Critical Thinking Consistency

Critical thinking refers to the ability to properly conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information till a valuable answer or solution is obtained.

It is an intellectual ability and a skillful way of thinking that enables a person to reason further or deeper – than the average person does – with clarity and relevance, accuracy and precision through the depths and breadths with sound evidence, good reasons and fairness. It is usually based on evidence and logical reasoning.

Critical thinking goes beyond merely acquiring and retaining information; it treats and seeks out information in a more careful and ambitious manner. Additionally, it goes beyond the mere acquisition of skills but focuseson the continual or consistent usage of acquired skills.

In plain words, critical thinking is the ability to logically reason beyond the surface of information, to make true and unbiased judgments that are otherwise not obvious to normal thinkers. It is a consistent ability to use facts rather than allegations.

A critical thinker will always consider or focus on evidence rather sentiment. It is a skill that was possessed by all the inventors the world has seen.

Importance of Critical Thinking

Indisputably, any ability to think better than others do will be of great value. There are times when problems with no obvious or proven solutions arise. In such situations, we have to find our own ways of solving them, but this cannot be achieved without critically thinking through problem. Some other benefits of critical thinking are:

  • Critical thinking is helpful during stressful situations. Whiles stress may affect the choices a person makes, a critical thinker may rely on his logical reasoning and decision making skills to make the right decisions.
  • Critical thinking will help you in your quest for higher academic achievement as well as to actualize your professional or career goals.
  • It also enhances your cognitive skills, which makes you a better thinker and solver of problems, as well as facilitating intellectual self-improvement. This is so because of the ability to consistently set aside your emotions or ego and to focus on working with facts or evidence.
  • It also helps you develop a creative or a more active brain. Consistently practicing deep reasoning into matters is a brain exercise which improves your mind’s ability to reason.

How to improve on Critical Thinking Skills

  • Investigate assertions and assumptions; don’t just grasp them. There are many philosophies, assumptions and beliefs in the world. People fall culprit of assuming that things that are widely accepted or believed are true. However, critical thinkers don’t just accept information. Rather, they assess information to find out what is true and what is not. Ask yourself questions and use logical reasoning, test things for yourself, and find out if the assertions or theories are true. Learn to use your own instinct as guide. Ask questions like ‘how true is this’, ‘who made this up’, ‘is it proven?’ etc.
  • Master your judgment; know your biases and be objective. It is naturally easier to make subjective judgments than objective ones. Biases may be a set of beliefs, ethical standards, previous knowledge or experience etc. For example; you may assume a lion you met on the street is a carnivore because lions are carnivorous. However, there’s the possibility that that particular one is tamed to be an herbivore.
  • Build your intellectual capacity. Your ability to reason and think through things effectively is enhanced when you acquire a great pool of knowledge. Read great and informative books and conduct research into topics that have very limited information. Set some time aside each day to train your mind in problem solving. Take on challenging tasks daily – they could be theoretical problems or personal problems. You can solve riddles or puzzles, play a draft game against a very tough opponent, solve a daunting math question etc. No matter how busy your schedule maybe, you can dedicate 20 or 30 minutes to doing this.
  • Associate with smart people. Associations have very strong influence. Associate yourself with people that are smarter than you, join educative or informative clubs and societies etc.

 Spring 1001 •  ENGLISH 110J • Professor Tanaka

 CT MODEL 1

 <CAUTION: These handouts must be used in conjunction with class discussion and other course materials. They are not intended to be stand-alone explanations.>

 

INTRODUCTION

    I’d like to briefly describe the set of models and concepts that you will be using as ‘tools’ to help you to ask meaningful questions about traditional grammar and try to understand a good  explanation of a grammatical problem might look.  Of course, this approach is not very ‘traditional.’  If you read through the survey of grammatical analysis in your handout, you would have seen that normative or prescriptive grammars have traditionally tried to make rules about correct or incorrect usage.  They have not been primarily designed as explanatory or even descriptive grammars.

    Now  is not my intent to turn 110J into a linguistics course.  However, I would like to suggest that a great deal can be learned by applying some of the basic assumptions of critical thinking and analysis <which I teach in two lower division courses, English 1C and English 10> to the grammatical models presented in popular traditional grammar texts.

    Our goal is not to generate expert, linguistic explanations of grammar but to develop a reasonable problem-solving and questioning attitude towards what ‘traditional grammars’ have to say about language.  I put the term in quotation marks because almost all current popular guides to English grammar as well as many college texts make many of the normative assumptions that grammarians have made for hundreds of years.  Hence, we don’t have to go to an ancient, out-of-print text to find a good example of the traditional approach to English grammar.

    So in this handout, I would like to simply give you the basic outlines of our critical thinking <CT> model.  I will leave the application of this model to our two text books for another time.

 

A. ARGUMENTS AND REASONS

1) An argument is an attempt to prove the truth or rationality of your beliefs or ideas to a specific audience. It is supposed to persuade your audience to accept or understand your point of view.

2) All arguments are directed towards a specific audience. You cannot 'argue' in a vacuum. There would be no point to it. It follows that to argue well you must know your audience. And knowing your audience means knowing what beliefs you have in common <these beliefs you need not prove> and what you do not <what you need to prove>.

