Basic Principles of Critical Thinking


Basic Principles of Critical Thinking

The golden rule of journalism: first simplify, then exaggerate. According to the myth, in the 50s this rule was voiced to all the colleagues by the editor-in-chief of The Economist. Today it is often used, and not only in journalism. What does “think critically” mean and can this be taught? In many universities in English-speaking countries, critical thinking is one of the basic academic disciplines. Students are taught to read carefully. To identify methodological doubt (that is, according to Descartes, to manifest something “logical to doubt”). They learn to find arguments and problems in both aliens and in their own arguments. Work with concepts, express your thoughts clearly and reasonably.

An important component of such training is the ability to ask the right questions. Sometimes, more time is dedicated to questions than to everything else. For example, students must perform the following task: make 50 questions about Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Critical thinking as a discipline is based on the rules of formal logic, theory and practice of argumentation, rhetoric and epistemology.

Epistemology is a section of philosophy that ascertains what knowledge is, which are its varieties, scope and methods of production. One of the most famous theorists of critical thinking is Karl Popper. Critical thinking for him is the basis of rationality. In one of the main manuals on critical thinking, “The Art of Asking the Right Questions,” the authors describe two ways of thinking that are used by anyone with a mind. You can, like a sponge, absorb all the surrounding information.

This way is rather simple and necessary for everyone: only having obtained a sufficient amount of facts, one can make the world around them meaningful. The person who follows this path remembers the information clearly, with details, without speculation. In my head, I easily reproduce the work and the train of thought of the author but does not critically evaluate it. This does not necessarily lead to cramming and translation without any departure from the content. This approach can also be meaningful. But he lacks critical thinking. The person remains within the limits of the set framework.

critical thinking

The second method is similar to sifting sand in search of gold. This requires the use of all the knowledge gained. A person walking this way of “sifting through sand” understands that arguments are needed not in order to memorize them, but in order to evaluate their strength. For this, it is necessary to transfer this task from an unconscious to a conscious plan. What do we actually do when we try to argue and disagree with someone else's position? True and fake critics Rejecting someone else's reasoning simply because we don’t like it doesn’t mean being critical of it. It means simply not to understand its essence. The basic structure of any argument is given by the model: things are X, since Y. There is something that they are trying to prove to us. There is something that they are trying to do with it. To be critical of the material is to learn to separate from each other and be attentive to their relationship.

Sometimes even the smartest people are tempted to look at things in a simplistic way. Often this is due to stigmatization and division into “our own” and “alien”. It is on this a significant part of our everyday social experience is built, in which there is a place for both domestic racism and gender discrimination and intellectual snobbery. Another mistake - the myth of the "correct answers." Indeed, some questions have one final correct answer. For example, it makes no sense to discuss how far the Earth is from the Moon.

The answer can be found in the encyclopaedia. But most questions require thought, and the answers to them can be very different. Therefore, it is not enough just to find the answer in an authoritative source: you need to evaluate how convincingly justify the data and try to build your own chain of reasoning. How to read texts: a basic structure of reflections If we want to lead a meaningful conversation, from which certain conclusions follow, we should at least turn our attention to how considerations are made. The following are the main of these elements. This list can be used as a coordinate grid, which can be superimposed on any expanded reasoning. And it really greatly simplifies life.

  1. Purpose. To whom does the author refer, in what he is trying to convince the audience?
  2. Problem. What questions does the author try to answer?
  3. Assumption. What prerequisites does the author take for granted?
  4. Point of view. We all look at things with a limited and private point of view. Achievements of absolute objectivity are impossible not only because we are all people with our own characteristics, but also because anything can be interpreted from different sides.
  5. Data. Any statement must be supported by the relevant source, which data is related to the topic. For example, speaking about the dangers of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), it is necessary to refer to scientific studies or their popular science transcriptions, and not to the opinions of neighbours on the entrance to your apartment.
  6. Concepts and ideas. Concepts are mental tools without what we will not be able to think. No matter how much we want to talk about “real things,” for this, in any case, we need artificial models and fictional concepts.
  7. Conclusions and interpretations. Ways to extract meaning from the data. Please note that you have another way to comprehend this or that information. If so, then the data may simply not be enough to make a sensible conclusion. In this case, it is better to say this directly than to put forward unfounded assumptions.
  8. Consequences. What will happen if we take the main points and conclusions of the author seriously? What are the positive and negative consequences of them? It can often be seen that, at first glance, rational arguments cause contradictory or meaningless consequences — this is the basis for the “bringing to an absurdity” rhetoric.

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