Pursuing Truth: A Guide to Critical Thinking

Chapter 2 arguments.

The fundamental tool of the critical thinker is the argument. For a good example of what we are not talking about, consider a bit from a famous sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus : 3

2.1 Identifying Arguments

People often use “argument” to refer to a dispute or quarrel between people. In critical thinking, an argument is defined as

A set of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the others are the premises.

There are three important things to remember here:

  • Arguments contain statements.
  • They have a conclusion.
  • They have at least one premise

Arguments contain statements, or declarative sentences. Statements, unlike questions or commands, have a truth value. Statements assert that the world is a particular way; questions do not. For example, if someone asked you what you did after dinner yesterday evening, you wouldn’t accuse them of lying. When the world is the way that the statement says that it is, we say that the statement is true. If the statement is not true, it is false.

One of the statements in the argument is called the conclusion. The conclusion is the statement that is intended to be proved. Consider the following argument:

Calculus II will be no harder than Calculus I. Susan did well in Calculus I. So, Susan should do well in Calculus II.

Here the conclusion is that Susan should do well in Calculus II. The other two sentences are premises. Premises are the reasons offered for believing that the conclusion is true.

2.1.1 Standard Form

Now, to make the argument easier to evaluate, we will put it into what is called “standard form.” To put an argument in standard form, write each premise on a separate, numbered line. Draw a line underneath the last premise, the write the conclusion underneath the line.

  • Calculus II will be no harder than Calculus I.
  • Susan did well in Calculus I.
  • Susan should do well in Calculus II.

Now that we have the argument in standard form, we can talk about premise 1, premise 2, and all clearly be referring to the same thing.

2.1.2 Indicator Words

Unfortunately, when people present arguments, they rarely put them in standard form. So, we have to decide which statement is intended to be the conclusion, and which are the premises. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the conclusion comes at the end. The conclusion is often at the beginning of the passage, but could even be in the middle. A better way to identify premises and conclusions is to look for indicator words. Indicator words are words that signal that statement following the indicator is a premise or conclusion. The example above used a common indicator word for a conclusion, ‘so.’ The other common conclusion indicator, as you can probably guess, is ‘therefore.’ This table lists the indicator words you might encounter.

Each argument will likely use only one indicator word or phrase. When the conlusion is at the end, it will generally be preceded by a conclusion indicator. Everything else, then, is a premise. When the conclusion comes at the beginning, the next sentence will usually be introduced by a premise indicator. All of the following sentences will also be premises.

For example, here’s our previous argument rewritten to use a premise indicator:

Susan should do well in Calculus II, because Calculus II will be no harder than Calculus I, and Susan did well in Calculus I.

Sometimes, an argument will contain no indicator words at all. In that case, the best thing to do is to determine which of the premises would logically follow from the others. If there is one, then it is the conclusion. Here is an example:

Spot is a mammal. All dogs are mammals, and Spot is a dog.

The first sentence logically follows from the others, so it is the conclusion. When using this method, we are forced to assume that the person giving the argument is rational and logical, which might not be true.

2.1.3 Non-Arguments

One thing that complicates our task of identifying arguments is that there are many passages that, although they look like arguments, are not arguments. The most common types are:

  • Explanations
  • Mere asssertions
  • Conditional statements
  • Loosely connected statements

Explanations can be tricky, because they often use one of our indicator words. Consider this passage:

Abraham Lincoln died because he was shot.

If this were an argument, then the conclusion would be that Abraham Lincoln died, since the other statement is introduced by a premise indicator. If this is an argument, though, it’s a strange one. Do you really think that someone would be trying to prove that Abraham Lincoln died? Surely everyone knows that he is dead. On the other hand, there might be people who don’t know how he died. This passage does not attempt to prove that something is true, but instead attempts to explain why it is true. To determine if a passage is an explanation or an argument, first find the statement that looks like the conclusion. Next, ask yourself if everyone likely already believes that statement to be true. If the answer to that question is yes, then the passage is an explanation.

Mere assertions are obviously not arguments. If a professor tells you simply that you will not get an A in her course this semester, she has not given you an argument. This is because she hasn’t given you any reasons to believe that the statement is true. If there are no premises, then there is no argument.

Conditional statements are sentences that have the form “If…, then….” A conditional statement asserts that if something is true, then something else would be true also. For example, imagine you are told, “If you have the winning lottery ticket, then you will win ten million dollars.” What is being claimed to be true, that you have the winning lottery ticket, or that you will win ten million dollars? Neither. The only thing claimed is the entire conditional. Conditionals can be premises, and they can be conclusions. They can be parts of arguments, but that cannot, on their own, be arguments themselves.

Finally, consider this passage:

I woke up this morning, then took a shower and got dressed. After breakfast, I worked on chapter 2 of the critical thinking text. I then took a break and drank some more coffee….

This might be a description of my day, but it’s not an argument. There’s nothing in the passage that plays the role of a premise or a conclusion. The passage doesn’t attempt to prove anything. Remember that arguments need a conclusion, there must be something that is the statement to be proved. Lacking that, it simply isn’t an argument, no matter how much it looks like one.

2.2 Evaluating Arguments

The first step in evaluating an argument is to determine what kind of argument it is. We initially categorize arguments as either deductive or inductive, defined roughly in terms of their goals. In deductive arguments, the truth of the premises is intended to absolutely establish the truth of the conclusion. For inductive arguments, the truth of the premises is only intended to establish the probable truth of the conclusion. We’ll focus on deductive arguments first, then examine inductive arguments in later chapters.

Once we have established that an argument is deductive, we then ask if it is valid. To say that an argument is valid is to claim that there is a very special logical relationship between the premises and the conclusion, such that if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. Another way to state this is

An argument is valid if and only if it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.

An argument is invalid if and only if it is not valid.

Note that claiming that an argument is valid is not the same as claiming that it has a true conclusion, nor is it to claim that the argument has true premises. Claiming that an argument is valid is claiming nothing more that the premises, if they were true , would be enough to make the conclusion true. For example, is the following argument valid or not?

  • If pigs fly, then an increase in the minimum wage will be approved next term.
  • An increase in the minimum wage will be approved next term.

The argument is indeed valid. If the two premises were true, then the conclusion would have to be true also. What about this argument?

  • All dogs are mammals
  • Spot is a mammal.
  • Spot is a dog.

In this case, both of the premises are true and the conclusion is true. The question to ask, though, is whether the premises absolutely guarantee that the conclusion is true. The answer here is no. The two premises could be true and the conclusion false if Spot were a cat, whale, etc.

Neither of these arguments are good. The second fails because it is invalid. The two premises don’t prove that the conclusion is true. The first argument is valid, however. So, the premises would prove that the conclusion is true, if those premises were themselves true. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, I guess, considering what would be dropping from the sky) pigs don’t fly.

These examples give us two important ways that deductive arguments can fail. The can fail because they are invalid, or because they have at least one false premise. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive, an argument can be both invalid and have a false premise.

If the argument is valid, and has all true premises, then it is a sound argument. Sound arguments always have true conclusions.

A deductively valid argument with all true premises.

Inductive arguments are never valid, since the premises only establish the probable truth of the conclusion. So, we evaluate inductive arguments according to their strength. A strong inductive argument is one in which the truth of the premises really do make the conclusion probably true. An argument is weak if the truth of the premises fail to establish the probable truth of the conclusion.

There is a significant difference between valid/invalid and strong/weak. If an argument is not valid, then it is invalid. The two categories are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. There can be no such thing as an argument being more valid than another valid argument. Validity is all or nothing. Inductive strength, however, is on a continuum. A strong inductive argument can be made stronger with the addition of another premise. More evidence can raise the probability of the conclusion. A valid argument cannot be made more valid with an additional premise. Why not? If the argument is valid, then the premises were enough to absolutely guarantee the truth of the conclusion. Adding another premise won’t give any more guarantee of truth than was already there. If it could, then the guarantee wasn’t absolute before, and the original argument wasn’t valid in the first place.

2.3 Counterexamples

One way to prove an argument to be invalid is to use a counterexample. A counterexample is a consistent story in which the premises are true and the conclusion false. Consider the argument above:

By pointing out that Spot could have been a cat, I have told a story in which the premises are true, but the conclusion is false.

Here’s another one:

  • If it is raining, then the sidewalks are wet.
  • The sidewalks are wet.
  • It is raining.

The sprinklers might have been on. If so, then the sidewalks would be wet, even if it weren’t raining.

Counterexamples can be very useful for demonstrating invalidity. Keep in mind, though, that validity can never be proved with the counterexample method. If the argument is valid, then it will be impossible to give a counterexample to it. If you can’t come up with a counterexample, however, that does not prove the argument to be valid. It may only mean that you’re not creative enough.

  • An argument is a set of statements; one is the conclusion, the rest are premises.
  • The conclusion is the statement that the argument is trying to prove.
  • The premises are the reasons offered for believing the conclusion to be true.
  • Explanations, conditional sentences, and mere assertions are not arguments.
  • Deductive reasoning attempts to absolutely guarantee the truth of the conclusion.
  • Inductive reasoning attempts to show that the conclusion is probably true.
  • In a valid argument, it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.
  • In an invalid argument, it is possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.
  • A sound argument is valid and has all true premises.
  • An inductively strong argument is one in which the truth of the premises makes the the truth of the conclusion probable.
  • An inductively weak argument is one in which the truth of the premises do not make the conclusion probably true.
  • A counterexample is a consistent story in which the premises of an argument are true and the conclusion is false. Counterexamples can be used to prove that arguments are deductively invalid.

( Cleese and Chapman 1980 ) . ↩︎

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  • What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its research findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

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argument examples in critical thinking

Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it peer-reviewed ?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion ? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • ChatGPT vs human editor
  • ChatGPT citations
  • Is ChatGPT trustworthy?
  • Using ChatGPT for your studies
  • What is ChatGPT?
  • Chicago style
  • Paraphrasing

 Plagiarism

  • Types of plagiarism
  • Self-plagiarism
  • Avoiding plagiarism
  • Academic integrity
  • Consequences of plagiarism
  • Common knowledge

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argument examples in critical thinking

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Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

  • Know how to find credible sources
  • Use relevant sources to inform your research
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism
  • Know how to cite your sources correctly

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

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2 Logic and the Study of Arguments

If we want to study how we ought to reason (normative) we should start by looking at the primary way that we do reason (descriptive): through the use of arguments. In order to develop a theory of good reasoning, we will start with an account of what an argument is and then proceed to talk about what constitutes a “good” argument.

I. Arguments

  • Arguments are a set of statements (premises and conclusion).
  • The premises provide evidence, reasons, and grounds for the conclusion.
  • The conclusion is what is being argued for.
  • An argument attempts to draw some logical connection between the premises and the conclusion.
  • And in doing so, the argument expresses an inference: a process of reasoning from the truth of the premises to the truth of the conclusion.

Example : The world will end on August 6, 2045. I know this because my dad told me so and my dad is smart.

In this instance, the conclusion is the first sentence (“The world will end…”); the premises (however dubious) are revealed in the second sentence (“I know this because…”).

II. Statements

Conclusions and premises are articulated in the form of statements . Statements are sentences that can be determined to possess or lack truth. Some examples of true-or-false statements can be found below. (Notice that while some statements are categorically true or false, others may or may not be true depending on when they are made or who is making them.)

Examples of sentences that are statements:

  • It is below 40°F outside.
  • Oklahoma is north of Texas.
  • The Denver Broncos will make it to the Super Bowl.
  • Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the league.
  • I like broccoli.
  • I shouldn’t eat French fries.
  • Time travel is possible.
  • If time travel is possible, then you can be your own father or mother.

However, there are many sentences that cannot so easily be determined to be true or false. For this reason, these sentences identified below are not considered statements.

  • Questions: “What time is it?”
  • Commands: “Do your homework.”
  • Requests: “Please clean the kitchen.”
  • Proposals: “Let’s go to the museum tomorrow.”

Question: Why are arguments only made up of statements?

First, we only believe statements . It doesn’t make sense to talk about believing questions, commands, requests or proposals. Contrast sentences on the left that are not statements with sentences on the right that are statements:

It would be non-sensical to say that we believe the non-statements (e.g. “I believe what time is it?”). But it makes perfect sense to say that we believe the statements (e.g. “I believe the time is 11 a.m.”). If conclusions are the statements being argued for, then they are also ideas we are being persuaded to believe. Therefore, only statements can be conclusions.

Second, only statements can provide reasons to believe.

  • Q: Why should I believe that it is 11:00 a.m.? A: Because the clock says it is 11a.m.
  • Q: Why should I believe that we are going to the museum tomorrow? A: Because today we are making plans to go.

Sentences that cannot be true or false cannot provide reasons to believe. So, if premises are meant to provide reasons to believe, then only statements can be premises.

III. Representing Arguments

As we concern ourselves with arguments, we will want to represent our arguments in some way, indicating which statements are the premises and which statement is the conclusion. We shall represent arguments in two ways. For both ways, we will number the premises.

