Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and there are several different definitions which generally include the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.
Critical thinking was described by Richard W. Paul as a movement in two waves (1994). The "first wave" of critical thinking is often referred to as a 'critical analysis' that is clear, rational thinking involving critique. Its details vary amongst those who define it. According to Barry K. Beyer (1995), critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments. During the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned, well thought out, and judged. The U.S. National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the "intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action."
In the term critical thinking, the word critical, (Grk. κριτικός = kritikos = "critic") derives from the word critic and implies a critique; it identifies the intellectual capacity and the means "of judging", "of judgement", "for judging", and of being "able to discern".
Traditionally, critical thinking has been variously defined as:
- "the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion"
- "disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence"
- "reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do"
- "purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based"
- "includes a commitment to using reason in the formulation of our beliefs"
- the skill and propensity to engage in an activity with reflective scepticism (McPeck, 1981)
- disciplined, self-directed thinking which exemplifies the perfection of thinking appropriate to a particular mode or domain of thinking (Paul, 1989, p. 214)
- thinking about one's thinking in a manner designed to organize and clarify, raise the efficiency of, and recognize errors and biases in one's own thinking. Critical thinking is not 'hard' thinking nor is it directed at solving problems (other than 'improving' one's own thinking). Critical thinking is inward-directed with the intent of maximizing the rationality of the thinker. One does not use critical thinking to solve problems—one uses critical thinking to improve one's process of thinking.
- "an appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation"
- the ability to think clearly about what to do or what to believe.
Contemporary critical thinking scholars have expanded these traditional definitions to include qualities, concepts, and processes such as creativity, imagination, discovery, reflection, empathy, connecting knowing, feminist theory, subjectivity, ambiguity, and inconclusiveness. Some definitions of critical thinking exclude these subjective practices.
Logic and rationality
Main article: Logic and rationality
The ability to reason logically is a fundamental skill of rational agents, hence the study of the form of correct argumentation is relevant to the study of critical thinking.
"First wave" logical thinking consisted of understanding the connections between two concepts or points in thought. It followed a philosophy where the thinker was removed from the train of thought and the connections and the analysis of the connect was devoid of any bias of the thinker. Kerry Walters describes this ideology in his essay Beyond Logicism in Critical Thinking, "A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective. This model of thinking has become so entrenched in conventional academic wisdom that many educators accept it as canon" (Walters, 1994, p. 1). The adoption of these principals parallel themselves with the increasing reliance on quantitative understanding of the world.
In the ‘second wave’ of critical thinking, as defined by Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994, p. 1 ), many authors moved away from the logocentric mode of critical thinking that the ‘first wave’ privileged, especially in institutions of higher learning. Walters summarizes logicism as "the unwarranted assumption that good thinking is reducible to logical thinking" (1994, p. 1).
"A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective." (Walters, 1994, p. 1) As the ‘second wave’ took hold, scholars began to take a more inclusive view of what constituted as critical thinking. Rationality and logic are still widely accepted in many circles as the primary examples of critical thinking.
Deduction, Abduction and Induction
Main article: logical reasoning
There are three types of logical reasoning Informally, two kinds of logical reasoning can be distinguished in addition to formal deduction: induction and abduction.e.g. X is human and all humans have a face so X has a face.
- Induction is drawing a conclusion from a pattern that is guaranteed by the strictness of the structure to which it applies.
- Abduction is drawing a conclusion using a heuristic which is likely but not certain given some foreknowledge.
Critical thinking and rationality
Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994) argues that rationality demands more than just logical or traditional methods of problem solving and analysis or what he calls the "calculus of justification" but also considers "cognitive acts such as imagination, conceptual creativity, intuition and insight" (p. 63). These "functions" are focused on discovery, on more abstract processes instead of linear, rules-based approaches to problem solving. The linear and non-sequential mind must both be engaged in the rationalmind.
