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Thinking Critically

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Derek Jenkins

on 18 March 2015

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Transcript of Thinking Critically

What do we mean by
critical
thinking?

How is that different from regular old thinking?
BE REASONABLE!
By thinking critically, we are "drawing conclusions based on reasons" (Critical and Innovative Thinking 33).
Critical thinking is
Systematic
Formal
Scrupulous
We are
reasoning
.
We reason every day, performing operations as familiar as eating...
It's good for me!
It's yummy!
...or as momentous as purchasing an automobile.
It's effecient!
It's righteous!
Obviously, reasoning is never so simplistic. Conclusions are often drawn based on a network of inferences. But in order to reason effectively, we must learn to scrutinize our thought processes by applying certain intellectual standards to what

we call the
elements of thought
.
If I already reason every day, why do I have to think about thinking?
Think of the mind like an engine. Many people can drive a car, but fewer know how an internal combustion engine works. When their car breaks down, they have to rely on experts to get them on the road again.
Analysis is the process of breaking something down to its working parts in order to know it better or assess its functions.
Once an engine is taken apart and analyzed, drivers can become familiar with its discrete components and functions. Their knowledge of the whole gains depth and insight. They acquire the ability to identify problems in its operations. They themselves become the experts
Richard Paul outlines the elements of thought rather succinctly:
Whenever you are reasoning,
you are trying to accomplish some
purpose
,
within a
point of view
,
using
concepts
or
ideas
.
You are focused on some
issue
,
question
, or
problem
,
using
information
to come to
conclusions
,
based on
assumptions
,
all of which has
implications
.
(Critical and Innovative Thinking 37)
Image: Stitchful Thinking
Image: Marketing for Hippies
Image: Mashable
Image: Bosse Sudenberg
PURPOSE
Yes, we have a reason for reasoning, even in small things. What ends do we have in mind when making decisions? How do those desires fit into a pattern of thinking?
Our thinking (and our evaluation of another person's thought) often suffers from a lack of transparency about goals
.
POINT OF VIEW
Every train of thought comes from a certain direction. Problems can be approached from a number of perspectives (philosophical, religious, political, economic, etc.), occasionally unbeknownst to the thinkers themselves. Some perspectives are built into a thinker's cultural background and can be hard to escape.
Recognizing the point of view informing the process of reasoning can reveal errors or insights, as well as open up the floor to new perspectives
.
CONCEPTS
We use conceptual frameworks or categories to organize and structure thought. For example, practicing in the medical field entails a basic concept of "good health." This notion provides us with criteria and facilitates our engagement with a problem. Of course, the definition of "good health" can be contested, and
careful thinking requires us to be certain the concept is sound
.
THE QUESTION
It is not always easy to neatly identify the problem you are confronting, but without a consistent and reliable form, this lack of specificity can have a cascading effect on the quality of other elements of your thought. Thinkers should be wary of thought processes that lack clarity.
Often questions change to fit answers
.
INFORMATION
Reasoning proceeds according to the facts, data and experience used to advance its conclusions. Not only is it important that such information be verifiable, but also that it be credible, relevant and objective.
Critical thinking requires us to submit all information to the same level of scrutiny
. It asks us to incorporate all relevant information, even if it contradicts our preferred conclusions.
CONCLUSIONS
We use information to draw conclusions or make
inferences
.