In order to identify the conclusion, we will either label the conclusion with a (c) or (conclusion). Or we will mark the conclusion with the ∴ symbol

Example Argument:

There will be a war in the next year. I know this because there has been a massive buildup in weapons. And every time there is a massive buildup in weapons, there is a war. My guru said the world will end on August 6, 2045.

  • There has been a massive buildup in weapons.
  • Every time there has been a massive buildup in weapons, there is a war.

(c) There will be a war in the next year.

∴ There will be a war in the next year.

Of course, arguments do not come labeled as such. And so we must be able to look at a passage and identify whether the passage contains an argument and if it does, we should also be identify which statements are the premises and which statement is the conclusion. This is harder than you might think!

There is no argument here. There is no statement being argued for. There are no statements being used as reasons to believe. This is simply a report of information.

The following are also not arguments:

Advice: Be good to your friends; your friends will be good to you.

Warnings: No lifeguard on duty. Be careful.

Associated claims: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to the dark side.

When you have an argument, the passage will express some process of reasoning. There will be statements presented that serve to help the speaker building a case for the conclusion.

IV. How to L ook for A rguments [1]

How do we identify arguments in real life? There are no easy, mechanical rules, and we usually have to rely on the context in order to determine which are the premises and the conclusions. But sometimes the job can be made easier by the presence of certain premise or conclusion indicators. For example, if a person makes a statement, and then adds “this is because …,” then it is quite likely that the first statement is presented as a conclusion, supported by the statements that come afterward. Other words in English that might be used to indicate the premises to follow include:

  • firstly, secondly, …
  • for, as, after all
  • assuming that, in view of the fact that
  • follows from, as shown / indicated by
  • may be inferred / deduced / derived from

Of course whether such words are used to indicate premises or not depends on the context. For example, “since” has a very different function in a statement like “I have been here since noon,” unlike “X is an even number since X is divisible by 4.” In the first instance (“since noon”) “since” means “from.” In the second instance, “since” means “because.”

Conclusions, on the other hand, are often preceded by words like:

  • therefore, so, it follows that
  • hence, consequently
  • suggests / proves / demonstrates that
  • entails, implies

Here are some examples of passages that do not contain arguments.

1. When people sweat a lot they tend to drink more water. [Just a single statement, not enough to make an argument.]

2. Once upon a time there was a prince and a princess. They lived happily together and one day they decided to have a baby. But the baby grew up to be a nasty and cruel person and they regret it very much. [A chronological description of facts composed of statements but no premise or conclusion.]

3. Can you come to the meeting tomorrow? [A question that does not contain an argument.]

Do these passages contain arguments? If so, what are their conclusions?

  • Cutting the interest rate will have no effect on the stock market this time around, as people have been expecting a rate cut all along. This factor has already been reflected in the market.
  • So it is raining heavily and this building might collapse. But I don’t really care.
  • Virgin would then dominate the rail system. Is that something the government should worry about? Not necessarily. The industry is regulated, and one powerful company might at least offer a more coherent schedule of services than the present arrangement has produced. The reason the industry was broken up into more than 100 companies at privatization was not operational, but political: the Conservative government thought it would thus be harder to renationalize (The Economist 12/16/2000).
  • Bill will pay the ransom. After all, he loves his wife and children and would do everything to save them.
  • All of Russia’s problems of human rights and democracy come back to three things: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. None works as well as it should. Parliament passes laws in a hurry, and has neither the ability nor the will to call high officials to account. State officials abuse human rights (either on their own, or on orders from on high) and work with remarkable slowness and disorganization. The courts almost completely fail in their role as the ultimate safeguard of freedom and order (The Economist 11/25/2000).
  • Most mornings, Park Chang Woo arrives at a train station in central Seoul, South Korea’s capital. But he is not commuter. He is unemployed and goes there to kill time. Around him, dozens of jobless people pass their days drinking soju, a local version of vodka. For the moment, middle-aged Mr. Park would rather read a newspaper. He used to be a bricklayer for a small construction company in Pusan, a southern port city. But three years ago the country’s financial crisis cost him that job, so he came to Seoul, leaving his wife and two children behind. Still looking for work, he has little hope of going home any time soon (The Economist 11/25/2000).
  • For a long time, astronomers suspected that Europa, one of Jupiter’s many moons, might harbour a watery ocean beneath its ice-covered surface. They were right. Now the technique used earlier this year to demonstrate the existence of the Europan ocean has been employed to detect an ocean on another Jovian satellite, Ganymede, according to work announced at the recent American Geo-physical Union meeting in San Francisco (The Economist 12/16/2000).
  • There are no hard numbers, but the evidence from Asia’s expatriate community is unequivocal. Three years after its handover from Britain to China, Hong Kong is unlearning English. The city’s gweilos (Cantonese for “ghost men”) must go to ever greater lengths to catch the oldest taxi driver available to maximize their chances of comprehension. Hotel managers are complaining that they can no longer find enough English-speakers to act as receptionists. Departing tourists, polled at the airport, voice growing frustration at not being understood (The Economist 1/20/2001).

V. Evaluating Arguments

Q: What does it mean for an argument to be good? What are the different ways in which arguments can be good? Good arguments:

  • Are persuasive.
  • Have premises that provide good evidence for the conclusion.
  • Contain premises that are true.
  • Reach a true conclusion.
  • Provide the audience good reasons for accepting the conclusion.

The focus of logic is primarily about one type of goodness: The logical relationship between premises and conclusion.

An argument is good in this sense if the premises provide good evidence for the conclusion. But what does it mean for premises to provide good evidence? We need some new concepts to capture this idea of premises providing good logical support. In order to do so, we will first need to distinguish between two types of argument.

VI. Two Types of Arguments

The two main types of arguments are called deductive and inductive arguments. We differentiate them in terms of the type of support that the premises are meant to provide for the conclusion.

Deductive Arguments are arguments in which the premises are meant to provide conclusive logical support for the conclusion.

1. All humans are mortal

2. Socrates is a human.

∴ Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

1. No student in this class will fail.

2. Mary is a student in this class.

∴ Therefore, Mary will not fail.

1. A intersects lines B and C.

2. Lines A and B form a 90-degree angle

3. Lines A and C form a 90-degree angle.

∴ B and C are parallel lines.

Inductive arguments are, by their very nature, risky arguments.

Arguments in which premises provide probable support for the conclusion.

Statistical Examples:

1. Ten percent of all customers in this restaurant order soda.

2. John is a customer.

∴ John will not order Soda..

1. Some students work on campus.

2. Bill is a student.

∴ Bill works on campus.

1. Vegas has the Carolina Panthers as a six-point favorite for the super bowl.

∴ Carolina will win the Super Bowl.

VII. Good Deductive Arguments

The First Type of Goodness: Premises play their function – they provide conclusive logical support.

Deductive and inductive arguments have different aims. Deductive argument attempt to provide conclusive support or reasons; inductive argument attempt to provide probable reasons or support. So we must evaluate these two types of arguments.

Deductive arguments attempt to be valid.

To put validity in another way: if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true.

It is very important to note that validity has nothing to do with whether or not the premises are, in fact, true and whether or not the conclusion is in fact true; it merely has to do with a certain conditional claim. If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true.

Q: What does this mean?

  • The validity of an argument does not depend upon the actual world. Rather, it depends upon the world described by the premises.
  • First, consider the world described by the premises. In this world, is it logically possible for the conclusion to be false? That is, can you even imagine a world in which the conclusion is false?

Reflection Questions:

  • If you cannot, then why not?
  • If you can, then provide an example of a valid argument.

You should convince yourself that validity is not just about the actual truth or falsity of the premises and conclusion. Rather, validity only has to do with a certain logical relationship between the truth of the premise and the truth of the conclusion. So the only possible combination that is ruled out by a valid argument is a set of true premises and false conclusion.

Let’s go back to example #1. Here are the premises:

1. All humans are mortal.

If both of these premises are true, then every human that we find must be a mortal. And this means, that it must be the case that if Socrates is a human, that Socrates is mortal.

Reflection Questions about Invalid Arguments:

  • Can you have an invalid argument with a true premise?
  • Can you have an invalid argument with true premises and a true conclusion?

The s econd type of goodness for deductive arguments: The premises provide us the right reasons to accept the conclusion.

Soundness V ersus V alidity:

Our original argument is a sound one:

∴ Socrates is mortal.

Question: Can a sound argument have a false conclusion?

VIII. From Deductive Arguments to Inductive Arguments

Question: What happens if we mix around the premises and conclusion?

2. Socrates is mortal.

∴ Socrates is a human.

1. Socrates is mortal

∴ All humans are mortal.

Are these valid deductive arguments?

NO, but they are common inductive arguments.

Other examples :

Suppose that there are two opaque glass jars with different color marbles in them.

1. All the marbles in jar #1 are blue.

2. This marble is blue.

∴ This marble came from jar #1.

1. This marble came from jar #2.

2. This marble is red.

∴ All the marbles in jar #2 are red.

While this is a very risky argument, what if we drew 100 marbles from jar #2 and found that they were all red? Would this affect the second argument’s validity?

IX. Inductive Arguments:

The aim of an inductive argument is different from the aim of deductive argument because the type of reasons we are trying to provide are different. Therefore, the function of the premises is different in deductive and inductive arguments. And again, we can split up goodness into two types when considering inductive arguments:

  • The premises provide the right logical support.
  • The premises provide the right type of reason.

Logical S upport:

Remember that for inductive arguments, the premises are intended to provide probable support for the conclusion. Thus, we shall begin by discussing a fairly rough, coarse-grained way of talking about probable support by introducing the notions of strong and weak inductive arguments.

A strong inductive argument:

  • The vast majority of Europeans speak at least two languages.
  • Sam is a European.

∴ Sam speaks two languages.

Weak inductive argument:

  • This quarter is a fair coin.

∴ Therefore, the next coin flip will land heads.

  • At least one dog in this town has rabies.
  • Fido is a dog that lives in this town.

∴ Fido has rabies.

The R ight T ype of R easons. As we noted above, the right type of reasons are true statements. So what happens when we get an inductive argument that is good in the first sense (right type of logical support) and good in the second sense (the right type of reasons)? Corresponding to the notion of soundness for deductive arguments, we call inductive arguments that are good in both senses cogent arguments.

  • With which of the following types of premises and conclusions can you have a strong inductive argument?
  • With which of the following types of premises and conclusions can you have a cogent inductive argument?

X. Steps for Evaluating Arguments:

  • Read a passage and assess whether or not it contains an argument.
  • If it does contain an argument, then identify the conclusion and premises.
  • If yes, then assess it for soundness.
  • If not, then treat it as an inductive argument (step 3).
  • If the inductive argument is strong, then is it cogent?

XI. Evaluating Real – World Arguments

An important part of evaluating arguments is not to represent the arguments of others in a deliberately weak way.

For example, suppose that I state the following:

All humans are mortal, so Socrates is mortal.

Is this valid? Not as it stands. But clearly, I believe that Socrates is a human being. Or I thought that was assumed in the conversation. That premise was clearly an implicit one.

So one of the things we can do in the evaluation of argument is to take an argument as it is stated, and represent it in a way such that it is a valid deductive argument or a strong inductive one. In doing so, we are making explicit what one would have to assume to provide a good argument (in the sense that the premises provide good – conclusive or probable – reason to accept the conclusion).

The teacher’s policy on extra credit was unfair because Sally was the only person to have a chance at receiving extra credit.

  • Sally was the only person to have a chance at receiving extra credit.
  • The teacher’s policy on extra credit is fair only if everyone gets a chance to receive extra credit.

Therefore, the teacher’s policy on extra credit was unfair.

Valid argument

Sally didn’t train very hard so she didn’t win the race.

  • Sally didn’t train very hard.
  • If you don’t train hard, you won’t win the race.

Therefore, Sally didn’t win the race.

Strong (not valid):

  • If you won the race, you trained hard.
  • Those who don’t train hard are likely not to win.

Therefore, Sally didn’t win.

Ordinary workers receive worker’s compensation benefits if they suffer an on-the-job injury. However, universities have no obligations to pay similar compensation to student athletes if they are hurt while playing sports. So, universities are not doing what they should.

  • Ordinary workers receive worker’s compensation benefits if they suffer an on-the-job injury that prevents them working.
  • Student athletes are just like ordinary workers except that their job is to play sports.
  • So if student athletes are injured while playing sports, they should also be provided worker’s compensation benefits.
  • Universities have no obligations to provide injured student athletes compensation.

Therefore, universities are not doing what they should.

Deductively valid argument

If Obama couldn’t implement a single-payer healthcare system in his first term as president, then the next president will not be able to implement a single-payer healthcare system.

  • Obama couldn’t implement a single-payer healthcare system.
  • In Obama’s first term as president, both the House and Senate were under Democratic control.
  • The next president will either be dealing with the Republican-controlled house and senate or at best, a split legislature.
  • Obama’s first term as president will be much easier than the next president’s term in terms of passing legislation.

Therefore, the next president will not be able to implement a single-payer healthcare system.

Strong inductive argument

Sam is weaker than John. Sam is slower than John. So Sam’s time on the obstacle will be slower than John’s.