The ability to critically analyze an argument – to dissect structure and components, thesis and reasons – is important. But so is the ability to be flexible and consider non-traditional alternatives and perspectives. These complementary functions are what allow for critical thinking a practice encompassing imagination and intuition in cooperation with traditional modes of deductive inquiry.
The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and metacognition. According to Reynolds (2011), an individual or group engaged in a strong way of critical thinking gives due consideration to establish for instance:
- Evidence through reality
- Context skills to isolate the problem from context
- Relevant criteria for making the judgment well
- Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment
- Applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand
In addition to possessing strong critical-thinking skills, one must be disposed to engage problems and decisions using those skills. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, and fairness.
Critical thinking calls for the ability to:
- Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems
- Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving
- Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information
- Recognize unstated assumptions and values
- Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment
- Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments
- Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions
- Draw warranted conclusions and generalizations
- Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives
- Reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience
- Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life
"A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports or refutes it and the further conclusions to which it tends."
Habits or traits of mind
The habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, even-handedness, and confidence in reasoning.
According to a definition analysis by Kompf & Bond (2001), critical thinking involves problem solving, decision making, metacognition, rationality, rational thinking, reasoning, knowledge, intelligence and also a moral component such as reflective thinking. Critical thinkers therefore need to have reached a level of maturity in their development, possess a certain attitude as well as a set of taught skills.
Edward M. Glaser proposed that the ability to think critically involves three elements:
- An attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences
- Knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning
- Some skill in applying those methods.
Educational programs aimed at developing critical thinking in children and adult learners, individually or in group problem solving and decision making contexts, continue to address these same three central elements.
The Critical Thinking project at Human Science Lab, London, is involved in scientific study of all major educational system in prevalence today to assess how the systems are working to promote or impede critical thinking.
Contemporary cognitive psychology regards human reasoning as a complex process that is both reactive and reflective.
The relationship between critical thinking skills and critical thinking dispositions is an empirical question. Some people have both in abundance, some have skills but not the disposition to use them, some are disposed but lack strong skills, and some have neither. A measure of critical thinking dispositions is the California Measure of Mental Motivation and the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory.
John Dewey is one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would benefit the individual learner, the community, and the entire democracy.
Critical thinking is significant in academics due to being significant in learning. Critical thinking is significant in the learning process of internalization, in the construction of basic ideas, principles, and theories inherent in content. And critical thinking is significant in the learning process of application, whereby those ideas, principles, and theories are implemented effectively as they become relevant in learners' lives.
Each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles. The core concepts are always there, but they are embedded in subject-specific content. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial. All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject.
Historically, teaching of critical thinking focused only on logical procedures such as formal and informal logic. This emphasized to students that good thinking is equivalent to logical thinking. However, a second wave of critical thinking, urges educators to value conventional techniques, meanwhile expanding what it means to be a critical thinker. In 1994, Kerry Walters compiled a conglomeration of sources surpassing this logical restriction to include many different authors’ research regarding connected knowing, empathy, gender-sensitive ideals, collaboration, world views, intellectual autonomy, morality and enlightenment. These concepts invite students to incorporate their own perspectives and experiences into their thinking.
In the English and Welsh school systems, Critical Thinking is offered as a subject that 16- to 18-year-olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCRexam board, students can sit two exam papers for the AS: "Credibility of Evidence" and "Assessing and Developing Argument". The full Advanced GCE is now available: in addition to the two AS units, candidates sit the two papers "Resolution of Dilemmas" and "Critical Reasoning". The A-level tests candidates on their ability to think critically about, and analyze, arguments on their deductive or inductive validity, as well as producing their own arguments. It also tests their ability to analyze certain related topics such as credibility and ethical decision-making. However, due to its comparative lack of subject content, many universities do not accept it as a main A-level for admissions. Nevertheless, the AS is often useful in developing reasoning skills, and the full Advanced GCE is useful for degree courses in politics, philosophy, history or theology, providing the skills required for critical analysis that are useful, for example, in biblical study.
