expense of the bigger picture.
  2. Perceived negativity: A critical thinker’s tendency to question assumptions, scrutinize information, and challenge the status quo may sometimes be perceived as negative or pessimistic, especially in situations where others are more inclined to accept information at face value.
  3. Difficulty in consensus-building: Good critical thinkers may find it challenging to reach consensus in group settings, particularly when others are less inclined to engage in rigorous analysis or are influenced by personal biases or emotions.
  4. Social discomfort: Questioning and challenging the ideas or beliefs of others can sometimes lead to social discomfort or strained relationships, particularly in situations where people hold strong personal or emotional attachments to their viewpoints. One can end up with a shorter fuse for ‘manure pushers’. People tend to feel intimidated by those who can think with great clarity and ‘see into them’ or situations.
  5. Emotional fatigue: Engaging in constant critical analysis can be mentally and emotionally draining, leading to fatigue, burnout, or reduced motivation over time.
  6. Resistance to change: Critical thinkers may face resistance from others when proposing alternative viewpoints or suggesting changes to established norms or practices, particularly in hierarchical or traditional settings.
  7. Time-consuming: Critical thinking often requires more time and effort than simply accepting information or following established processes. This can be a disadvantage in situations where quick decisions or fast action are necessary.
  8. Imposter syndrome: Critical thinkers, who are often aware of the limitations of their own knowledge, may experience imposter syndrome, feeling like they don’t know enough or are not qualified to make decisions or judgments.

My observations

  1. Most people believe they are clear thinkers.
  2. People tend to feel offended when errors in their arguments or contentions are pointed out.
  3. Critical thinking skills are not generally taught in schools or colleges in the UK as a separate discipline. Universities may touch on errors in logic. But developing sound thinking skills is not part of educational development.
  4. Critical thinking is effortful and takes time to do it.
  5. Critical thinking takes effort to practice and develop.

The reading of posts on this blog is subject to the Terms & Conditions. Unpalatable truths and personal experiences may be told. Nothing posted on this blog is directed at any identified person. On occasions individuals are quoted anonymously. That does not mean that they have been identified to the world. Should any person or organisation reading this blog find something that makes them feel or know that they  are being referred to - any such perceived identification does not mean 'identified to the world'. ‘Stupid' is an impish figment of my imagination who occasionally is allowed to pop up – and does not represent any known individual or individuals. ‘Stupid'  carries the characteristics groups of people with 'social media mindsets'. The treatment of  'Stupid' is not representative of the way people are treated in real life. Adverse inferences made are dismissed in advance. 

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