  • Sam is weaker than John.
  • Sam is slower than John.
  • A person’s strength and speed inversely correlate with their time on the obstacle course.

Therefore, Sam’s time will be slower than John’s.

XII. Diagramming Arguments

All the arguments we’ve dealt with – except for the last two – have been fairly simple in that the premises always provided direct support for the conclusion. But in many arguments, such as the last one, there are often arguments within arguments.

Obama example :

  • The next president will either be dealing with the Republican controlled house and senate or at best, a split legislature.

∴ The next president will not be able to implement a single-payer healthcare system.

It’s clear that premises #2 and #3 are used in support of #4. And #1 in combination with #4 provides support for the conclusion.

When we diagram arguments, the aim is to represent the logical relationships between premises and conclusion. More specifically, we want to identify what each premise supports and how.

argument examples in critical thinking

This represents that 2+3 together provide support for 4

This represents that 4+1 together provide support for 5

When we say that 2+3 together or 4+1 together support some statement, we mean that the logical support of these statements are dependent upon each other. Without the other, these statements would not provide evidence for the conclusion. In order to identify when statements are dependent upon one another, we simply underline the set that are logically dependent upon one another for their evidential support. Every argument has a single conclusion, which the premises support; therefore, every argument diagram should point to the conclusion (c).

Sam Example:

  • Sam is less flexible than John.
  • A person’s strength and flexibility inversely correlate with their time on the obstacle course.

∴ Therefore, Sam’s time will be slower than John’s.

argument examples in critical thinking

In some cases, different sets of premises provide evidence for the conclusion independently of one another. In the argument above, there are two logically independent arguments for the conclusion that Sam’s time will be slower than John’s. That Sam is weaker than John and that being weaker correlates with a slower time provide evidence for the conclusion that Sam will be slower than John. Completely independent of this argument is the fact that Sam is less flexible and that being less flexible corresponds with a slower time. The diagram above represent these logical relations by showing that #1 and #3 dependently provide support for #4. Independent of that argument, #2 and #3 also dependently provide support for #4. Therefore, there are two logically independent sets of premises that provide support for the conclusion.

Try diagramming the following argument for yourself. The structure of the argument has been provided below:

  • All humans are mortal
  • Socrates is human
  • So Socrates is mortal.
  • If you feed a mortal person poison, he will die.

∴ Therefore, Socrates has been fed poison, so he will die.

argument examples in critical thinking

  • This section is taken from http://philosophy.hku.hk/think/ and is in use under creative commons license. Some modifications have been made to the original content. ↵

Critical Thinking Copyright © 2019 by Brian Kim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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[A01] What is an argument?

Module: Argument analysis

  • A02. The standard format
  • A03. Validity
  • A04. Soundness
  • A05. Valid patterns
  • A06. Validity and relevance
  • A07. Hidden Assumptions
  • A08. Inductive Reasoning
  • A09. Good Arguments
  • A10. Argument mapping
  • A11. Analogical Arguments
  • A12. More valid patterns
  • A13. Arguing with other people

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A crucial part of critical thinking is to identify, construct, and evaluate arguments .

In everyday life, people often use "argument" to mean a quarrel between people. But in logic and critical thinking, an argument is a list of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the others are the premises or assumptions of the argument.

Before proceeding, read this page about statements.

To give an argument is to provide a set of premises as reasons for accepting the conclusion. To give an argument is not necessarily to attack or criticize someone. Arguments can also be used to support other people's viewpoints.

Here is an example of an argument:

If you want to find a good job, you should work hard. You do want to find a good job. So you should work hard.

The first two sentences here are the premises of the argument, and the last sentence is the conclusion. To give this argument is to offer the premises as reasons for accepting the conclusion.

A few points to note:

  • Dogmatic people tend to make assertions without giving reasons. When they are criticized they often fail to give arguments to defend their own opinions.
  • To improve our critical thinking skills, we should develop the habit of giving good arguments to support our opinions.
  • To defend an opinion, think about whether you can give more than one argument to support it. Also, think about potential objections to your opinion, e.g. arguments against your opinion. A good thinker will consider the arguments on both sides of an issue.

See if you can give arguments to support some of your beliefs.

  • For example, do you think the economy is going to improve or worsen in the next six months? Why or why not? What arguments can you give to support your position?
  • Or think about something different, do you think computers can have emotions? Again, what arguments can you give to support your viewpoint? Make sure that your arguments are composed of statements.

§1. How to look for arguments

How do we identify arguments in real life? There are no easy mechanical rules, and we usually have to rely on the context in order to determine which are the premises and the conclusions. But sometimes the job can be made easier by the presence of certain premise or conclusion indicators. For example, if a person makes a statement, and then adds "this is because ...", then it is quite likely that the first statement is presented as a conclusion, supported by the statements that come afterwards. Other words in English that might be used to indicate the premises to follow include :

  • firstly, secondly, ...
  • for, as, after all,
  • assuming that, in view of the fact that
  • follows from, as shown / indicated by
  • may be inferred / deduced / derived from

Of course whether such words are used to indicate premises or not depends on the context. For example, "since" has a very different function in a statement like "I have been here since noon", unlike "X is an even number since X is divisible by 4".

Conclusions, on the other hand, are often preceded by words like:

  • therefore, so, it follows that
  • hence, consequently
  • suggests / proves / demonstrates that
  • entails, implies

When people sweat a lot they tend to drink more water. [Just a single statement, not enough to make an argument.]

Once upon a time there was a prince and a princess. They lived happily together and one day they decided to have a baby. But the baby grew up to be a nasty and cruel person and they regret it very much. [A chronological description of facts composed of statements but no premise or conclusion.]

Can you come to the meeting tomorrow? [A question that does not contain an argument.]

Do these passages contain arguments? If so, what are their conclusions?

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IDENTIFYING ARGUMENTS

8.1 WHAT IS AN ARGUMENT?

In ordinary usage, an argument is often taken to be a somewhat heated dispute between people. But in logic and critical thinking, an argument is a list of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the others are the premises or assumptions of the argument. An example:

It is raining.

So you should bring an umbrella.

In this argument, the first statement is the premise and the second one the conclusion. The premises of an argument are offered as reasons for accepting the conclusion. It is therefore irrational to accept an argument as a good one and yet refuse to accept the conclusion. Giving reasons is a central part of critical thinking. It is not the same as simply expressing an opinion. If you say “that dress looks nice,” you are only expressing an opinion. But if you say “that dress looks nice because the design is very elegant,” then it would be an argument indeed. Dogmatic people tend to make assertions without giving arguments. When they cannot defend themselves, they often resort to responses such as “this is a matter of opinion,” “this is just what you think,” or “I have the right to believe whatever I want.”

The ability to construct, identify, and evaluate arguments is a crucial part of critical thinking. Giving good arguments helps us convince other people, and improve our presentation and debating skills. More important, using arguments to support our beliefs with reasons is likely to help us discover the ...

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Library Home

Arguments in Context

argument examples in critical thinking

Thaddeus Robinson, Muhlenberg College

Copyright Year: 2021

Publisher: Muhlenberg College

Language: English

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Attribution-NonCommercial

Learn more about reviews.

Reviewed by Sarah Lonelodge, Assistant Professor of English/Writing Program Director, Eastern New Mexico University on 12/19/23

Robinson presents a very comprehensive text focused on critical thinking and the analysis and evaluation of arguments. Numerous forms of argument are presented, and the author offers useful tools that students will be able to apply. The text does... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

Robinson presents a very comprehensive text focused on critical thinking and the analysis and evaluation of arguments. Numerous forms of argument are presented, and the author offers useful tools that students will be able to apply. The text does not offer students explicit instruction in creating or writing arguments, but this goal is not mentioned as one of the aims of the text. However, it is clear that students would be able to develop thoughtful arguments after reading and interacting with this text. While an index/glossary is not provided, the author presents a summary and key terms in a summary portion for each section.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

The content looks accurate and unbiased to me. Robinson provides a thorough discussion of various methods and possibilities for argument identification, analysis, and evaluation. The examples employed throughout the chapters tend to be based on very neutral situations.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 4

Because the text is focused on critical thinking, I do not see it becoming obsolete any time soon. Perhaps a few of the examples will eventually need updates, but most are fairly timeless. Robinson also presents an effective discussion of media literacy with social media and web-based arguments. Again, this presentation is effective; however, the growth of social media and the expansion of platforms and apps will require updates in the near future to maintain relevance.

Clarity rating: 4

The content of the book is clear and well organized; however, some terminology may be difficult for some students to grasp easily. Depending on the level of student who is using this text, the language may not be an issue. For first- or second-year students, the style and word choice may cause some frustration or may require the use of a dictionary.

Consistency rating: 5

The book is very consistent in its use of language, examples, etc., and its organization/framework is easy to navigate. From chapter to chapter, students will know what to expect.

Modularity rating: 5

I think the book is well modulated. Robinson has created seven distinct units or sections, and each of them have 3-5 chapters of relatively similar length. The length may feel a bit long for some readers, but this determination will depend on the level of student assigned this text.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

Each unit/section is well organized into a text overall and would flow well from one concept to the next. Within each unit/section, the chapters follow a similarly effective organization pattern. I particularly appreciate the summaries at the end of each unit/section as these additions would likely offer students a clear picture of the outcomes of what they read.

Interface rating: 5

I don't see any interface or navigation issues. The display is well organized and easy to follow and read.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

I didn't notice any grammatical issues.

Cultural Relevance rating: 5

I did not notice any culturally insensitive or offensive content. The few images used were neutral and typically more decorative than content specific. The examples utilized through the book were based on concepts that are unlikely to offend anyone, such as a sibling borrowing a vehicle, sports, calculating GPA, and similar topics.

I think this book would be very useful for upper-division college courses in which students would need to identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments. The text is very specific about types and uses of argumentation, and Robinson provides a number of quick, illustrative examples that would likely help readers comprehend the concepts presented.

Table of Contents

  • I. An Introduction to Reasoning
  • II. Argument Analysis
  • III. An Introduction to Evaluation
  • IV. An Introduction to Deductive Arguments
  • V. Common Inductive Arguments
  • VI. Social Arguments
  • VII. Scientific Reasoning

Ancillary Material

About the book.

Arguments in Context is a comprehensive introduction to critical thinking that covers all the basics in student-friendly language.  Intended for use in a semester-long course, the text features classroom-tested examples and exercises that have been chosen to emphasize the relevance and applicability of the subject to everyday life.  Three themes are developed as the text proceeds from argument identification and analysis, to the standards and techniques of evaluation: (i) the importance of asking the right questions, (ii) the influence of biases, cognitive illusions, and other psychological factors, and (iii) the ways that social situations and structures can enhance and impoverish our thinking.  On this last point, the text includes sustained discussion of disagreement, cooperative dialogue, testimony, trust, and social media.  Overall, the text aims to equip readers with a set of tools for working through important decisions and disagreements, and to help them become more careful and active thinkers.

About the Contributors

Thaddeus Robinson . Associate Professor of Philosophy, Muhlenberg College

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

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Critical thinking arguments for beginners

critical thinking arguments

Critical thinking is one of the most valuable sets of life skills you can ever have and it’s never too late to learn them. People who can think critically are better at problem solving of all kinds, whether at school or work, in ordinary daily life, and even in crises. You can practice critical thinking by working through typical arguments from premises to conclusions.

Thinking critically isn’t about following a single path to an inevitable conclusion. It’s about developing a set of powerful and versatile mental processing tools in your head and being able to apply these meaningfully to the world around you.

You need no special qualifications to become a strong critical thinker, and can’t pick it up simply from reading books about critical thinking. The only way to hone critical thinking skills is to practice critical thinking.

If you’re ready to learn more about critical thinking arguments for beginners then read on…

What is critical thinking?

Let’s first illustrate the answer to this question by taking a look at how we can think critically about potential misinformation online.

Your friend on a social media site has shared a photograph of election ballot slips apparently being tipped into a river by a postal truck driver, reportedly a supporter of a political party who will benefit from lower postal voter turnout.

Your friend is a supporter of another party and expresses outrage at the alleged law-breaking, election influencing, and reduced chances for her own party candidate. Many other friends pile in with sympathetic and equally outraged comments, or new allegations.

The temptation might be strong to accept the narrative caption which accompanies the picture, echo your friends’ emotional responses, and share the photo further. However, as a critical thinker, you should step back and ask some crucial questions first:

  • Is the photo obviously manipulated? Sophisticated image alterations can now be made which won’t be spotted by the majority of non-experts. Could this be an image of a simple truck crash with ballot papers photoshopped in?
  • Does your friend fact-check stories, pictures, memes etc.. before posting them online? If she has a history of posting stories which turned out to be false, it reduces her credibility in presenting the current story.
  • I s there anything in the photograph which supports or undermines the claims made? If you can see that the van has a foreign registration plate, the ballot papers aren’t in English, or the date on the clock is actually several years ago, it is clear that the true story is somewhat different to the one being told.

Let’s say that your initial suspicions after asking yourself these questions are enough that you do a quick web search for the story.