There used to also be an Advanced Extension Award offered in Critical Thinking in the UK, open to any A-level student regardless of whether they have the Critical Thinking A-level. Cambridge International Examinations have an A-level in Thinking Skills.
From 2008, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance has also been offering an A-level Critical Thinking specification.
OCRexam board have also modified theirs for 2008. Many examinations for university entrance set by universities, on top of A-level examinations, also include a critical thinking component, such as the LNAT, the UKCAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test and the Thinking Skills Assessment.
In Qatar, critical thinking was offered by AL-Bairaq which is an outreach, non-traditional educational program that targets high school students and focuses on a curriculum based on STEM fields. The idea behind AL-Bairaq is to offer high school students the opportunity to connect with the research environment in the Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) at Qatar University. Faculty members train and mentor the students and help develop and enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.[not in citation given]
In 1995, a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education was undertaken. The study noted concerns from higher education, politicians and business that higher education was failing to meet society's requirements for well-educated citizens. It concluded that although faculty may aspire to develop students' thinking skills, in practice they have tended to aim at facts and concepts utilizing lowest levels of cognition, rather than developing intellect or values.
In a more recent meta-analysis, researchers reviewed 341 quasi- or true-experimental studies, all of which used some form of standardized critical thinking measure to assess the outcome variable. The authors describe the various methodological approaches and attempt to categorize the differing assessment tools, which include standardized tests (and second-source measures), tests developed by teachers, tests developed by researchers, and tests developed by teachers who also serve the role as the researcher. The results emphasized the need for exposing students to real-world problems and the importance in encouraging open dialogue within a supportive environment. Effective strategies for teaching critical thinking are thought to be possible in a wide variety of educational settings.
Importance in academia
Critical thinking is an important element of all professional fields and academic disciplines (by referencing their respective sets of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.). Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves the careful acquisition and interpretation of information and use of it to reach a well-justified conclusion. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.
 However, even with knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, mistakes can happen due to a thinker's inability to apply the methods or because of character traits such as egocentrism. Critical thinking includes identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus on teaching their students critical thinking skills and cultivation of intellectual traits.
Critical thinking skills can be used to help nurses during the assessment process. Through the use of critical thinking, nurses can question, evaluate, and reconstruct the nursing care process by challenging the established theory and practice. Critical thinking skills can help nurses problem solve, reflect, and make a conclusive decision about the current situation they face. Critical thinking creates "new possibilities for the development of the nursing knowledge." Due to the sociocultural, environmental, and political issues that are affecting healthcare delivery, it would be helpful to embody new techniques in nursing. Nurses can also engage their critical thinking skills through the Socratic method of dialogue and reflection. This practice standard is even part of some regulatory organizations such as the College of Nurses of Ontario – Professional Standards for Continuing Competencies (2006). It requires nurses to engage in Reflective Practice and keep records of this continued professional development for possible review by the College.
Critical thinking is also considered important for human rights education for toleration. The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance adopted by UNESCO in 1995 affirms that "education for tolerance could aim at countering factors that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and could help young people to develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning."
Critical thinking is used as a way of deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. It is a tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process.
Critical thinking in computer-mediated communication
The advent and rising popularity of online courses has prompted some to ask if computer-mediated communication (CMC) promotes, hinders, or has no effect on the amount and quality of critical thinking in a course (relative to face-to-face communication). There is some evidence to suggest a fourth, more nuanced possibility: that CMC may promote some aspects of critical thinking but hinder others. For example, Guiller et al. (2008) found that, relative to face-to-face discourse, online discourse featured more justifications, while face-to-face discourse featured more instances of students expanding on what others had said. The increase in justifications may be due to the asynchronous nature of online discussions, while the increase in expanding comments may be due to the spontaneity of ‘real time’ discussion. Newman et al. (1995) showed similar differential effects. They found that while CMC boasted more important statements and linking of ideas, it lacked novelty. The authors suggest that this may be due to difficulties participating in a brainstorming-style activity in an asynchronous environment. Rather, the asynchrony may promote users to put forth “considered, thought out contributions.”
