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Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools

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In olden days, suspected infidels paid for their sins through such tortures as by stretching in a framework called a rack.

Oddly, “stretch” and royalty came from the same roots. Because the “king” ruled on what was correct and right, a metaphorical extension of this practice was “ruling” for the purpose of guiding or directing one out of error in order to “stretch” toward what is correct and right in regulating human life. Then the ruling idea contained in “stretching” the mind was brought into the process of reasoning. Examples of such roles are taken from Paul and Elders’, “Critical Thinking” book (Prentice Hall, New Jersey). The Criteria for Evaluating Reasoning includes: (1) Purpose -- what am I trying to accomplish?; (2) Information -- what information am I using in coming to that conclusion? What experience have I had to support this claim? What information do I need to settle the question?; (3) Inferences/Conclusions - How did I reach this conclusion? Is there another way to interpret the information?; (4) Concepts -- What is the main idea here? Could I explain this idea?; (5) Assumptions -- What am I taking for granted? What assumption has led me to that conclusion?; (6) Implications/Consequences -- If someone accepted my position, what would be the implications? What am I implying?; (7) Points of View -- from what point of view am I looking at this issue? Is there another point of view I should consider?; and (8) Questions -- what questions I am raising? What questions am I addressing? These eight are also called The Elements of Thought.
Another useful set of Paul and Elder’s tools are the Universal Intellectual Standards -- those which must be applied to thinking in order to check the quality of reasoning about a problem, issue, or situation. Included, but not limited to, are the following: (1) Clarity -- could you elaborate further? Could you illustrated what you mean? Could you give me an example?; (2) Accuracy -- How could we check on that? How could we find out if that is true? How could we verify or test that?; (3) Precision -- could you be more specific? Could you give me more details? Could you be more exact?; (4) Relevance -- How does that relate to the problem? How does that bear on the question? How does that help us with the issue?; (5) Depth -- What factors make this a difficult problem? What are some of the complexities of the questions? What are some of the difficulties we need to deal with?; (6) Breadth -- do we need to look at this from another perspective? Do we need to consider another point of view? Do we need to look at this in other ways?; (7) Logic -- does all of this make sense together? Does your first paragraph fit in with your last? Does what you say follow from the evidence?; and (8) Significance -- is this the most important problem to consider? Is this the central idea to focus on? Which of these facts are most important?
Also ask: (1) is the source of information the truth?; (2) is the message true and, if not, then to what degree?; (3) is the messenger (a person, the media, an advertisements) giving inaccurate, incomplete, distorted, or false information about the source or the message springing from the source?; and (4) does everything fit and make sense. Although my approach to Rational Thinking differs from the Paul and Elder approach to Critical Thinking, they both support each other. Not only are each of the eight steps in my approach used in all the other seven, but also the above critical thinking questions are to be used in each of my eight steps. In other words, any one of any part of either approach serves as a check and balance on all of the others.

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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