Your search reveals that credible sources have already uncovered the photo as having been manipulated and spread by an online political group. It was originally a local news story about a crashed postal truck in another country five years earlier and has no relationship whatsoever to the current election in your country…

Your critical thinking helped you to avoid falling into group-think along with your friends and saved you from spreading more misinformation online. These real life type examples are are an excellent way to grasp the relevance and value of critical thinking arguments for beginners.

Now for a little of the theory. Critical thinking is a description that brings together a range of useful intellectual skills and their synergies. While there is no definitive list, there are some common key competences necessary for critical thinking:

  • Conducting analysis. Being able to understand the issue in question; distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information; identify commonalities, differences and connections.
  • Making inferences. Using inductive or deductive reasoning to draw out meanings; identifying assumptions; abstracting ideas; applying analogies and recognizing cause and effect relationships in order to develop theories or potential conclusions.
  • Evaluating evidence. Making a judgement about whether a theory or statement is credible or correct; adjusting views and theories in the light of new data or perspectives; grasping the significance of events and information.
  • Making robust decisions. Reaching sound conclusions by applying critical thinking skills to the available evidence.

To apply critical thinking in real life, you also need to possess the right attitude to problem solving, as well as the critical thinking skills themselves.

This means being automatically inclined to think critically in the face of a difficult question or problem. Being fair, open-minded, curious and free from ideology or group-think will all help to create a mindset in which critical thinking can thrive.

What are critical thinking arguments?

Let’s now look at some of the basic building blocks underpinning critical thinking arguments for beginners.

In critical thinking and logic, ‘argument’ has a particular meaning. It refers to a set of statements, consisting of one conclusion and one or more premises. The conclusion is the statement that the argument is intended to prove. The premises are the reasons offered for believing that the conclusion is true.

A critical thinking argument could use a deductive reasoning approach, an inductive reasoning approach, or both.

Deductive reasoning

Deductive reasoning attempts to absolutely guarantee a conclusion’s truth through logic. If a deductive argument’s premises are true, it should be impossible for its conclusion to be false. For example:

  • All humans are mortal. (Premise)
  • Socrates is a human. (Premise)
  • Therefore, Socrates is mortal.  (Conclusion)

Inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning attempts to show that the conclusion is probably true, with each premise making the case for the conclusion stronger or weaker. For example:

  • Three independent witnesses saw Max climb in through the window of the house. (Premise)
  • Max’s fingerprints are on the window frame and several stolen items. (Premise)
  • Max confessed to the burglary. (Premise)
  • Therefore, Max committed the burglary. (Conclusion)

Do note that in either case, straight assertions, explanations or conditional sentences are not arguments.

How do I assess a critical thinking argument?

You can evaluate whether an argument is valid or invalid, sound or unsound, strong or weak .

If an argument is said to be ‘valid’, it means that it is impossible for the conclusion to be false if the premises are true. If an argument is ‘invalid’, it is possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.

An argument is ‘sound’ if it is both valid and contains only true premises. If either of these conditions isn’t met then the argument is ‘unsound’.

A deductively ‘strong’ argument is both valid and it is reasonable for the person in question to believe the premises are true. In a deductively weak argument , the person considering the premises may have good reason to doubt them.

When an argument is inductively strong, the truth of the premises makes the the truth of the conclusion probable. In contrast, in an inductively ‘weak’ argument, the truth of the premises do not make the truth of the conclusion probable.

Counterexamples

A ‘counterexample’ is a consistent story which shows that an argument can have true premises but a false conclusion, rendering it invalid.

NB A valid argument is not necessarily true, and a weak argument is not necessarily false.

All of these fundamentals can be applied both to simple practice arguments and then to more complex problems of the type you might encounter in real life.

For example:

  • All unicorns are Swedish (Premise)
  • My new pet is a unicorn (Premise)
  • Therefore,  my new pet is Swedish (Conclusion)

The premises here are both false – unicorns do not exist, and I therefore cannot own one as a pet. However, if they were true, then the conclusion would be true. What we have here is a valid argument, but not a sound one, nor a strong one.

How can I practice critical thinking arguments for beginners?

Now that you have the basic tools and concepts for putting together a critical thinking argument, you can look  out for real life examples to practice with.

News stories

Look at the headlines covering stories in TV,  online or paper news. Do you agree that the facts of the story are credible and constitute premises strong enough to justify the headline drawn from them?

Social media

Critically examine stories and claims shared by friends and contacts online. Ask yourself whether the evidence presented is credible and justifies the claims being made.

Corporate statements

Evaluate claims made by big corporations in public statements and annual reports alongside their actions and impacts. For example, if a major oil company claims that it is working to combat climate change, how strong, valid and sound are their arguments?

Conclusion…

Whatever your starting point, we hope this article has set you on the road to becoming a critical thinker, and that these developing skills might open new doors at school, at work or in other areas of life. The world needs more critical thinking at all levels and your contribution might one day be valuable.

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  • Matthew Van Cleave
  • Lansing Community College

So far we have seen that an argument consists of a premise (typically more than one) and a conclusion. However, very often arguments and explanations have a more complex structure than just a few premises that directly support the conclusion. For example, consider the following argument:

No one living in Pompeii could have survived the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The reason is simple: the lava was flowing too fast and there was nowhere to go to escape it in time. Therefore, this account of the eruption, which claims to have been written by an eyewitness living in Pompeii, was not actually written by an eyewitness.

The main conclusion of this argument—the statement that depends on other statements as evidence but doesn’t itself provide any evidence for any other statement—is:

A. This account of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was not actually written by an eyewitness.

However, the argument’s structure is more complex than simply having a couple of premises that provide evidence directly for the conclusion. Rather, some statement provides evidence directly for the main conclusion, but that statement itself is supported by another statement. To determine the structure of an argument, we must determine which statements support which. We can use our premise and conclusion indicators to help with this. For example, the passage contains the phrase, “the reason is...” which is a premise indicator, and it also contains the conclusion indicator, “therefore.” That conclusion indicator helps us to identify the main conclusion, but the more important thing to see is that statement A does not itself provide evidence or support for any of the other statements in the argument, which is the clearest reason why statement A is the main conclusion of the argument. The next question we must answer is: which statement most directly supports A? What most directly supports A is:

B. No one living in Pompeii could have survived the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

However, there is also a reason offered in support of B. That reason is that:

C. The lava from Mt. Vesuvius was flowing too fast and there was nowhere for someone living in Pompeii to go in order to escape it in time.

So the main conclusion (A) is directly supported by B, and B is supported by C. Since B acts as a premise for the main conclusion but is also itself the conclusion of further premises, we refer to B as an intermediate conclusion. The important thing to recognize here is that one and the same statement can act as both a premise and a conclusion. Statement B is a premise that supports the main conclusion (A), but it is also itself a conclusion that follows from C. Here is how we would put this complex argument into standard form (using numbers this time, as we always do when putting an argument into standard form):

1. The lava from Mt. Vesuvius was flowing too fast and there was nowhere for someone living in Pompeii to go in order to escape it in time. 2. Therefore, no one living in Pompeii could have survived the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. (from 1) 3. Therefore, this account of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was not actually written by an eyewitness. (from 2)

Notice that at the end of statement 2 I have written in parentheses “from 1” (and likewise at the end of statement 3 I have written “from 2”). This is a shorthand way of saying: “this statement follows from statement 1.” We will use this convention as a way of keeping track of the structure of the argument. It may also help to think about the structure of an argument spatially, as figure 1 shows:

Screen Shot 2019-10-17 at 3.24.42 PM.png

The main argument here (from 2 to 3) contains a subargument, in this case the argument from 1 to 2. A subargument , as the term suggests, is a part of an argument that provides indirect support for the main argument. The main argument is simply the argument whose conclusion is the main conclusion.

Another type of structure that arguments can have is when two or more premises provide direct but independent support for the conclusion. Here is an example of an argument with that structure: I know that Wanda rode her bike to work today because when she arrived at work she had her right pant leg rolled up (which cyclists do in order to keep their pants legs from getting caught in the chain). Moreover, our coworker, Bob, who works in accounting, saw her riding towards work at 7:45 am.

The conclusion of this argument is “Wanda rode her bike to work today” and there are two premises that provide independent support for it: the fact that Wanda had her pant leg cuffed and the fact that Bob saw her riding her bike. Here is the argument in standard form:

  • Wanda arrived at work with her right pant leg rolled up.
  • Cyclists often roll up their right pant leg.
  • Bob saw Wanda riding her bike towards work at 7:45.
  • Therefore, Wanda rode her bike to work today. (from 1-2, 3 independently)

Again, notice that next to statement 4 of the argument I have written the premises from which that conclusion follows. In this case, in order to avoid any ambiguity, I have noted that the support for the conclusion comes independently from statements 1 and 2, on the one hand, and from statement 3, on the other hand. It is important to point out that an argument or subargument can be supported by one or more premises. We see this in the present argument since the conclusion (4) is supported jointly by 1 and 2, and singly by 3. As before, we can represent the structure of this argument spatially, as figure 2 shows:

Screen Shot 2019-10-17 at 3.24.57 PM.png

There are endless different argument structures that can be generated from these few simple patterns. At this point, it is important to understand that arguments can have these different structures and that some arguments will be longer and more complex than others. Determining the structure of very complex arguments is a skill that takes some time to master. Even so, it may help to remember that any argument structure ultimately traces back to some combination of these.

Write the following arguments in standard form and show how the argument is structured using a diagram like the ones I have used in this section.

  • There is nothing wrong with prostitution because there is nothing wrong with consensual sexual and economic interactions between adults. Moreover, since there’s no difference between a man who goes on a blind date with a woman, buys her dinner and then has sex with her and a man who simply pays a woman for sex, that is another reason for why there is nothing wrong with prostitution.
  • Prostitution is wrong because it involves women who have typically been sexually abused as children. We know that most of these women have been abused from multiple surveys done with women who have worked in prostitution and that show a high percentage of self-reported sexual abuse as children.
  • There was someone in this cabin recently because there was warm water in the tea kettle and because there was wood still smoldering in the fireplace. But the person couldn’t have been Tim because Tim has been with me the whole time. Therefore, there must be someone else in these woods.
  • It is possible to be blind and yet run in the Olympic Games since Marla Runyan did it at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
  • The train was late because it had to take a longer, alternate route since the bridge was out.
  • Israel is not safe if Iran gets nuclear missiles since Iran has threatened multiple times to destroy Israel and if Iran had nuclear missiles it would be able to carry out this threat. Moreover, since Iran has been developing enriched uranium, they have the key component needed for nuclear weapons—every other part of the process of building a nuclear weapon is simple compared to that. Therefore, Israel is not safe.
  • Since all professional hockey players are missing front teeth and Martin is a professional hockey player, it follows that Martin is missing front teeth. And since almost all professional athletes who are missing their front teeth have false teeth, it follows that Martin probably has false teeth.
  • Anyone who eats the crab rangoon at China Food restaurant will probably have stomach troubles afterward. It has happened to me every time, which is why it will probably happen to other people as well. Since Bob ate the crab rangoon at China Food restaurant, he will probably have stomach troubles afterward.
  • Albert and Caroline like to go for runs in the afternoon in Hyde Park. Since Albert never runs alone, we know that any time Albert is running, Caroline is running too. But since Albert looks like he has just run (since he is panting hard), it follows that Caroline must have ran too.
  • Just because Jeremy’s prints were on the gun that killed Tim and the gun was registered to Jeremy, it doesn’t follow that Jeremy killed Tim since Jeremy’s prints would certainly be on his own gun and someone else could have stolen Jeremy’s gun and used it to kill Tim.

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8 Arguments and Critical Thinking

J. anthony blair, introduction [1].

This chapter discusses two different conceptions of argument, and then discusses the role of arguments in critical thinking. It is followed by a chapter in which David Hitchcock carefully analyses one common concept of an argument.

1. Two meanings of ‘argument’

The word ‘argument’ is used in a great many ways. Any thorough understanding of arguments requires understanding ‘argument’ in each of its senses or uses. These may be divided into two large groupings: arguments had or engaged in , and arguments made or used . I begin with the former.

1.1 A n ‘a rgument’ as something two parties have with each othe r, something they get into, the kind of ‘argument’ one has in mind in de scribing two people as “arguing all the time ”

For many people outside academia or the practice of law, an argument is a quarrel . It is usually a verbal quarrel, but it doesn’t have to use words. If dishes are flying or people are glaring at each other in angry silence, it can still be an argument. What makes a quarrel an argument is that it involves a communication between two or more parties (however dysfunctional the communication may be) in which the parties disagree and in which that disagreement and reasons, actual or alleged, motivating it are expressed—usually in words or other communicative gestures.

Quarrels are emotional. The participants experience and express emotions, although that feature is not exclusive to arguments that are quarrels. People can and do argue emotionally, and (or) when inspired by strong emotions, when they are not quarrelling. Heated arguments are not necessarily quarrels; but quarrels tend to be heated.