3) In order to argue well, you need to know what you yourself believe. You must be self-aware. An argument is an attempt to get others to either share or accept your right to hold your beliefs. A good argument is always based on a set of assumptions that you and your audience have in common. In the context of constructing effective explanations, if you do not understand what you and audience do and do not share, your arguments will most likely fail.

4) An ancient philosopher said, ‘Know yourself and know your enemy and in a thousand battles win a thousand victories.’ This principle holds true in communications as well as warfare.

  

B. THE UNCERTAINTY OF TRUTH

1) In a public university environment, we are all supposed to share the same rules for critical thinking and argumentation. In other words, we should all use the same rules for giving reasons and explanations. And we should all share the same rules for deciding what counts as a good or reasonable argument and what does not.
    It goes without saying that teachers and students should ideally have a common notion of what, for example, it means to call a statement ‘true’ or a ‘fact.’ To help establish this common model, critical thinking as a subject has been mandated at all levels of instruction, from kindergarten to our own GE requirements here at CSUS.

2) There are a lot of assumptions underlying this focus on critical thinking. But one that is central to our course of study is this: that what people refer to as ‘the truth’ is something that emerges from open discussion and open debate.
    The reason for this openness in the search for truth is the basic belief that there is no one ‘true-for-all-time’ description of reality. We all live in a world that is uncertain and contingent, not so much because ‘reality’ itself is changing.  Rather, our concepts for understanding and interpreting that model are, for a complex of reasons, in a state of continual flux.
    Now contrary to what some may want to believe, no one person, group or ideology has any special insight into an ‘always correct’ understanding of the world as it involves the participation of others who share different belief systems.

3) So all ‘truths’ are in a sense contingent upon the arguments that support them. For an idea or belief to be held as ‘true’ or at least ‘reasonable,’ it must meet the critical thinking criteria shared by members of a particular group.  Obviously, for those who do not share those assumptions, that idea or belief may be interpreted differently.
    In the remainder of this discussion, I’ll be assuming that we all, as faculty and students, agree that there is a common model that we share. This common model is not actually stated in any one specific place, but if you pick up any university text book or listen to most university lectures, you will find a very similar set of underlying assumptions.

4) For example, most texts and instructors would assume that before we agree that a statement, P, about a particular subject, X, were true or reasonable, we would be obligated to listen to or consider the primary  arguments for and against P before making up our minds. We can't simply close out options and possibilities simply because they do not agree with our own personal beliefs and opinions, especially if we admit to knowing next to nothing about X.

5) The point I have just made may seem self-evident.  But in the real world, many of us seem to be ‘naturally inclined’ to accept the truth of what we already believe and ignore other interpretations, even when we can’t offer any logically valid explanations to support our own beliefs.

6) One of the primary arguments for why a university education is necessary for many of us is that the discipline of the university environment forces us to take account of who we are, what we believe and why.  Here, we are all expected to live and work in a world where reasons and explanations are expected, if not demanded, of everyone, students and teachers alike.

  

C. AN OUTLINE OF AN ARGUMENT

 1) Even if you have not taken a course specifically devoted to critical thinking in the past, you have all learned out to construct an argument from your writing courses. So I am going to review the basic structure of an argument by reviewing the fundamentals of writing an argumentative essay.

 2) Regardless of what textbook you used in English 1A or its equivalent, you were all probably taught to structure an essay in something like the following fashion.

     a. you have a thesis statement. It is a statement that can be proven to be true or false, reasonable or unreasonable for a specific audience. The intended result is that after reading your essay this audience will agree that your thesis is true or that it is reasonable. Your teacher probably told you to always be aware of your audience when constructing your arguments.  That is excellent advice, since the selection of your audience is the most critical single choice a writer makes.

     b. your paper consists of a series of supporting arguments  each of which is supported by specific examples and other evidence.  The relationship between your thesis and your supporting arguments should be such that if your audience accepts your supporting arguments, they must also accept your thesis.

 3) So constructing an argument is rather simple if you have the right tools and your are clear in your presentation. Other things being equal, there are only two keys to developing a successful argument. First, your argument itself must follow the rules of logic.  You must make consistent statements and valid inference.
   Second, you must have sufficient evidence to persuade your audience to accept your thesis statement.

 4) Now arguments are usually often when the truth of a statement, P, about a subject, X, is unsure or not clear.  And usually, an argument is judged in comparison to other arguments. For example, you may be arguing that X is P while your college is arguing that X is not-P.

 So if you and the other person(s) are both using the rules of logic properly, then the better or best argument is usually determined by one thing: the evidence.  Other things being equal, the best argument is the one that can provide the best evidence or support for its thesis.

 

 

 D. THE RULES OF LOGIC

1) OK, let’s talk about I want to talk about the rules of logic and critical thinking  here. The most important concept that you will use in most of your university course is the principle of consistency. Very simply, it says that a good argument does not contain contradictions, where a contradiction is defined as the assertion that a specific statement is both true and not-true.