Researchers assessing critical thinking in online discussion forums often employ a technique called Content Analysis, where the text of online discourse (or the transcription of face-to-face discourse) is systematically coded for different kinds of statements relating to critical thinking. For example, a statement might be coded as “Discuss ambiguities to clear them up” or “Welcoming outside knowledge” as positive indicators of critical thinking. Conversely, statements reflecting poor critical thinking may be labeled as “Sticking to prejudice or assumptions” or “Squashing attempts to bring in outside knowledge.” The frequency of these codes in CMC and face-to-face discourse can be compared to draw conclusions about the quality of critical thinking.
Searching for evidence of critical thinking in discourse has roots in a definition of critical thinking put forth by Kuhn (1991), which places more emphasis on the social nature of discussion and knowledge construction. There is limited research on the role of social experience in critical thinking development, but there is some evidence to suggest it is an important factor. For example, research has shown that 3- to 4-year-old children can discern, to some extent, the differential creditability and expertise of individuals. Further evidence for the impact of social experience on the development of critical thinking skills comes from work that found that 6- to 7-year-olds from China have similar levels of skepticism to 10- and 11-year-olds in the United States. If the development of critical thinking skills was solely due to maturation, it is unlikely we would see such dramatic differences across cultures.
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- ^Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning, p. 46
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- ^Dewey, John. (1910). How we think. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath & Co.
- ^Walters, Kerry. (1994). Re-Thinking Reason. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
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- ^Critical thinking is considered important in the academic fields because it enables one to analyze, evaluate, explain, and restructure their thinking, thereby decreasing the risk of adopting, acting on, or thinking with, a false belief.
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- ^Kuhn, D (1991). The skills of argument. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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There is a great deal of critical thinking concepts that can be both convenient to use and help improve our critical thinking skills. However, some critical thinking concepts should be considered to be indispensable to being a human being because it’s a requirement of having a minimal capacity to reason and argue properly. The list of critical thinking terminology listed here are used to refer to concepts that everyone should know about—and yet many people either haven’t been informed about them or they don’t understand them properly:
ad hominem – A Latin phrase that literally means “to the person.” It refers to insults and usually to fallacious forms of reasoning that make use of insults or disparaging remarks. For example, we could respond to the a doctor’s claim that “smoking is unhealthy” by saying the doctor who made the argument drinks too much alcohol.
anecdotal evidence – To attempt to persuade people to agree to a conclusion based on the experiences of an individual or even many individuals. Anecdotal evidence is often a fallacious type of argumentation. For example, many individuals could have experiences of winning sports games while wearing a four-leaf clover, but that doesn’t prove that four-leaf clovers actually give sports players luck. No fallacy is committed when the experiences of people are sufficient to give evidence for a causal relation and mere correlation can be ruled out. Fallacious appeals to anecdotal evidence could be considered to be a form of the “hasty generalization” fallacy. Also relevant is the “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy.
appeal to authority – (1) An argument that gives evidence for a belief by referencing expert opinion. Appeals to authority are not fallacious as long as it actually appeals to the unanimous opinion of experts of the relevant kind. (2) A fallacious argument that appeals to the supposed expert opinion of others when the opinion referred to is not unanimous or uncontroversial among the experts or when the supposed expert that is appealed to is not an expert of the relevant kind.
appeal to ignorance – A fallacious argument that concludes something on the basis of what we don’t know. For example, to claim that “we should agree that extraterrestrials don’t exist because we can’t yet prove they exist” is fallacious because there are other reasons we might expect extraterrestrials to exist, such as the vastness of the universe.
argument – (1) To provide statements and evidence in an attempt to lead to the plausibility of a particular conclusion. For example, “Punching people is generally wrong because hurting people is generally wrong” is an argument. (2) A verbal battle. (3) The discussion that concerns a disagreement.