What makes quarrels emotional in some cases is that at least one party experiences the disagreement as representing some sort of personal attack, and so experiences his or her ego or sense of self-worth as being threatened. Fear is a reaction to a perceived threat, and anger is a way of coping with fear and also with embarrassment and shame. In other cases, the argument about the ostensible disagreement is a reminder of or a pretext for airing another, deeper grievance. Jealousy and resentment fuel quarrels. Traces of ego-involvement often surface even in what are supposed to be more civilized argumentative exchanges, such as scholarly disputes. Quarrels tend not to be efficient ways of resolving the disagreements that gives rise to them because the subject of a disagreement changes as the emotional attacks escalate or because the quarrel was often not really about that ostensible disagreement in the first place.

In teaching that ‘argument’ has different senses, it is misleading to leave the impression (as many textbooks do) that quarrels are the only species of argument of this genus. In fact they are just one instance of a large class of arguments in this sense of extended, expressed, disagreements between or among two or more parties.

A dispute is an argument in this sense that need not be a quarrel. It is a disagreement between usually two parties about the legality, or morality, or the propriety on some other basis, of a particular act or policy. It can be engaged in a civil way by the disputants or their proxies (e.g., their spokespersons or their lawyers). Sometimes only the disputing parties settle their difference; sometimes a third party such as a mediator, arbitrator or judge is called in to impose a settlement.

A debate is another argument of this general kind. Debates are more or less formalized or regimented verbal exchanges between parties who might disagree, but in any case who take up opposing sides on an issue. Procedural rules that govern turn-taking, time available for each turn, and topics that may be addressed are agreed to when political opponents debate one another. Strict and precise rules of order govern who may speak, who must be addressed, sometimes time limits for interventions, in parliamentary or congressional debates in political decision-making bodies, or in formal intercollegiate competitive debates. Usually the “opponent” directly addressed in the debate is not the party that each speaker is trying to influence, so although the expressed goal is to “win” the debate, winning does not entail getting the opponent to concede. Instead, it calls for convincing an on-looking party or audience—the judge of the debate or the jury in a courtroom or the television audience or the press or the electorate as a whole—of the superior merits of one’s case for the opinion being argued for in the debate.

To be distinguished from a debate and a dispute by such factors as scale is a controversy . Think of such issues as the abortion controversy, the climate change controversy, the same-sex marriage controversy, the LGBT rights controversy, the animal rights controversy. The participants are many—often millions. The issues are complex and there are many disputes about details involved, including sometimes even formal debates between representatives of different sides. Typically there is a range of positions, and there might be several different sides each with positions that vary one from another. A controversy typically occurs over an extended period of time, often years and sometime decades long. But an entire controversy can be called an argument, as in, “the argument over climate change.” Controversies tend to be unregulated, unlike debates but like quarrels, although they need not be particularly angry even when they are emotional. Like quarrels, and unlike debates, the conditions under which controversies occur, including any constraints on them, are shaped by the participants.

Somewhere among quarrels, debates and controversies lie the theoretical arguments that theorists in academic disciplines engage in, in academic journals and scholarly monographs. In such arguments theorists take positions, sometimes siding with others and sometimes standing alone, and they argue back and forth about which theoretical position is the correct one. In a related type of argument, just two people argue back and forth about what is the correct position on some issue (including meta-level arguments about what is the correct way to frame the issue in the first place).

The stakes don’t have to be theories and the participants don’t have to be academics. Friends argue about which team will win the championship, where the best fishing spot is located, or what titles to select for the book club. Family members argue about how to spend their income, what school to send the children to, or whether a child is old enough to go on a date without a chaperone. Co-workers argue about the best way to do a job, whether to change service providers, whether to introduce a new product line, and so on. These arguments are usually amicable, whether or not they settle the question in dispute.

All of these kinds of “argument” in this sense of the term—quarrels, friendly disputes, arguments at work, professional arguments about theoretical positions, formal or informal debates, and various kinds of controversy—share several features.

  • They involve communications between or among two or more people. Something initiates the communication, and either something ends it or there are ways for participants to join and to exit the conversation. They entail turn-taking (less or more regimented), each side addressing the other side and in turn construing and assessing what the other has to say in reply and formulating and communicating a response to the replies of the other side. And, obviously, they involve the expression, usually verbal, of theses and of reasons for them or against alternatives and criticisms.
  • They have a telos or aim, although there seems to be no single end in mind for all of them or even for each of them. In a quarrel the goal might be to have one’s point of view prevail, to get one’s way, but it might instead (or in addition) be to humiliate the other person or to save one’s own self-respect. Some quarrels—think of the ongoing bickering between some long-married spouses—seem to be a way for two people to communicate, merely to acknowledge one another. In a debate, each side seeks to “win,” which can mean different things in different contexts ( cf. a collegiate debate vs. a debate between candidates in an election vs. a parliamentary debate). Some arguments seemed designed to convince the other to give up his position or accept the interlocutor’s position, or to get the other to act in some way or to adopt some policy. Some have the more modest goal of getting a new issue recognized for future deliberation and debate. Still others are clearly aimed not at changing anyone’s mind but at reinforcing or entrenching a point of view already held (as is usually the case with religious sermons or with political speeches to the party faithful). Some are intended to establish or to demonstrate the truth or reasonableness of some position or recommendation and (perhaps) also to get others to “see” that the truth has been established. Some seem designed to maintain disagreement, as when representatives of competing political parties argue with one another.
  • All these various kinds of argument are more or less extended, both in the sense that they occur over time, sometimes long stretches of time, and also in the sense that they typically involved many steps: extensive and complex support for a point of view and critique of its alternatives.
  • In nearly every case, the participants give reasons for the claims they make and they expect the other participants in the argument to give reasons for their claims. This is even a feature of quarrels, at least at the outset, although such arguments can deteriorate into name-calling and worse. (Notice that even the “yes you did; no I didn’t;…; did; didn’t” sequence of the Monty Python “Having an argument” skit breaks down and a reason is sought.)

The kinds of argument listed so far are all versions of having an argument (see Daniel J. O’Keefe, 1977, 1982). Some might think that this is not the sense of ‘argument’ that is pertinent to critical thinking instruction, but such arguments are the habitat of the kinds of argument that critical thinkers need to be able to identify, analyze and evaluate.

1.2 An argument a s something a person makes (or constructs, invents, borrows) consisting of purported reasons alleged to suggest, or support or prove a point and that is used for some purpose such as to persuade someone of some claim, to justify someone in maintaining the position claimed, or to test a claim .

When people have arguments—when they engage in one or another of the activities of arguing described above—one of the things they routinely do is present or allege or offer reasons in support of the claims that they advance, defend, challenge, dispute, question, or consider. That is, in having “arguments,” we typically make and use “arguments.” The latter obviously have to be arguments in different sense from the former. They are often called “reason-claim” complexes. If arguments that someone has had constitute a type of communication or communicative activity, arguments that someone has made or used are actual or potential contributions to such activities. Reason-claim complexes are typically made and used when engaged in an argument in the first sense, trying to convince someone of your point of view during a disagreement or dispute with them. Here is a list of some of the many definitions found in textbooks of ‘argument’ in this second sense.

“… here [the word ‘argument’] … is used in the … logical sense of giving reasons for or against some claim.” Understanding Arguments, Robert Fogelin and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, 6th ed., p. 1. “Thus an argument is a discourse that contains at least two statements, one of which is asserted to be a reason for the other.” Monroe Beardsley, Practical Logic, p. 9. “An argument is a set of claims a person puts forward in an attempt to show that some further claim is rationally acceptable.” Trudy Govier. A Practical Study of Arguments, 5th ed., p. 3. An argument is “a set of clams some of which are presented as reasons for accepting some further claim.” Alec Fisher, Critical Thinking, An Introduction, p. 235. Argument: “A conclusion about an issue that is supported by reasons.” Sherry Diestler, Becoming a Critical Thinker, 4th ed., p. 403. “ Argument: An attempt to support a conclusion by giving reasons for it.” Robert Ennis, Critical Thinking, p. 396. “Argument – A form of thinking in which certain statements (reasons) are offered in support of another statement (conclusion).” John Chaffee, Thinking Critically, p. 415 “When we use the word argument in this book we mean a message which attempts to establish a statement as true or worthy of belief on the basis of other statements.” James B. Freeman, Thinking Logically, p. 20 “Argument. A sequence of propositions intended to establish the truth of one of the propositions.” Richard Feldman, Reason and Argument, p. 447. “Arguments consist of conclusions and reasons for them, called ‘premises’.” Wayne Grennan, Argument Evaluation, p. 5. Argument: “A set of claims, one of which, the conclusion is supported by [i.e., is supposed to provide a reason for] one or more of the other claims. Reason in the Balance, Sharon Bailin & Mark Battersby, p. 41.

These are not all compatible, and most of them define ‘argument’ using other terms—‘reasons’, ‘claims’, ‘propositions’, ‘statements’, ‘premises’ and ‘conclusions’—that are in no less need of definition than it is. In the next chapter, David Hitchcock offers a careful analysis of this concept of an argument.

Some define argument in this second sense as a kind of communication; others conceive it as a kind of set of propositions that can serve communicative functions, but others as well (such as inquiry). Either way, the communicative character, or function, of arguments has been the subject of much of the research in the past several decades. Most recently what some have called “multi-modal” argument has attracted attention, focusing on the various ways arguments can be communicated, especially visually or in a mix of verbal and visual modes of communication. Some have contended that smells and sounds can play roles in argument communication as well. This area of research interest would seem to have relevance for the analysis of arguments on the web.

1.3 Argumentation

‘Argumentation’ is another slippery term. It is used in several different senses.

Sometimes it is used to mean the communicative activity in which arguments are exchanged: “During their argumentation they took turns advancing their own arguments and criticizing one another’s arguments.” Sometimes ‘argumentation’ denotes the body of arguments used in an argumentative exchange: “The evening’s argumentation was of high quality.” And occasionally you will find it used to refer to the reasons or premises supporting a conclusion, as in: “The argumentation provided weak support for the thesis.” ‘Argumentation theory’ is the term often used to denote theory about the nature of arguments and their uses, including their uses in communications involving exchanges of arguments.

2 The relation between critical thinking and argument

2 .1 arguments are both tools of critical thinking and objects of critical thinking.

In … [one] sense, thought denotes belief resting upon some basis, that is, real or supposed knowledge going beyond what is directly present. … Some beliefs are accepted when their grounds have not themselves been considered …. … such thoughts may mean a supposition accepted without reference to its real grounds. These may be adequate, they may not; but their value with reference to the support they afford the belief has not been considered. Such thoughts grow up unconsciously and without reference to the attainment of correct belief. They are picked up—we know not how. From obscure sources and by unnoticed channels they insinuate themselves into acceptance and become unconsciously a part of our mental furniture. Tradition, instruction, imitation—all of which depend upon authority in some form, or appeal to our advantage, or fall in with strong passions—are responsible for them. Such thoughts are prejudices, that is, prejudgments, not judgments proper that rest upon a survey of evidence. (John Dewey, How We Think , pp. 4-5, emphasis added.)

People—all of us—routinely adopt beliefs and attitudes that are prejudices in Dewey’s sense of being prejudgments, “not judgments proper that rest upon a survey of evidence.” One goal of critical thinking education is to provide our students with the means to be able, when it really matters, to “properly survey” the grounds for beliefs and attitudes.

Arguments supply one such means. The grounds for beliefs and attitudes are often expressed, or expressible, as arguments for them. And the “proper survey” of these arguments is to test them by subjecting them to the critical scrutiny of counter-arguments.

Arguments also come into play when the issue is not what to believe about a contentious issue, but in order just to understand the competing positions. Not only are we not entitled to reject a claim to our belief if we cannot counter the arguments that support it; we are not in possession of an understanding of that claim if we cannot formulate the arguments that support it to the satisfaction of its proponents.

Furthermore, arguments can be used to investigate a candidate for belief by those trying “to make up their own minds” about it. The investigator tries to find and express the most compelling arguments for and against the candidate. Which arguments count as “most compelling” are the ones that survive vigorous attempts, using arguments, to refute or undermine them. These survivors are then compared against one another, the pros weighed against the cons. More arguments come into play in assessing the attributed weights.

In these ways, a facility with arguments serves a critical thinker well. Such a facility includes skill in recognizing, interpreting and evaluating arguments, as well as in formulating them. That includes skill in laying out complex arguments, in recognizing argument strengths and weaknesses, and in making a case for one’s critique. It includes the ability to distinguish the more relevant evidence from the less, and to discriminate between minor, fixable flaws and major, serious problems, in arguments. Thus the critical thinker is at once adept at using arguments in various ways and at the same time sensitive in judging arguments’ merits, applying the appropriate criteria.

Moreover, arguments in the sense of “reasons-claim” complexes surround us in our daily lives. Our “familiars”, as Gilbert (2014) has dubbed them—our family members, the friends we see regularly, shopkeepers and others whose services we patronize daily, our co-workers—engage us constantly in argumentative discussions in which they invoke arguments to try to get us to do things, to agree, to judge, to believe. The public sphere—the worlds of politics, commerce, entertainment, leisure activities, social media (see Jackson’s chapter)—is another domain in which arguments can be found, although (arguably) mere assertion predominates there. In the various roles we play as we go through life—child, parent, spouse or partner, student, worker, patient, subordinate or supervisor, citizen (voter, jurist, community member), observer or participant, etc.—we are invited with arguments to agree or disagree, approve or disapprove, seek or avoid. We see others arguing with one another and are invited to judge the merits of the cases they make. Some of these arguments are cogent and their conclusions merit our assent, but others are not and we should not be influenced by them. Yet others are suggestive and deserve further thought.

