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Critical Thinking

Bassham and Thill

Chapter 1
Introduction to Critical
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
Higher Education 1
Critical Thinking
 “Critical” here does not mean “negative.”
 Critical thinking is thinking that
involves/exercises skilled judgment or
 A good critical thinker has the cognitive skills
and intellectual dispositions needed to
effectively identify, analyze and evaluate
arguments* and truth claims.

*note: “arguments,” as we shall useNotes

Lecture it in©this
2008 class, does not mean “disagreements.”
McGraw Hill
Higher Education 2
Critical Thinking Standards
 Clarity: that which is true can be expressed clearly. Clarity in
expression is a sign of intelligence. Obscurity in expression is a
sign that one really doesn’t understand the idea one is
 Precision: close attention to detail. Specific definitions and
specific questions.
 “Is abortion wrong?” is vague. “Should abortion be legal?,” “Is having an
abortion ever moral?” are more specific questions.
 Accuracy: making sure your information and beliefs are true.
One can’t reason correctly with false information.
 Relevance: statements are about the way the world is; what
makes something true is the way the world is. A relevant point
restricts itself to the “piece of the world” in question. Irrelevance
can distract people from the point but never helps to truly prove
the point. A lawyer putting on his shirt wrong does not entail that
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
his client is guilty (see Lincoln Example, p. 5).
Higher Education 3
Critical Thinking Standards
 Consistency: non-contradiction. Critical thinking avoids:
 Practical inconsistency/hypocrisy: saying one thing and doing another.
 Logical inconsistency/irrationality: believing two things that can’t be
simultaneously true.
 Logical Correctness: sound reasoning/valid inferences.
Deriving that—and only that—which can be justifiably derived
from statements/premises.
 Completeness: good critical thinking is never done hastily;
explore the issue.
 Fairness: open-minded, impartial, non-biased. Don’t dismiss
something just because it’s new or it’s contrary to something
you already believe.
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
Higher Education 4
The Benefits of Critical Thinking
In the workplace
 Specifically—at work—critical thinking will
allow you to do your job better.
 The fact that college is aimed at teaching you how
to live is why it is ok that more than half of college
grads don’t find a job that utilizes their major.
 Most jobs skills can be—and will be—taught “on
site” anyway. Employers are more concerned with
hiring someone who can reason efficiently (so they
can figure out the best way to handle whatever the
job throws at them), not someone who has been
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
taught a specific skill. Higher Education 5
The Benefits of Critical Thinking
In life
 Specifically—in life—critical thinking helps us…
 …avoid bad personal decisions.
 …make informed political decisions.
 …attain personal enrichment.
 As Socrates said: the unexamined life is not worth living.
 A lack of critical thinking promoted centuries of erroneous
assumptions (e.g., the earth is flat, the earth is the center of the
 …behave morally.
 A lack of critical thinking promoted centuries of oppressions (e.g.,
the assumptions behind slavery, Communism, and the subjugation
of women).
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
Higher Education 6
Barriers to Critical Thinking
 The tendency to see reality as centered on
 Self-Interested Thinking: supporting
conclusions because they are in your interest/to
your benefit.
 Critical thinking is objective.
 Self-Serving Bias: the tendency to overrate
 Criticalthinking requires one to be honest about
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their abilities. Higher Education 7
Barriers to Critical Thinking
Group centered thinking
 Group Bias: the tendency to see one’s own
group (e.g., nation) as being inherently better
than all others.
 Conformism: allowing beliefs to be shaped by
outside forces such as:
 Groups (peer pressure)
 Authority (parents, teachers, boss)
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
Higher Education 8
Barriers to Critical Thinking
 Unwarranted Assumptions and Stereotypes
 Assumption: a belief without absolute proof.
 Unwarranted Assumption: a belief without “good
 Stereotype: assuming that all people within a group (e.g.,
sex, race) share all the same qualities; assuming that a
particular individual that belongs to a group has certain
qualities simply because they belong to that group.
 Hasty Generalization (type of stereotype): drawing
conclusions about a large group from a small sample.
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
Higher Education 9
Relativistic Thinking
Relativism is the view that truth is a matter of opinion.
 Subjectivism: the view that truth is a matter of
individual opinion; what one thinks is true is true for
that person.
 Moral Subjectivism: The view that what is morally right for
person A is what they think is morally right.
 E.g. We must care for our parents.
 Cultural Relativism: the view that what is true for
person A is what person A’s culture or society believes
to be true.
 Cultural moral relativism: The view that what a culture thinks
is morally right to do, is morally right to do, in that culture.
 Conformism?
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
 However, relativism is false. Higher Education 10
More on Relativism
 The fact that it is hard to discover what is true—even if
it is impossible to discover what is true—does not
mean that there is no truth or that truth is determined
by opinion/consensus.
 We probably won’t be able to discover whether or nor God
exists; but whether he does or not is not determined by
 Something is true if it accurately describes the way the world
is; opinion and consensus do not determine the way the
world is.
 Given that we can’t prove our beliefs true, we should
be more open to critically evaluating them and hearing
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
the arguments of others. Higher Education 11
Wishful Thinking
 Wishful Thinking: believing what you want to be
true (without evidence or despite evidence to the
 This error is quite common
 beliefin tabloid headlines
 healing crystals
 quick cures
 communication with the dead
 “it won’t happen to me” beliefs
 etc.

Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill

Higher Education 12
Characteristics of a Critical Thinker
 Strives for clarity and precision
 Sensitive to the discussed “thinking errors”
 Intellectually honest (admits ignorance and limits)
 Welcomes criticisms of beliefs; open to revising basic
 Bases beliefs on facts, not on preference or interest.
 Thinks independently (doesn’t let groups control their
 Values having true beliefs, not comfortable ones.
 Intellectual perseverance; will strive for truth even
Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill
when it is hard to do. Higher Education 13
 Exercise 1.1, pg 1.
 Exercise 1.5, pg 24.

Lecture Notes © 2008 McGraw Hill

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