begging the question– A logical fallacy that is used by an argument that uses a premise to prove a conclusion when a controversial premise trivially implies that the conclusion is true. For example, “The death penalty is murder, so the death penalty is wrong” requires a controversial premise (that the death penalty is murder) to prove something else controversial (that the death penalty is wrong). “Begging the question” is similar to “circular reasoning.”
charity – (1) The virtue in a disagreement or debate to describe other people’s beliefs and arguments accurately rather than to misrepresent them as being less reasonable than they really are. If we are not charitable in this way, then we will create a fallacious “straw man” argument. (2) The virtue concerned with helping others who are in need. For example, giving money to the poor is often charitable in this sense. (3) An organization or institution that exists to try to help others who are in need.
circular argument – An argument with a premise that’s identical to the conclusion. For example, “All dogs are animals because all dogs are animals.” The logical form of a circular argument is “a; therefore a.” Circular arguments are similar to the “begging the question” fallacy. Also see “circular reasoning.”
circular reasoning – (1) Reasoning involving the justification of beliefs that require us to accept other beliefs that aren’t justified unless we assume the belief that we want to justify in the first place. A simple form of circular reasoning is the following: A is justified because B is justified; B is justified because C is justified; and C is justified because A is justified. For example, “We should agree that stealing is wrong because it should be illegal; we should agree that stealing should be illegal because we shouldn’t want people stealing from us; and we shouldn’t want people stealing from us because it’s wrong.” (2) A “circular argument.”
conclusion – A statement that is meant to be proven or made plausible in consideration of other statements. “Conclusions” are often contrasted with “premises.”
continuum fallacy – A fallacy that is committed by an argument that appeals to the vagueness of a term to unreasonably conclude something (perhaps based on the fact that we can’t draw the line). For example, we might not know where to draw the line concerning how many hairs can be on a person’s head before that person is no longer bald, but we would commit the continuum fallacy to conclude from that fact that no one is bald.
contradiction – When two propositions cannot both be true due to their logical form. “Socrates was a man” and “Socrates was not a man” are two statements that can’t both be true because the logical form is “a” and “not-a.” (“a” is any proposition.)
counterexample – (1) An object or state of affairs that disproves a belief. For example, a white raven disproves the belief that “all ravens are black.” (2) An argument meant to prove another argument to be logically invalid by using the same argument form as the other argument, but the counterargument must have obviously true premises and an obviously false conclusion. Consider the invalid argument, “If dogs are lizards, then dogs are reptiles. Dogs are not lizards. Therefore, dogs are not reptiles.” A counterexample would be, “If dogs are reptiles, then dogs are animals. Dogs are not reptiles. Therefore, dogs are not animals.”
criticism – (1) An argument that is meant to persuade us to reject a belief of another argument. See “objection.” (2) Disparaging remarks, fault-finding, or judging something as falling short of certain requirements or standards.
cum hoc ergo propter hoc – Latin for “with this, therefore because of this.” A logical fallacy committed when an argument concludes that something causes something else to happen due to a correlation. For example, the fact that a person takes a sugar pill before recovering from an illness doesn’t prove that she recovered from the sugar pill. She might have recovered for some other reason. This fallacy is a version of the “false cause” fallacy.
debate – A prolonged discussion concerning a disagreement that is characterized by two or more sides that (a) try to give reasons to believe differing incompatible conclusions, (b) try to explain why the conclusions of the opposing side should be rejected, and (c) try to explain why the arguments given by the opposing side should be rejected. Debates need not be between two people and they need not exist in a face-to-face presentation. A single philosophical essay can be considered to be part of a debate that’s been going on for hundreds or thousands of years by philosophers in different time periods reading various arguments and responding to them.
deduction – Reasoning or argumentation characterized by the fact that the truth of the premises are meant to guarantee the truth of the conclusion. For example, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is a mortal.” Deduction is often contrasted with “induction.”