We can simply ignore many of these arguments, but others confront us and force us to decide whether or not to accept them. Often it is unclear whether someone has argued or done something else: just vented, perhaps, or explained rather than argued, or merely expressed an opinion without arguing for it, or was confused. So we initially might have to decide whether there is an argument that we need to deal with. When it is an argument, often in order to make up our minds about it we need first to get clear about exactly what the argument consists of. So even before we evaluate this argument we have to identify and analyze it. (These operations are discussed in Chapter 12.)

In the end we have to decide for ourselves whether the argument makes its case or falls short. Does the conclusion really follow from the premises? Is there enough evidence to justify the conclusion? Is it the right kind of evidence? Are there well-known objections or arguments against the conclusion that haven’t been acknowledged and need to be answered satisfactorily? Can they be answered? And are the premises themselves believable or otherwise acceptable? Are there other arguments, as good or better, that support the claim?

Critical thinking can (and should!) come into all of these decisions we need to make in the identification, the analysis and the assessment of arguments.

2 .2  Critical thinking about things other than arguments

Many critical thinking textbooks focus exclusively on the analysis and evaluation of arguments. While the centrality of arguments to the art of critical thinking is unquestionable, a strong case can be made that critical thinking has other objectives in addition to appreciating arguments. In their analysis of the concept of critical thinking, Fisher and Scriven suggest the following definition:

Critical thinking is skilled and active interpretation and evaluation of o b servations and communications , information and argumentation. (1997, p. 21, emphasis added)

We agree with the gist of this claim, but notice what Fisher and Scriven propose as the objects to which critical thinking applies. Not just argumentation, but as well observations, communications and information. About observations, they note that:

What one sees (hears, etc.) are usually things and happenings, and one often has to interpret what one sees, sometimes calling on critical thinking skills to do so, most obviously in cases where the context involves weak lighting, strong emotions, possible drug effects, or putatively magical or parapsychological phenomena. Only after the application of critical thinking—and sometimes not even then—does one know what one “really saw”. … When the filter of critical thinking has been applied to the observations, and only then, one can start reasoning towards further conclusions using these observations as premises. ( Ibid ., p, 37)

An example is the recent large number of convictions in the U.S.A. that originally relied on eyewitness testimony but that have been overturned on the basis of DNA evidence. [2] ,  [3]

The DNA evidence proved that the accused was not the culprit, so the moral certainty of the eyewitness had to have been mistaken. The observation of the eyewitness was flawed. He or she did not think critically about whether the conditions need ed to make a reliable o b servation were present (e.g., were strong emotions like fear involved? was the lighting good? has he or she ordinarily a good memory for faces? was there time to observe carefully? were there distractions present?). Neither, probably, did the lawyers on either side, or else they immorally suppressed what should have been their doubts. As a consequence, innocent people languished in jail for years and guilty parties went free.

Communications are another object for critical thought. When in reply to Harry’s question, “How are you doing?” Morgan says, in a clipped and dull voice and a strained expression on her face, “I’m fine”, Harry needs to be aware that “How are you doing?” often functions as equivalent to a simple greeting, like “Hi” and so the response “Fine” could similarly be functioning as a polite return of the greeting, like “Hi back to you”, and not as an accurate report of the speaker’s condition. Harry needs to notice and interpret other aspects of Morgan’s communication—her lethargic tone of voice and her anxious facial expression—and to recognize the incompatibility between those signals and the interpretation of her response as an accurate depiction of Morgan’s state of well-being. He needs to employ critical interpretive skills to realize that Morgan has communicated that she is not fine at all, but for some reason isn’t offering to talk about it.

If President Trump did in fact say to his then F.B.I. director James Comey, about the F.B.I. investigation of former National Security Advisor Michaell Flynn “I hope you can let this go”, was it legitimate for Comey to interpret the President’s comment as a directive? And was Comey’s response, which was simply to ignore President Trump’s alleged comment, an appropriate response? What was going on? It takes critical thinking to try to sort out these issues. Taking the President’s alleged comment literally, it just expresses his attitude towards the FBI investigation of Flynn. But communications from the President in a tête-à-tête in the White House with the Director of the FBI are not occasions for just sharing attitudes. This was not an occasion on which they could step out of their political roles and chat person-to-person. The President can legitimately be presumed to be communicating his wishes as to what his FBI Director should do, and such expressions of wishes are, in this context, to be normally understood as directives. On the other hand, for the President to direct that an ongoing investigation by the FBI be stopped, or that it come up with a pre-determined finding, is illegal: it’s obstruction of justice. So Comey seemed faced with at least two possible interpretations of what he took the President to be saying: either an out-of-place expression of his attitude towards the outcome of the Flynn investigation or an illegal directive. Which was the President’s intention? However, there are other possibilities.

Was President Trump a political tyro whose lack of political experience might have left him ignorant of the fact that the FBI Director has to keep investigations free of political interference? Or might Trump have thought that the Presidency conveys the authority to influence the outcome of criminal investigations? Or might President Trump have been testing Mr. Comey to see if he could be manipulated? And Mr. Comey could have responded differently. He could have said, “I wish we could let this go too, Mr. President, but there are questions about General Flynn’s conduct that have to be investigated, and as you know, we cannot interfere with an ongoing FBI investigation”. Such a response would have forced the President to take back what he allegedly said, withdrawing any suggestion that his comment was a directive, or else to make it plain that he was indeed directing Comey to obstruct justice. In the event, apparently Mr. Comey did not take this way out, which would at once have displayed loyalty to the President (by protecting him from explicitly obstructing justice) and also have affirmed the independence of the FBI from interference from the White House. Perhaps he thought that the President clearly had directed him to obstruct justice, and judged that giving him an opportunity explicitly to withdraw that directive amounted to overlooking that illegal act, which would be a violation of his responsibilities as Director of the FBI. If so, however, simply not responding to the President’s comment, the path Comey apparently chose, also amounted to turning a blind eye to what he judged to be President Trump’s illegal directive.

As these two examples illustrate, the interpretation of communications, and the appropriate response to them can require critical thinking: recognizing different functions of communication, and being sensitive to the implications of different contexts of communication; being sensitive to the roles communicators occupy and to the rights, obligations, and limits attached to such roles.

As Fisher and Scriven acknowledge, “defining information is itself a difficult task.” They make a useful start by distinguishing information from raw data (“the numbers or bare descriptions obtained from measurements or observations”, op . cit., p. 41). No critical thinking is required for the latter; just the pains necessary to record raw data accurately, In many cases, though, the interpretation of raw data, the meaning or significance that they are said to have, can require critical thinking.

One might go beyond Fisher and Scriven’s list of other things besides arguments to which critical thinking can be applied. A thoughtful appreciation of novels or movies, plays or poetry, paintings or sculptures requires skilled interpretation, imagining alternatives, thoughtful selection of appropriate criteria of evaluation and then the selection and application of appropriate standards, and more. A good interior designer must consider the effects and interactions of space and light and color and fabrics and furniture design, and coordinate these with clients’ lifestyles, habits and preferences. Advanced practical skills in various sciences come into play. A coach of a sports team must think about each individual team member’s skills and deficiencies, personality and life situation; about plays and strategies, opponents’ skills sets; approaches to games; and much more. Conventional approaches need to be reviewed as to their applicability to the current situation. Alternative possibilities need to be creatively imagined and critically assessed. And all of this is time-sensitive, sometimes calling for split-second decisions. The thinking involved in carrying out the tasks of composing a review of some work of literature or art or of coaching a sports team can be routine and conventional, or it can be imaginative, invoking different perspectives and challenging standard criteria.

The list could go on. The present point is that, while argument is central to critical thinking, critical thinking about and using arguments is not all there is to critical thinking. [4]

Bailin, Sharon & Battersby, Mark. (2010). Reason in the Balance , An I n quiry Approach to Critical Thinking , 1 st ed. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Beardsley, Monroe C. (1950). Practical L ogic . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Chaffee, John. 1985. Thinking Critically . Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Dewey, John. (1910, 1991). How We Think . Lexington, MAD.C. Heath; Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Diestler, Sherry. (2005). Becoming a Critical Thinker , 4 th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Ennis, Robert H. (1996). Critical Thinking . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Feldman, Richard. (1993). Reason and Argument , 2 nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Fisher, Alex.(2001). Critical Thinking, An Introduction . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fisher, Alec & Scriven, Michael. (1997). Critical Thinking, Its Definition and Assessment . Point

Reyes, CA: EdgePress; Norwich, UK: Center for Research in Critical Thinking.

Fogelin, Robert & Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. (2001). Understanding A r guments , An Introduction to Informal Logic , 6 th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Freeman, James B. (1988.) Thinking Logically , Basic Concepts of Reaso n ing . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Grennan, Wayne . (1984). Argument Evaluation . Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Govier, Trudy. (2001). A Practical Study of Argument , 5 th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

O’Keefe, Daniel J. (1977). Two concepts of argument. Journal of the Amer i can Forensic Association , 13 , 121-128.

O‘Keefe, Daniel J. (1982). The concepts of argument and arguing. In J. R. Cox & C. A. Willard (Eds.), Advances in Argumentation Theory and R e search , pp. 3-23. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

  • © J. Anthony Blair ↵
  • According to the Innocence Project, “Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions [in the U.S.A.] overturned through DNA testing nationwide.” (https://www.innocenceproject.org/causes/eyewitness-misidentification/, viewed August 2017). ↵
  • I owe the general organization and many of the specific ideas of this chapter to a series of lectures by Jean Goodwin at the Summer Institute on Argumentation sponsored by the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and Rhetoric at the University of Windsor. ↵

Studies in Critical Thinking Copyright © by J. Anthony Blair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Step 5: Structuring Arguments

Critical Thinking: Step 5: Structuring Arguments

  • Steps 1 & 2: Reflection and Analysis
  • Step 3: Acquisition of Information
  • Step 4: Creativity
  • Step 6: Decision Making
  • Steps 7 & 8: Commitment and Debate
  • In the Classroom
  • In the Workplace

Argument Activity

Rank the following arguments from 1-5 (5 being the best) as “reason” for taking an umbrella to school.

  • March is usually a rainy month, and this is the first day of March. It will probably rain today.
  • I listened to three weather forecasters last night and they, all predicted rain for this afternoon. It will probably rain today.
  • Last week, one of the television weather forecasters said rain was a possibility for today. It will probably rain today, and I’m going to be carrying some books that I don’t want to get wet.
  • The weather predictions on station WETT have always been accurate, and last night they said the rain will be heavy most of today. It will probably rain.

argument examples in critical thinking

Structuring an Argument

The tabs in this box are laid out in the order of which you should consider structuring your arguments. Click through each tab to view the step in structuring an argument, as well as good and bad examples of that step.

Clearly state your main point in the form of an assertion. This should be an arguable point - NOT a fact.  Good Example : All shopping centers should be smoke free. 

Bad Example : Smoking causes cancer.

Offer insight into the main idea of the argument by providing background information. 

Good Example : Most shopping malls are enclosed, and when one person smokes inside, it can affect the health of those around them.

Bad example (This does not support the main idea) : Shopping malls have stores in them, and some of those stores sell tobacco.

It is up to you (not your reader or conversation partner) to provide specific information to prove the main points of your argument.

Good Example : According to the Centers for Disease Control (2014), "cigarette smoking kills more than 480,00 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of these deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke."

Bad Example : Lots of people smoke and then subsequently die from lung cancer.

In your own words, clearly and thoroughly offer evidence and support for your argument. 

Good Example : Children of smokers are exposed to secondhand smoke at home. Doctors suggest that there is an increased risk for them to contract lung cancer despite having never smoked. 

Bad Example : As a child of a smoker, I was exposed to secondhand smoke at home. My doctor says that I have an increased risk to get lung cancer, even though I have never smoked a cigarette in my life.

Any argument must take into account the opposing points of view. Acknowledge the existence of differing views and have a clear counter-point to that perception.

Good Example : While many believe they should be free to smoke wherever they choose, statistics show that smoking puts otherwise healthy people at risk for disease. As an alternative to being able to smoke wherever they desire, smokers should be provided with a smoking area outside of the enclosed mall environment.

Bad Example : Statistics show that smoking puts otherwise healthy people at risk for cancer. All malls should be smoke and alcohol free.

Without using the exact phrasing, clearly restate and summarize your thesis/argument.

Good Example : To provide the healthiest environment for everyone, all enclosed shopping centers should be smoke free with designated smoking areas.

Bad Example : Smoking causes cancer and all shopping centers should be smoke free.

