Critical Thinking, Part 3: Elements of Reasoning

Just as the intellectual standards previously explored were found to be crucial for critical thinking and rational inquiry, the following elements of reasoning are significant in the exact same respect. All of the following information is quoted from the Foundation for Critical Thinking.

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Element: Purpose

All reasoning has a PURPOSE.

  • Take time to state your purpose clearly.
  • Distinguish your purpose from related purposes.
  • Check periodically to be sure you are still on target.
  • Choose significant and realistic purposes.

Your purpose is your goal, your objective, what you are trying to accomplish. We also use the term to include functions, motives, and intentions.

You should be clear about your purpose, and your purpose should be justifiable.

Questions which target purpose

  • What is your, my, their purpose in doing ________?
  • What is the objective of this assignment (task, job, experiment, policy, strategy, etc.)?
  • Should we question, refine, modify our purpose (goal, objective, etc.)?
  • What is the purpose of this meeting (chapter, relationship, action)?
  • What is your central aim in this line of thought?
  • Why did you say ________?

Element: Question

All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some QUESTION, to solve some problem.

  • State the question at issue clearly and precisely.
  • Express the question in several ways to clarify its meaning.
  • Break the question into sub-questions.
  • Distinguish questions that have definitive answers from those that are a matter of opinion or that require multiple viewpoints.

The question lays out the problem or issue and guides our thinking. When the question is vague, our thinking will lack clarity and distinctness.

The question should be clear and precise enough to productively guide our thinking.

Questions which target the question

  • What is the question I am trying to answer?
  • What important questions are embedded in the issue?
  • Is there a better way to put the question?
  • Is this question clear? Is it complex?
  • I am not sure exactly what question you are asking. Could you explain it?
  • The question in my mind is this: How do you see the question?
  • What kind of question is this? Historical? Scientific? Ethical? Political? Economic? Or…?
  • What would we have to do to settle this question?

Element: Information

All reasoning is based on DATA, INFORMATION and EVIDENCE.

  • Restrict your claims to those supported by the data you have.
  • Search for information that opposes your position as well as information that supports it.
  • Make sure that all information used is clear, accurate and relevant.
  • Make sure you have gathered sufficient information.

Information includes the facts, data, evidence, or experiences we use to figure things out. It does not necessarily imply accuracy or correctness.

The information you use should be accurate and relevant to the question or issue you are addressing.

Questions which target information

  • What information do I need to answer this question?
  • What data are relevant to this problem?
  • Do we need to gather more information?
  • Is this information relevant to our purpose or goal?
  • On what information are you basing that comment?
  • What experience convinced you of this? Could your experience be distorted?
  • How do we know this information (data, testimony) is accurate?
  • Have we left out any important information that we need to consider?

Element: Interpretation and Inference

All reasoning contains INFERENCES or INTERPRETATIONS by which we draw CONCLUSIONS and give meaning to data.

  • Infer only what the evidence implies.
  • Check inferences for their consistency with each other.
  • Identify assumptions underlying your inferences.

Inferences are interpretations or conclusions you come to. Inferring is what the mind does in figuring something out.

Inferences should logically follow from the evidence. Infer no more or less than what is implied in the situation.

Questions to check your inferences

  • What conclusions am I coming to?
  • Is my inference logical?
  • Are there other conclusions I should consider?
  • Does this interpretation make sense?
  • Does our solution necessarily follow from our data?
  • How did you reach that conclusion?
  • What are you basing your reasoning on?
  • Is there an alternative plausible conclusion?
  • Given all the facts what is the best possible conclusion?
  • How shall we interpret these data?

Element: Concepts

All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, CONCEPTS and IDEAS.

  • Identify key concepts and explain them clearly.
  • Consider alternative concepts or alternative definitions of concepts.
  • Make sure you are using concepts with precision.

Concepts are ideas, theories, laws, principles, or hypotheses we use in thinking to make sense of things.

Be clear about the concepts you are using and use them justifiably.

Questions you can ask about concepts

  • What idea am I using in my thinking? Is this idea causing problems for me or for others?
  • I think this is a good theory, but could you explain it more fully?
  • What is the main hypothesis you are using in your reasoning?
  • Are you using this term in keeping with established usage?
  • What main distinctions should we draw in reasoning through this problem?
  • What idea is this author using in his or her thinking? Is there a problem with it?

Element: Assumptions

All reasoning is based on ASSUMPTIONS.

  • Clearly identify your assumptions and determine whether they are justifiable.
  • Consider how your assumptions are shaping your point of view.

Assumptions are beliefs you take for granted. They usually operate at the subconscious or unconscious level of thought.

Make sure that you are clear about your assumptions and they are justified by sound evidence. Assumptions may be stated clearly or unclearly; the assumptions may be justifiable or unjustifiable, crucial or extraneous, consistent or contradictory.

Questions you can ask about assumptions

  • What am I assuming or taking for granted?
  • Am I assuming something I shouldn’t?
  • What assumption is leading me to this conclusion?
  • What is ________ (this policy, strategy, explanation, argument, claim, theory) assuming?
  • What exactly do scientists (historians, mathematicians, etc.) take for granted?
  • What is being presupposed in this theory?
  • What are some important assumptions I make about my roommate, my friends, my parents, my instructors, my country?

Element: Implications

All reasoning leads somewhere or has IMPLICATIONS and CONSEQUENCES.

  • Trace the implications and consequences that follow from your reasoning.
  • Search for negative as well as positive implications.
  • Consider all possible consequences.

Implications are claims or truths that logically follow from other claims or truths. Implications follow from thoughts. Consequences follow from actions.

Implications are inherent in your thoughts, whether you see them or not. The best thinkers think through the logical implications in a situation before acting.

Questions you can ask about implications

  • If I decide to do “X”, what things might happen?
  • If I decide not to do “X”, what things might happen?
  • What are you implying when you say that?
  • What is likely to happen if we do this versus that?
  • Are you implying that ________?
  • How significant are the implications of this decision?
  • What, if anything, is implied by the fact that a much higher percentage of poor people are in jail than wealthy people?

Element: Point Of View

All reasoning is done from some POINT OF VIEW.

  • Identify your point of view.
  • Seek other points of view and identify their strengths as well as weaknesses.
  • Strive to be fair-minded in evaluating all points of view.

Point of view is literally “the place” from which you view something. It includes what you are looking at and the way you are seeing it.

Make sure you understand the limitations of your point of view and that you fully consider other relevant viewpoints.

Questions to check your point of view

  • How am I looking at this situation? Is there another way to look at it that I should consider?
  • What exactly am I focused on? And how am I seeing it?
  • Is my view the only reasonable view? What does my point of view ignore?
  • Have you ever considered the way ________ (Japanese, Muslims, South Americans, etc.) view this?
  • Which of these possible viewpoints makes the most sense given the situation?
  • Am I having difficulty looking at this situation from a viewpoint with which I disagree?
  • What is the point of view of the author of this story?
  • Do I study viewpoints that challenge my personal beliefs?

Go through the following list:

Are we clear about our purpose or goal? about the problem or question at issue? about our point of view or frame of reference? about our assumptions? about the claims we are making? about the reasons or evidence upon which we are basing our claims? about our inferences and line of reasoning? about the implications and consequences that follow from our reasoning? Critical thinkers develop skills of identifying and assessing these elements in their thinking and in the thinking of others.

Author: Joe

Email: NaturalisticallyInclined@gmail.com

Source: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-elements-of-reasoning-and-the-intellectual-standards/480

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