2) Consistency or the lack of it can be seen in a number of different ways.  For example, you may be inconsistent in your use of definitions or in the ideas that your argument presupposes.  You might also be inconsistent through negligence.  You fail to present key evidence or ignore issues that are logically necessary to your case. 

3) Even though I am taking great liberties with traditional logic here, I want to define two basic forms of consistency, what I will call INTERNAL and EXTERNAL consistency.

4) Other things being equal, an argument is internally consistent if it does not contradict itself. In other words, if, in the context of an argument, you claim that ‘X IS Y’ and maintain that position throughout your argument, then, in respect to that statement, you are being consistent. <Again, in critical thinking classes, what we are talking about would be called logical validity.>

     a. However, if, in another place in your  argument, you state that it is not the case that ‘X IS Y’ <or ‘X IS not-Y’ or some variation on that theme>, then your argument is INTERNALLY INCONSISTENT. This is not good.

     b. For example, given the criteria as they are now defined, you can’t give Cate Blanchet an Academy Award for the Best Actress and the Best Supporting Actress for the same role in the same movie. 

    c. The point about internal consistency has nothing to do with facts about the world but with the logical shape or structure of your argument. If an argument is inconsistent, then it cannot lead to an acceptable result, regardless of what may or may not be true of the real world.

    d. So the first order of business when checking an argument, whether it is your own or someone else's, is to look for internal inconsistencies. If it contains internal inconsistencies, then the argument is dead.

    e. Related to the issue of internal consistency are the basic RULES OF INFERENCE.  These rules limit what conclusions can be drawn from what kinds of evidence.  For example, the familiar syllogism offers what is probably the most common inference schema.

         Premise:            All X’s are Y.
         Fact:                 P is an X.
         Conclusion:        Therefore, P is a Y.

 If the premise is true and the fact-statement is true, then the conclusion  has to be true.  Of course, the premise might be false in the real world,  but that would not change the fact that this is a good inference. 

    f. Here are a few deductions that are not permitted by the rules of inference.

          Premise:            All X’s are Y.
          Fact:                 P is a Y
          Conclusion:        Therefore, P is an X.

         Fact:                  P is an Y.
         Conclusion:         Therefore, all X’s are Y.

         Fact:                  P is an X.
         Conclusion:         Therefore, P is a Y.

     g. Even though these forms of arguments are not well-formed they are very common in every day life, particularly in mass media communications.

              

 

E. EXTERNAL CONSISTENCY

1) Up to this point, we have only talked about the internal relationships between the elements in an argument.  We were assuming the truth of the premises and fact statements.

2) But once we decide that the form of an argument is internally consistent, that it does not contradict itself or make unwarranted inferences,  then we can turn our attention to the truth of the evidence used in the argument.  EXTERNAL CONSISTENCY relates to what you and your audience agree is true of the real world. Unlike internal consistency, external consistency is a relative notion, since it can and does vary from audience to audience.

3) This is one of the major reasons why the selection of audience is so critical in any communication situation.

4) All arguments in every day life are based upon a set of givens <beliefs about the world> that you and your audience tacitly agree to share. These are the shared facts, beliefs or assumptions that are not under discussion or dispute, so they can be used in your argument to prove to your audience what you want to say. Without some set of assumed givens, communication let alone argumentation would not be possible.

5) An EXTERNAL INCONSISTENCY is generated when you make an assertion that contradicts something that you and your audience have already agreed to.

6) Of course, you and your audience can and may disagree without anyone being called inconsistent. In fact, disagreement underlies the whole purpose of argumentation to begin with. It is simply that once you agree to take certain facts, beliefs or assumptions as true, as givens, you can't go back on that agreement just to fit your argumentative needs. That is not disagreement. That is being inconsistent.

7) The key feature of external inconsistencies is that they have their foundation in beliefs you and your audience share about a world that is external to or outside the form of your argument. In fact, the form of your argument may be perfectly consistent from an internal point of view. In other words, you are being externally inconsistent when you contradict assumptions that you had already, explicitly or implicitly, agreed to.

8) The issue of external consistency is one of the points that distinguishes a ‘reasonable’ from an ‘expert’ interpretation or argument.  Even if I may not have an expert knowledge of the facts in a specific area, but I produce an interpretation that is both internally consistent and also consistent with my actual beliefs regarding the facts of a situation, then my interpretation or argument can be seen as ‘reasonable.’

 

F. SUMMARY

 The bottom line is that you should always pay close attention to internal consistency when constructing an argument or when critiquing the arguments of others. For if an argument has internal problems, whether of consistency or definition, the argument simply will not work, regardless of what other virtues it may have.

 Of course, in constructing this overview, I have made some sweeping generalizations and taken great liberties with some very complex issues, but as a working model, this sketch has proven to be very useful for making quick but fairly accurate analyses and evaluations ‘on the fly.’

 The important thing is not to bet bogged down in terminology.  I feel that most students at this level of instruction have already internalized the basic features of good thinking so they can intuitively feel or sense when something is wrong with an argument, or, as is often the case, something important is missing. So my advice is, other things being equal, to trust your instincts.

  

 

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