Critical Thinking Videos

  • Critical Thinking: Part 1
  • Critical Thinking: Part 2

argument examples in critical thinking

TechNyou. (2011, December 11). Critical thinking part 1: A valuable argument  [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/iSZ3BUru59A

argument examples in critical thinking

TechNyou. (2011, December 11). Critical thinking part 2: Broken logic [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/VRZk62QNOsM

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To analyze an argument is to do an “active listening” step. The point is to make sure you understand what the argument actually is before turning to the evaluative question: is it a good argument?

Standard argument form is a graphical method for displaying arguments, making plain the purpose of a statement by its placement. Premises are separated, numbered, and placed above a line, and the conclusion is placed below the line. The act of inference is represented with three dots (or the word “so”) placed next to the conclusion.

_______________________________________________

Some cases are straightforward. Here is a passage, followed by the analysis into standard form.

I have a dental cleaning scheduled for June fourth. Wow, since today is the third, I guess that means the appointment is for tomorrow.

Issue: Is my dental cleaning tomorrow?

1) My dental cleaning is scheduled for the fourth.

2) Today is the third.

SO: my dental cleaning is tomorrow.

The explicit indicator word is “since.” The premise follows that indicator. The conclusion is in the clause following the comma.

If we straightened the sentence, it would read:

The appointment is for tomorrow since today is the third.

This follows a classic pattern:

(Conclusion) since (premise.)

Note: in the analysis, the words “I guess” were left out. These words signal a thinking process is happening, and can also signal how much conviction the thinker has in their own thinking. “I guess” signals a lack of confidence. If the passage had said, “that means my appointment must be tomorrow,” a higher degree of confidence would be signaled. In general, these confidence-signaling words and phrases are not themselves part of the argument.

Here is another example:

If we want to increase defense spending, we would have to either cut domestic programs or raise taxes. You know when conservatives are in control, they aren’t going to raise taxes. So, the increase in defense spending means a cut to domestic programs, for sure.

Issue: Will increased defense spending mean a cut to domestic programs?

1) To increase defense spending requires cutting domestic spending or increasing taxes.

2) Conservatives are in control.

3) Taxes won’t be increased when conservatives are in control.

SO: an increase in defense spending means a cut to domestic programs.

This analysis is more complicated, but the first step is spotting the indicator word “so.” This gives us a clue that the last sentence is the conclusion. We then articulate the issue by putting the conclusion in the form of a question. The statements preceding the conclusion indicator are premises.

We could treat this passage as listing only two premises since the premises are presented in two separate sentences. But for purposes of evaluation, it is better to list more instead of fewer premises. It allows a greater chance for finding common ground among people coming to an issue from different points of view.

Note: the phrase “for sure” in the original passage signals the thinker has a high degree of confidence in their thinking. It was left out when putting the argument into standard form.

Standard Form Examples

Most people don’t like to be lied to. So, if you lie to someone, and they find out, they are probably not going to like it.

Issue: How do people react to be being lied to?

1) Most people don’t like to be lied to

SO: if you lie to someone, they are not going to like it.

I am working full time and going to school full time, so you know I don’t get enough sleep!

Issue: Do I get enough sleep?

1) I am working full time

2) I am going to school full time

SO: I don’t get enough sleep.

Critical Thinking in Academic Research Copyright © 2022 by Cindy Gruwell and Robin Ewing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Course: wireless philosophy   >   unit 1.

  • Fundamentals: Introduction to Critical Thinking
  • Introduction to Critical Thinking, Part 1
  • Introduction to Critical Thinking, Part 2
  • Fundamentals: Deductive Arguments
  • Deductive Arguments
  • Fundamentals: Abductive Arguments
  • Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
  • Instrumental vs. Intrinsic Value
  • Implicit Premise
  • Justification and Explanation
  • Normative and Descriptive Claims
  • Fundamentals: Validity
  • Fundamentals: Truth and Validity

Fundamentals: Soundness

  • Fundamentals: Bayes' Theorem
  • Fundamentals: Correlation and Causation

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Video transcript

41+ Critical Thinking Examples (Definition + Practices)

practical psychology logo

Critical thinking is an essential skill in our information-overloaded world, where figuring out what is fact and fiction has become increasingly challenging.

But why is critical thinking essential? Put, critical thinking empowers us to make better decisions, challenge and validate our beliefs and assumptions, and understand and interact with the world more effectively and meaningfully.

Critical thinking is like using your brain's "superpowers" to make smart choices. Whether it's picking the right insurance, deciding what to do in a job, or discussing topics in school, thinking deeply helps a lot. In the next parts, we'll share real-life examples of when this superpower comes in handy and give you some fun exercises to practice it.

Critical Thinking Process Outline

a woman thinking

Critical thinking means thinking clearly and fairly without letting personal feelings get in the way. It's like being a detective, trying to solve a mystery by using clues and thinking hard about them.

It isn't always easy to think critically, as it can take a pretty smart person to see some of the questions that aren't being answered in a certain situation. But, we can train our brains to think more like puzzle solvers, which can help develop our critical thinking skills.

Here's what it looks like step by step:

Spotting the Problem: It's like discovering a puzzle to solve. You see that there's something you need to figure out or decide.

Collecting Clues: Now, you need to gather information. Maybe you read about it, watch a video, talk to people, or do some research. It's like getting all the pieces to solve your puzzle.

Breaking It Down: This is where you look at all your clues and try to see how they fit together. You're asking questions like: Why did this happen? What could happen next?

Checking Your Clues: You want to make sure your information is good. This means seeing if what you found out is true and if you can trust where it came from.

Making a Guess: After looking at all your clues, you think about what they mean and come up with an answer. This answer is like your best guess based on what you know.

Explaining Your Thoughts: Now, you tell others how you solved the puzzle. You explain how you thought about it and how you answered. 

Checking Your Work: This is like looking back and seeing if you missed anything. Did you make any mistakes? Did you let any personal feelings get in the way? This step helps make sure your thinking is clear and fair.

And remember, you might sometimes need to go back and redo some steps if you discover something new. If you realize you missed an important clue, you might have to go back and collect more information.

Critical Thinking Methods

Just like doing push-ups or running helps our bodies get stronger, there are special exercises that help our brains think better. These brain workouts push us to think harder, look at things closely, and ask many questions.

It's not always about finding the "right" answer. Instead, it's about the journey of thinking and asking "why" or "how." Doing these exercises often helps us become better thinkers and makes us curious to know more about the world.

Now, let's look at some brain workouts to help us think better:

1. "What If" Scenarios

Imagine crazy things happening, like, "What if there was no internet for a month? What would we do?" These games help us think of new and different ideas.

Pick a hot topic. Argue one side of it and then try arguing the opposite. This makes us see different viewpoints and think deeply about a topic.

3. Analyze Visual Data

Check out charts or pictures with lots of numbers and info but no explanations. What story are they telling? This helps us get better at understanding information just by looking at it.

4. Mind Mapping

Write an idea in the center and then draw lines to related ideas. It's like making a map of your thoughts. This helps us see how everything is connected.

There's lots of mind-mapping software , but it's also nice to do this by hand.

5. Weekly Diary

Every week, write about what happened, the choices you made, and what you learned. Writing helps us think about our actions and how we can do better.

6. Evaluating Information Sources

Collect stories or articles about one topic from newspapers or blogs. Which ones are trustworthy? Which ones might be a little biased? This teaches us to be smart about where we get our info.

There are many resources to help you determine if information sources are factual or not.

7. Socratic Questioning

This way of thinking is called the Socrates Method, named after an old-time thinker from Greece. It's about asking lots of questions to understand a topic. You can do this by yourself or chat with a friend.

Start with a Big Question:

"What does 'success' mean?"

Dive Deeper with More Questions:

"Why do you think of success that way?" "Do TV shows, friends, or family make you think that?" "Does everyone think about success the same way?"

"Can someone be a winner even if they aren't rich or famous?" "Can someone feel like they didn't succeed, even if everyone else thinks they did?"

Look for Real-life Examples:

"Who is someone you think is successful? Why?" "Was there a time you felt like a winner? What happened?"

Think About Other People's Views:

"How might a person from another country think about success?" "Does the idea of success change as we grow up or as our life changes?"

Think About What It Means:

"How does your idea of success shape what you want in life?" "Are there problems with only wanting to be rich or famous?"

Look Back and Think:

"After talking about this, did your idea of success change? How?" "Did you learn something new about what success means?"

socratic dialogue statues

8. Six Thinking Hats 

Edward de Bono came up with a cool way to solve problems by thinking in six different ways, like wearing different colored hats. You can do this independently, but it might be more effective in a group so everyone can have a different hat color. Each color has its way of thinking:

White Hat (Facts): Just the facts! Ask, "What do we know? What do we need to find out?"

Red Hat (Feelings): Talk about feelings. Ask, "How do I feel about this?"

Black Hat (Careful Thinking): Be cautious. Ask, "What could go wrong?"

Yellow Hat (Positive Thinking): Look on the bright side. Ask, "What's good about this?"

Green Hat (Creative Thinking): Think of new ideas. Ask, "What's another way to look at this?"

Blue Hat (Planning): Organize the talk. Ask, "What should we do next?"

When using this method with a group:

  • Explain all the hats.
  • Decide which hat to wear first.
  • Make sure everyone switches hats at the same time.
  • Finish with the Blue Hat to plan the next steps.

9. SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis is like a game plan for businesses to know where they stand and where they should go. "SWOT" stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

There are a lot of SWOT templates out there for how to do this visually, but you can also think it through. It doesn't just apply to businesses but can be a good way to decide if a project you're working on is working.

Strengths: What's working well? Ask, "What are we good at?"

Weaknesses: Where can we do better? Ask, "Where can we improve?"

Opportunities: What good things might come our way? Ask, "What chances can we grab?"

Threats: What challenges might we face? Ask, "What might make things tough for us?"

Steps to do a SWOT Analysis:

  • Goal: Decide what you want to find out.
  • Research: Learn about your business and the world around it.
  • Brainstorm: Get a group and think together. Talk about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  • Pick the Most Important Points: Some things might be more urgent or important than others.
  • Make a Plan: Decide what to do based on your SWOT list.
  • Check Again Later: Things change, so look at your SWOT again after a while to update it.

Now that you have a few tools for thinking critically, let’s get into some specific examples.

Everyday Examples

Life is a series of decisions. From the moment we wake up, we're faced with choices – some trivial, like choosing a breakfast cereal, and some more significant, like buying a home or confronting an ethical dilemma at work. While it might seem that these decisions are disparate, they all benefit from the application of critical thinking.

10. Deciding to buy something

Imagine you want a new phone. Don't just buy it because the ad looks cool. Think about what you need in a phone. Look up different phones and see what people say about them. Choose the one that's the best deal for what you want.

11. Deciding what is true

There's a lot of news everywhere. Don't believe everything right away. Think about why someone might be telling you this. Check if what you're reading or watching is true. Make up your mind after you've looked into it.

12. Deciding when you’re wrong

Sometimes, friends can have disagreements. Don't just get mad right away. Try to see where they're coming from. Talk about what's going on. Find a way to fix the problem that's fair for everyone.

13. Deciding what to eat

There's always a new diet or exercise that's popular. Don't just follow it because it's trendy. Find out if it's good for you. Ask someone who knows, like a doctor. Make choices that make you feel good and stay healthy.

14. Deciding what to do today

Everyone is busy with school, chores, and hobbies. Make a list of things you need to do. Decide which ones are most important. Plan your day so you can get things done and still have fun.

15. Making Tough Choices

Sometimes, it's hard to know what's right. Think about how each choice will affect you and others. Talk to people you trust about it. Choose what feels right in your heart and is fair to others.

16. Planning for the Future

Big decisions, like where to go to school, can be tricky. Think about what you want in the future. Look at the good and bad of each choice. Talk to people who know about it. Pick what feels best for your dreams and goals.

choosing a house

Job Examples

17. solving problems.

Workers brainstorm ways to fix a machine quickly without making things worse when a machine breaks at a factory.

18. Decision Making

A store manager decides which products to order more of based on what's selling best.

19. Setting Goals

A team leader helps their team decide what tasks are most important to finish this month and which can wait.

20. Evaluating Ideas

At a team meeting, everyone shares ideas for a new project. The group discusses each idea's pros and cons before picking one.

21. Handling Conflict

Two workers disagree on how to do a job. Instead of arguing, they talk calmly, listen to each other, and find a solution they both like.

22. Improving Processes

A cashier thinks of a faster way to ring up items so customers don't have to wait as long.

23. Asking Questions

Before starting a big task, an employee asks for clear instructions and checks if they have the necessary tools.

24. Checking Facts

Before presenting a report, someone double-checks all their information to make sure there are no mistakes.

25. Planning for the Future

A business owner thinks about what might happen in the next few years, like new competitors or changes in what customers want, and makes plans based on those thoughts.

26. Understanding Perspectives

A team is designing a new toy. They think about what kids and parents would both like instead of just what they think is fun.

School Examples

27. researching a topic.

For a history project, a student looks up different sources to understand an event from multiple viewpoints.

28. Debating an Issue

In a class discussion, students pick sides on a topic, like school uniforms, and share reasons to support their views.

29. Evaluating Sources

While writing an essay, a student checks if the information from a website is trustworthy or might be biased.