epistemic certainty – The degree of justified confidence we have in our beliefs. To be certain that something is true could mean (a) that we have a maximal degree of justification for that belief, (b) that we can’t doubt that it’s true, or (c) that it’s impossible for the belief to be false. To be absolutely certain that something is true is to have no chance of being wrong. For example, we are plausibly absolutely certain that “1+1=2.”
fact – A state of affairs, relation, or part of reality that makes a statement true. For example, it’s true that objects fall and will continue to fall because it’s a fact that “the law of gravity exists” or accurately describes relations that exist in reality.
fallacy – An error in reasoning. Formal fallacies are committed by invalid arguments and informal fallacies are committed by errors in reasoning of some other kind.
false dilemma – A fallacious argument that requires us to accept fewer possibilities than there plausibly are. For example, we could argue the following—“All animals are mammals or lizards; sharks are not mammals; therefore, sharks are lizards.” False dilemmas are related to the “one-sidedness” fallacy.
hasty generalization – A fallacious argument that concludes something because of insufficient evidence. Hasty generalizations conclude that something is true based on various observations when the observations are not actually a sufficient reason to believe the conclusion is true. For example, to conclude that all birds use their wings to fly based on seeing crows and swans would be a hasty generalization. Not all generalizations are fallacious. See “induction” for more information.
induction – To generalize based on a sample. For example, the view that the future will resemble the past in order to arrive at conclusions. To see only white swans could lead to the conclusion that all swans are white. To see that bread has always been nutritious could lead to the conclusion that similar bread will still be nutritious tomorrow. Induction is often contrasted with “deduction.” Not all inductive reasoning is well-reasoned. See “hasty generalization” for more information.
invalid – (1) An argument form that can have true premises and a false conclusion at the same time. An example of an invalid argument is the following—“Socrates is either a man or a mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is not a mortal.” “Invalid” is often contrasted with “valid.” See “logical form” for more information. (2) Unreasonable. (3) Inappropriate or failing to meet specified requirements. (4) Someone who is chronically ill.
Justification – (1) Evidence or reasons to believe something. Observation is one of the strongest forms of justification; but self-evidence, intuition, and appeals to authority could also be legitimate forms of justification. For example, people can justify their belief that they can feel pain by having actual pain experiences. (2) The supporting premises of an argument.
justified belief – Some philosophers believe that justified beliefs are those that are given a sufficiently good justification, but it is possible that justified beliefs are defensible beliefs that one has no sufficient reason to reject. For example, a typical uncontroversial example of a justified belief is the belief that “1+1=2” but few to no people know how to properly justify this belief using argumentation.
knowledge – Classically defined as “justified true belief,” but many argue that it must be “justified in the right way” or that there might be a fourth factor. An eyewitness who sees a murderer commit the act knows who the murderer is because the belief is justified through observation and the belief is true. However, consider a situation where Sally believes that cows are on the hillside because she mistakes cardboard cutouts of cows as the real thing, and some real cows are on the hillside hiding behind some trees. The belief is justified and true, but some philosophers argue that Sally doesn’t actually know that cows are on the hillside.
logical form – The logical form of an argument consists in the truth claims devoid of content. “The sky is blue or red” has the same logical form as “the act of murder is right or wrong.” In both cases we have the form, “a or b.” (“a” and “b” are statements.) In this case the truth claim is that one thing is true and/or another thing is true.
nonrational persuasion – Fallacious and manipulative forms of persuasion. Nonrational persuasion does not always take the form of an argument, and it often appeals to our biases. For example, the news could continually have stories about how our enemies harm innocent people to give us the impression that our enemies are evil. This is similar to the “one-sidedness fallacy,” but no actual argument needs to be presented. People are likely to jump to conclusions on their own.
one-sidedness: (1) A fallacy committed by an argument that present reasons to believe something while ignoring or marginalizing the reasons against believing it. For example, a person selling a vacuum cleaner could tell us how it can pick metal objects off the floor, but decide not to mention that it tends to break after being used a few times. “One-sidedness” is also known as “selective evidence” and highly related to “cherry picking” and “quoting out of context.” (2) To be incapable or unwilling to see things from more than one reasonable point of view.
