Critical Thinking: The Basic Concepts

In a simplest form, critical thinking is about effectively processing the information to reach a conclusion.

I found critical thinking was not easy to master when I first learnt it during my GRE test training at my college. The students are required to finish two essays in one hour, one focused on analyzing an issue, the other focused on making an argument based on a given topic. It was difficult not only because critical thinking skills were new to most of us, but also because the topics were mostly classical moral, legal, sociology controversial topics that requires large amount of background knowledge to be able to make solid reasoning.

I find it necessary to revisit these skills because I increasingly realized the importance of effectively information processing. I will start from a few basic concepts about critical thinking.

  • Claim, Issues, Argument

A claim is basically a statement, is about what we say. And we question about the statement, we raised an issue. An argument is different that it has to include two parts: the premise and the conclusion. The premise it to support the conclusion. In real life, however, people don’t directly share their argument, and your job is to find out the conclusion and their premise to support the conclusion.

  • Inductive Argument and Deductive Argument

Inductive Argument is the argument that if the premise is true, there is no chance that the conclusion is true. While in deductive argument, if the premise is true, it is a strong support for the conclusion, but the conclusion is not necessarily guaranteed.

  • Argument and Explanation

An explanation is different from an argument, that an explanation is to explain a fact, so that it often starts from a fact statement, then comes with why the fact is so. While an argument is trying to prove a conclusion, which is not a fact, as otherwise there is not need to prove it.

  • Value judgement, Moral Judgement

Besides making argument, people oftentimes make value judgement and moral judgement as well. Value judgement is more about the value to the person according to his or her personal preference. While moral judgement is more about moral, that what is right and what is wrong.

  • Evaluating Argument

In general, there are three steps to validate the argument. First of all, you should clarify the argument structure. The most basic structure is about the premise and the conclusion, however, in many reasonings, there could be more than one level of argument, that the conclusion of the first argument might becomes the premise of the next argument, and in many other cases, the premise or the conclusion could be understated.

The next step is to evaluate the logic: from a pure logical point of view, whether the reasoning make sense. In this step, it is especially important to not to be affected by the rhetoric expressions.

If the logic of the reasoning make sense, then you want to validate the premise: whether it is a true statement. And in many case, you have to realize that some of the premise are not within your own background knowledge, that you have to do research to validate the credibility of the premise.

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