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Stated simply, Critical Thinking is the evaluation of Claims to determine the truth or falsity of the claim. This definition on its own communicates little about Critical Thinking itself. In order to understand it, we need to understand the vocabulary of reasoning and any of the frameworks for Critical Thinking.
While Critical Thinking applies to all aspects of life, including academic subjects such as Science and Math, we are restricting our current discussion to life situations that are outside the realm of scientific study (such as Physics, Math, Chemistry).
Vocabulary of Critical Thinking
Claim: A claim is a conclusion about something, Opinions and beliefs are also Claims
Premise: A Premise is the reason(s) provided to support why we hold a Claim to be true
Argument: An Arguments consists of one or more claims, each of them backed by one or more Premises
In any situation calling for reasoning, we arrive at a Claim/Conclusion, and back up it up with reasons (premises) for our believing the Claim to be true or sound. The more the premises directly provide support to the claim, the stronger the argument is.
Patterns of Reasoning
In order to support our Claims, we may use one or more of several patterns of reasoning such as : Inductive arguments, Deductive arguments, Casual explanations and arguments, or sometimes rhetoric (which is basically an appeal to emotions, and has no solid grounding in reasoning).
Situations when we need to reason:
Problem solving, Decision making, Planning and organizing, and academic environments.
What's the problem with our reasoning?
We reason instinctively, and our patterns of reasoning are built out of experience rather than from a formal grounding in reasoning . As a result, many of us are not aware of the different types of reasoning presented to us. While we may be intelligent and identify flawed reasoning when we are presented with one, the lack of formal knowledge handicaps us in pinning down all the flaws effectively. We may be able to detect some obviously flawed reasoning, but many flawed arguments and fallacies slip by us as valid reasoning in the workplace, academic and life situations.
The first step in Critical Thinking is to learn about the different patterns of reasoning, and how to evaluate them.
Critical Thinking Framework
Once we have understood the different patterns of reasoning, we need to use a framework to ensure that we are looking at a situation or problem from all the angles. Here's a contemporary Critical Thinking Framework by Paul Elder, that is largely self-explanatory
You can get more information about this framework at : http://criticalthinking.org
As you can see a framework forces us to take a 360 degree view of any situation. The framework here is highly relevant in any situation calling for problem solving or decision making. A course in Critical Thinking will focus more on the Patterns or reasoning, with a brief introduction to frameworks. You can use any framework that you are comfortable with so long as you understand the patterns of reasoning.
To Management Graduates, this may look familiar with their Business Case Study frameworks, with the exception that they may be represented less exhaustively.
However the Business Management Graduate does not normally get a formal education on the patterns of reasoning. While analyzing a Business Case, they are reasoning from the logic of the subject the case study is presented in. While the Case Study framework can, and is applied to solving problems in real life, several problems do not have anything to do with Finance or Marketing or Production. As a result the Management Graduate is handicapped when analyzing non-technical arguments/logic/reasoning, as they have not been introduced to the different patterns of reasoning. They will also benefit from a formal introduction to the patterns of reasoning as dealt with in a course on Critical Thinking.
Patterns of reasoning they may not be familiar with: Inductive arguments, Deductive arguments, Fallacies, Casual explanationa and arguments, rhetoric, moral reasoning, legal reasoning.