philosophy – (1) Literally means “love of wisdom.” The quest to attain knowledge and improve ourselves. It generally refers to various domains of study that involve systematic attempts to greater understanding while attempting to be reasonable other than those domains that have been designated to mathematicians or scientists. Arguments and theories concerning the proper domain of philosophy is known as meta-philosophy. (2) Opinions regarding what’s important in life or how one should conduct oneself. (3) A declaration of principles, values, or goals of an institution.
psychological certainty – The feeling of some degree of confidence about a belief. To be psychologically certain that something is true is to feel highly confident that it’s true. For example, a person might feel absolutely confident that trees really exist and later find out that our entire world takes place within a dream.
proposition – A truth claim or the conceptual meaning behind an assertion. The statement “Socrates is a man and he is mortal” contains two propositions. (a) Socrates is a man and (b) Socrates is mortal. Propositions are not statements because there can be multiple statements that refer to the same proposition. For example, there are many languages that offer us different ways to say, “Socrates is a man and he is mortal.”
red herring – A fallacious kind of argument that is meant to distract people from arguments and questions made by the opposing side. These kinds of arguments are meant to derail the conversation or change the subject. For example, a politician might be asked if we should end our wars, and she might reply, “What’s really important right now is that we improve the economy and create jobs. We should do that by lowering taxes.”
reductio ad absurdum – Latin for “reduction to the absurd.” Also known as the “argument from absurdity.” It’s a form of argument that justifies why an argument or claim should be rejected insofar as it would have absurd consequences. For example, consider the following argument—“Stars exist; the Sun is a star; therefore Stars don’t exist.” This argument leads to an absurd consequence in the form of a logical contradiction (i.e. that something exists and doesn’t exist.)
slippery slope – (1) An argument that requires us to believe that incremental causal changes will likely happen given that we make certain decisions. For example, having violence on television might desensitize people to violence and lead to even greater violence on television in the future by an ever-increasing demand for more thrilling forms of entertainment. (2) An informal fallacy committed by arguments that require us to believe that some decision will likely lead to incremental changes for the worse without sufficient evidence for us to accept that the changes are likely to actually happen. For example, some people argue that we shouldn’t legalize same-sex marriage because that would likely lead to marriages between brothers and sisters, and eventually it would lead to marriages between humans and nonhuman animals.
sound argument – An argument that’s valid and has true premises. For example, consider the following sound argument—“If all dogs are mammals, then all dogs are animals. All dogs are mammals. Therefore, all dogs are animals.”
statement – Classically defied as a sentence that’s true or false. However, some philosophers argue that a statement could have some other truth value, such as neither true nor false. For example, “This sentence is false” might be neither true nor false.
straw man – A fallacious form of reasoning consisting of misrepresenting another person’s arguments or beliefs in order to convince people that the arguments or beliefs are less reasonable than they really are. For example, Andrea might claim that “stealing is generally wrong,” and Charles might then reply, “No. Andrea wants us to believe that stealing is always wrong, but sometimes stealing might be necessary for survival.” The opposite of straw man is being charitable to another person’s arguments and beliefs—to present them as rationally defensible as they really are.
true – The property that propositions have that makes them based on reality. According to Aristotle, a statement is true if it corresponds with reality. For example, “Socrates was a man” is true. However, there might be other uses of the word true, such as, “The pawn can move two spaces forward when it is first moved in a game of Chess.” Many such “truths” are based on agreements or human constructions and are not factual in the usual sense of the word. “True” is often contrasted with “false.”
valid – An argument is valid when it has a logical form that assures us that true premises guarantee the truth of the conclusion. It is impossible for a valid argument to have true premises and a false conclusion at the same time. For example, consider the following valid argument—“If Socrates is a dog, then Socrates is a mammal. Socrates is a dog. Therefore, Socrates is a mammal.” “Valid” is the opposite of “invalid.” See “logical form” for more information.
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