In the simplest form, inferences

are judgements based on some stimulus. For example, I can infer that a student with her hand in the air has something to say or that when my baby laughs she is happy. Usually,
inferences provide us information upon which to proceed
. A key unlocks a door to another room. The accumulation of all of these conclusions results in reasoning, but one misbegotten conclusion can undermine your entire project.
ASSUMPTIONS
Most people are familiar with the old adage about what we do when we assume, but
assumptions are an inescapable part of logical processes
. While the validity of assumptions can be contested, they are necessarily present in some form. For example, when we drive on the right side of the road, our feeling of security rests on the assumption that other drivers will honor the rules of the road. There's nothing faulty about our logic. Our duty as critical thinkers is to be as certain as possible that we aren't driving around England.
IMPLICATIONS
Implications are the baggage of our conclusions. Sometimes ungainly, the actions and beliefs that logically follow from our thought processes must nonetheless be carried along. For instance, if you conclude that animals are intelligent and capable of emotional distress, you may therefore question the ethical grounds of carnivorism, depending upon the inferences that led you to the former conclusion.
Sufficiently critical thought will display integrity
.
Intellectual Standards
Students are so accustomed to submitting to intellectual scrutiny that they sometimes have a hard time recognizing that others are accountable to these same standards:
Clarity
Accuracy
Precision
Relevance
Depth
Breadth
Logic
Significance
Fairness
CLARITY
A lack of clarity isn't just a failure of communication, but a failure of thinking. Your thinking may be unclear because you haven't defined your problem carefully. It could be unclear because you're making false assumptions about shared values or knowledge. As a result, your entire system of thinking could break down. To ensure clarity, look for the following in your own thinking, and ask the same of other thinkers:
Elaboration
Multiple forms of expression
Illustration
Examples
Restatement
ACCURACY
Inaccurate data can undermine your thinking. Be sure to question the facts and statements presented as true or which merely seem true. Look for the source of the information and interrogate it.
PRECISION
Precision lends your thinking specificity and context. A motorist might be ticketed for speeding, but the difference between 120 km/h and 150 km/h is reckless driving. Milk may be past its due date, but the difference between one day and five days is an upset stomach. More precision makes you better able to assess the stakes of a problem.
RELEVANCE
Demanding relevance of the information you use in your thinking keeps you from being distracted from the core issue. Say you have a subordinate who is consistently sloppy with numbers. Even though he's a great guy to work with and bats cleanup on the company softball team, your evaluation of his performance must focus on the performance central to his job. His batting average is not relevant.
DEPTH
Intellectual work must be given credit for its complexity. If your thinking isn't deep enough, you may boil down issues to simplistic answers. For example, it is clear that people would be healthier if they ate only organic food cooked with care in the home. However, this prescription lacks complexity. What about parents who work long hours? Sometimes the choice is between feeding their children home-cooked meals and helping them with their homework. Other people may have trouble accessing organic food purveyors. They live in what are called "food deserts," places where discount retailers have driven out all other competition. In order to address the public health issues associated with food, we must consider the problem in all its complexity.
BREADTH
Thinking with breadth means taking into account all relevant points of view. For instance, healthcare legislation affects all age groups, but it affects them all differently. What might be an ideal piece of legislation to a 56 year old retiree may seem an outrageous imposition to a recent graduate on the job market. In order to engage issues with intellectual honesty, we must strive to see all sides.
LOGIC
Unexamined belief systems often contain contradictions or fallacies that rear their heads when submitted to scrutiny. Do all of your conclusions follow from evidence? Do any of your inferences seem to contradict each other? For example, a common narrative about younger generations is that they have shortened attention spans and that the entertainment industry has made them so. However, the average length of a blockbuster film has increased steadily over the years. And one of the more recent trends in entertainment consumption is so-called "Netflix-binging," or watching several episodes of a television show in a single sitting. What gives? Take care to identify and account for such insconsistencies in thought.
SIGNIFICANCE
We live in an unprecedented age of information. Strangely, one of the enemies of careful thought is the overwhelming amount available to thinkers. Without the ability to sift through all those Google results for the most significant info, thinkers can get buried under details that are least pertinent to solving their problems. Ascertaining significance involves assigning value to ideas and focusing on the most important facts, questions, problems or details.
FAIRNESS
Certain natural human tendencies get in the way of intellectual honesty. Egocentrism and sociocentrism often result in undue rigidity of thought or even self-serving conclusions. Remember those retirees who are thrilled with the new tax structure? They may not consider, or may conveniently disavow, the extra pressure this legislation puts on younger people. In order to think with fairness, we must be able to look past the ways that certain outcomes may benefit ourselves or our group.
SOURCES
Paul, Richard , and Linda Elder. "Thinking Critically."
Critical and Innovative Thinking. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 33-54. Print.
Critical Thinking - Standards of Thought. Dir. Richard
Paul. Perf. Richard Paul. The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2008. Film.
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