Critical Thinking

(parts are adapted from  see also Ruggiero, 1996)


Opinions that are based on a critical analysis and understanding of all sides of an issue are worth far more than a strong opinion adopted on the fly.  If all opinions are equally valid-- why are you bothering to attend college and get educated?

Common errors in critical thinking:

a. Overgeneralization: drawing general conclusions on the basis of one or few observations. People sometimes do this when they place too much emphasis on their own experiences,  "That is true because my Aunt Betty is just like that." or "That can't be true -- my Aunt Betty did the opposite..."

b. Selective Perception: focusing on information that supports your ideas. A critical analysis of an issue by a critical thinker will clearly and accurately outline the side being attacked and then explain what is wrong with it.

c. Using black-and-white/either-or reasoning. (For example, thinking that human behavior must be caused by either genetics or environment, but overlooking the fact that is often caused by a combination of these two factors.)

d. Assuming that two coincidental events must have a cause-effect relationship. (For example, crime rates increased during the same time period when parents report using less physical punishment with their children, therefore failure of parents to physically punish their children has caused an increase in the crime rate.)

e. Attacking a straw man, i.e., attributing an idea to someone who never actually expressed that idea and then proceeding to attack it. ("Persons who believe  that abortion should be legal feel that women should be ale to kill a child if the child is inconvenient. If the taking of life simply for convenience's sake is allowed, our legal system will have nothing to stand upon.")

f. Appealing to authority or prestige, tradition, popularity or the majority rather than to reason.

h. Arguing on the basis of emotion, rather than reason, using emotion laden words to cloud the issue.

i. Attacking the person, rather than the person's argument. (For example, in discussing his proposed bill on tax cuts it is noted , "Mr. Jones is a racist who supports segregation.")

A valid argument whose conclusion is based on true premises should be accepted. However, there are often problems with the either the validity of the argument, or it's premises. 

Click here to read more about how to evaluate an argument most effectively. This links you to the Institute for Teaching and Learning's web site on critical thinking.

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