30. Problem Solving in Math

When stuck on a tricky math problem, a student tries different methods to find the answer instead of giving up.

31. Analyzing Literature

In English class, students discuss why a character in a book made certain choices and what those decisions reveal about them.

32. Testing a Hypothesis

For a science experiment, students guess what will happen and then conduct tests to see if they're right or wrong.

33. Giving Peer Feedback

After reading a classmate's essay, a student offers suggestions for improving it.

34. Questioning Assumptions

In a geography lesson, students consider why certain countries are called "developed" and what that label means.

35. Designing a Study

For a psychology project, students plan an experiment to understand how people's memories work and think of ways to ensure accurate results.

36. Interpreting Data

In a science class, students look at charts and graphs from a study, then discuss what the information tells them and if there are any patterns.

Critical Thinking Puzzles

critical thinking tree

Not all scenarios will have a single correct answer that can be figured out by thinking critically. Sometimes we have to think critically about ethical choices or moral behaviors. 

Here are some mind games and scenarios you can solve using critical thinking. You can see the solution(s) at the end of the post.

37. The Farmer, Fox, Chicken, and Grain Problem

A farmer is at a riverbank with a fox, a chicken, and a grain bag. He needs to get all three items across the river. However, his boat can only carry himself and one of the three items at a time. 

Here's the challenge:

  • If the fox is left alone with the chicken, the fox will eat the chicken.
  • If the chicken is left alone with the grain, the chicken will eat the grain.

How can the farmer get all three items across the river without any item being eaten? 

38. The Rope, Jar, and Pebbles Problem

You are in a room with two long ropes hanging from the ceiling. Each rope is just out of arm's reach from the other, so you can't hold onto one rope and reach the other simultaneously. 

Your task is to tie the two rope ends together, but you can't move the position where they hang from the ceiling.

You are given a jar full of pebbles. How do you complete the task?

39. The Two Guards Problem

Imagine there are two doors. One door leads to certain doom, and the other leads to freedom. You don't know which is which.

In front of each door stands a guard. One guard always tells the truth. The other guard always lies. You don't know which guard is which.

You can ask only one question to one of the guards. What question should you ask to find the door that leads to freedom?

40. The Hourglass Problem

You have two hourglasses. One measures 7 minutes when turned over, and the other measures 4 minutes. Using just these hourglasses, how can you time exactly 9 minutes?

41. The Lifeboat Dilemma

Imagine you're on a ship that's sinking. You get on a lifeboat, but it's already too full and might flip over. 

Nearby in the water, five people are struggling: a scientist close to finding a cure for a sickness, an old couple who've been together for a long time, a mom with three kids waiting at home, and a tired teenager who helped save others but is now in danger. 

You can only save one person without making the boat flip. Who would you choose?

42. The Tech Dilemma

You work at a tech company and help make a computer program to help small businesses. You're almost ready to share it with everyone, but you find out there might be a small chance it has a problem that could show users' private info. 

If you decide to fix it, you must wait two more months before sharing it. But your bosses want you to share it now. What would you do?

43. The History Mystery

Dr. Amelia is a history expert. She's studying where a group of people traveled long ago. She reads old letters and documents to learn about it. But she finds some letters that tell a different story than what most people believe. 

If she says this new story is true, it could change what people learn in school and what they think about history. What should she do?

The Role of Bias in Critical Thinking

Have you ever decided you don’t like someone before you even know them? Or maybe someone shared an idea with you that you immediately loved without even knowing all the details. 

This experience is called bias, which occurs when you like or dislike something or someone without a good reason or knowing why. It can also take shape in certain reactions to situations, like a habit or instinct. 

Bias comes from our own experiences, what friends or family tell us, or even things we are born believing. Sometimes, bias can help us stay safe, but other times it stops us from seeing the truth.

Not all bias is bad. Bias can be a mechanism for assessing our potential safety in a new situation. If we are biased to think that anything long, thin, and curled up is a snake, we might assume the rope is something to be afraid of before we know it is just a rope.

While bias might serve us in some situations (like jumping out of the way of an actual snake before we have time to process that we need to be jumping out of the way), it often harms our ability to think critically.

How Bias Gets in the Way of Good Thinking

Selective Perception: We only notice things that match our ideas and ignore the rest. 

It's like only picking red candies from a mixed bowl because you think they taste the best, but they taste the same as every other candy in the bowl. It could also be when we see all the signs that our partner is cheating on us but choose to ignore them because we are happy the way we are (or at least, we think we are).

Agreeing with Yourself: This is called “ confirmation bias ” when we only listen to ideas that match our own and seek, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms what we already think we know or believe. 

An example is when someone wants to know if it is safe to vaccinate their children but already believes that vaccines are not safe, so they only look for information supporting the idea that vaccines are bad.

Thinking We Know It All: Similar to confirmation bias, this is called “overconfidence bias.” Sometimes we think our ideas are the best and don't listen to others. This can stop us from learning.

Have you ever met someone who you consider a “know it”? Probably, they have a lot of overconfidence bias because while they may know many things accurately, they can’t know everything. Still, if they act like they do, they show overconfidence bias.

There's a weird kind of bias similar to this called the Dunning Kruger Effect, and that is when someone is bad at what they do, but they believe and act like they are the best .

Following the Crowd: This is formally called “groupthink”. It's hard to speak up with a different idea if everyone agrees. But this can lead to mistakes.

An example of this we’ve all likely seen is the cool clique in primary school. There is usually one person that is the head of the group, the “coolest kid in school”, and everyone listens to them and does what they want, even if they don’t think it’s a good idea.

How to Overcome Biases

Here are a few ways to learn to think better, free from our biases (or at least aware of them!).

Know Your Biases: Realize that everyone has biases. If we know about them, we can think better.

Listen to Different People: Talking to different kinds of people can give us new ideas.

Ask Why: Always ask yourself why you believe something. Is it true, or is it just a bias?

Understand Others: Try to think about how others feel. It helps you see things in new ways.

Keep Learning: Always be curious and open to new information.

city in a globe connection

In today's world, everything changes fast, and there's so much information everywhere. This makes critical thinking super important. It helps us distinguish between what's real and what's made up. It also helps us make good choices. But thinking this way can be tough sometimes because of biases. These are like sneaky thoughts that can trick us. The good news is we can learn to see them and think better.

There are cool tools and ways we've talked about, like the "Socratic Questioning" method and the "Six Thinking Hats." These tools help us get better at thinking. These thinking skills can also help us in school, work, and everyday life.

We’ve also looked at specific scenarios where critical thinking would be helpful, such as deciding what diet to follow and checking facts.

Thinking isn't just a skill—it's a special talent we improve over time. Working on it lets us see things more clearly and understand the world better. So, keep practicing and asking questions! It'll make you a smarter thinker and help you see the world differently.

Critical Thinking Puzzles (Solutions)

The farmer, fox, chicken, and grain problem.

  • The farmer first takes the chicken across the river and leaves it on the other side.
  • He returns to the original side and takes the fox across the river.
  • After leaving the fox on the other side, he returns the chicken to the starting side.
  • He leaves the chicken on the starting side and takes the grain bag across the river.
  • He leaves the grain with the fox on the other side and returns to get the chicken.
  • The farmer takes the chicken across, and now all three items -- the fox, the chicken, and the grain -- are safely on the other side of the river.

The Rope, Jar, and Pebbles Problem

  • Take one rope and tie the jar of pebbles to its end.
  • Swing the rope with the jar in a pendulum motion.
  • While the rope is swinging, grab the other rope and wait.
  • As the swinging rope comes back within reach due to its pendulum motion, grab it.
  • With both ropes within reach, untie the jar and tie the rope ends together.

The Two Guards Problem

The question is, "What would the other guard say is the door to doom?" Then choose the opposite door.

The Hourglass Problem

  • Start both hourglasses. 
  • When the 4-minute hourglass runs out, turn it over.
  • When the 7-minute hourglass runs out, the 4-minute hourglass will have been running for 3 minutes. Turn the 7-minute hourglass over. 
  • When the 4-minute hourglass runs out for the second time (a total of 8 minutes have passed), the 7-minute hourglass will run for 1 minute. Turn the 7-minute hourglass again for 1 minute to empty the hourglass (a total of 9 minutes passed).

The Boat and Weights Problem

Take the cat over first and leave it on the other side. Then, return and take the fish across next. When you get there, take the cat back with you. Leave the cat on the starting side and take the cat food across. Lastly, return to get the cat and bring it to the other side.

The Lifeboat Dilemma

There isn’t one correct answer to this problem. Here are some elements to consider:

  • Moral Principles: What values guide your decision? Is it the potential greater good for humanity (the scientist)? What is the value of long-standing love and commitment (the elderly couple)? What is the future of young children who depend on their mothers? Or the selfless bravery of the teenager?
  • Future Implications: Consider the future consequences of each choice. Saving the scientist might benefit millions in the future, but what moral message does it send about the value of individual lives?
  • Emotional vs. Logical Thinking: While it's essential to engage empathy, it's also crucial not to let emotions cloud judgment entirely. For instance, while the teenager's bravery is commendable, does it make him more deserving of a spot on the boat than the others?
  • Acknowledging Uncertainty: The scientist claims to be close to a significant breakthrough, but there's no certainty. How does this uncertainty factor into your decision?
  • Personal Bias: Recognize and challenge any personal biases, such as biases towards age, profession, or familial status.

The Tech Dilemma

Again, there isn’t one correct answer to this problem. Here are some elements to consider:

  • Evaluate the Risk: How severe is the potential vulnerability? Can it be easily exploited, or would it require significant expertise? Even if the circumstances are rare, what would be the consequences if the vulnerability were exploited?
  • Stakeholder Considerations: Different stakeholders will have different priorities. Upper management might prioritize financial projections, the marketing team might be concerned about the product's reputation, and customers might prioritize the security of their data. How do you balance these competing interests?
  • Short-Term vs. Long-Term Implications: While launching on time could meet immediate financial goals, consider the potential long-term damage to the company's reputation if the vulnerability is exploited. Would the short-term gains be worth the potential long-term costs?
  • Ethical Implications : Beyond the financial and reputational aspects, there's an ethical dimension to consider. Is it right to release a product with a known vulnerability, even if the chances of it being exploited are low?
  • Seek External Input: Consulting with cybersecurity experts outside your company might be beneficial. They could provide a more objective risk assessment and potential mitigation strategies.
  • Communication: How will you communicate the decision, whatever it may be, both internally to your team and upper management and externally to your customers and potential users?

The History Mystery

Dr. Amelia should take the following steps:

  • Verify the Letters: Before making any claims, she should check if the letters are actual and not fake. She can do this by seeing when and where they were written and if they match with other things from that time.
  • Get a Second Opinion: It's always good to have someone else look at what you've found. Dr. Amelia could show the letters to other history experts and see their thoughts.
  • Research More: Maybe there are more documents or letters out there that support this new story. Dr. Amelia should keep looking to see if she can find more evidence.
  • Share the Findings: If Dr. Amelia believes the letters are true after all her checks, she should tell others. This can be through books, talks, or articles.
  • Stay Open to Feedback: Some people might agree with Dr. Amelia, and others might not. She should listen to everyone and be ready to learn more or change her mind if new information arises.

Ultimately, Dr. Amelia's job is to find out the truth about history and share it. It's okay if this new truth differs from what people used to believe. History is about learning from the past, no matter the story.

Related posts:

  • Experimenter Bias (Definition + Examples)
  • Hasty Generalization Fallacy (31 Examples + Similar Names)
  • Ad Hoc Fallacy (29 Examples + Other Names)
  • Confirmation Bias (Examples + Definition)
  • Equivocation Fallacy (26 Examples + Description)

Reference this article:

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Diagramming Arguments, Premise and Conclusion Indicators, with Many Examples

Abstract: Analyzing the structure of arguments is clarified by representing the logical relations of premises and conclusion in diagram form. Many ordinary language argument examples are explained and diagrammed.

“Argument” Defined

  • How to Identify Arguments

How to Analyze Simple Arguments

  • Premise Indicators
  • Conclusion Indicators
  • Equal Status Indicators

How to Analyze Complex Arguments

  • Links to Diagramming Exercises
  • Tutorials for Diagramming

Formal arguments are evaluated by their logical structure; informal arguments are studied and evaluated as parts of ordinary language and interpersonal discourse.

Statement or Proposition:

How to identify the presence of an argument.

argument examples in critical thinking

[1] I conclude the dinosaurs probably had to cope with cancer. These are my reasons : [2] a beautiful lower leg bone was found in Alberta, [3] the end of the fibula was grossly malformed, and [4] this appearance closely matches osteosarcoma in humans.
Since [1] the solution turns litmus paper red, [2] I conclude it is acidic, inasmuch as [3] acidic substances react with litmus to form a red color.
  • Ask yourself “What is the author trying to prove in this passage?” In order to determine whether or not an argument is present in a passage, it sometimes helps to pose this question. If an answer is directly forthcoming, then the passage is most likely an argument. Despite that, the presence of an argument cannot be always known with certainty; often the purpose of the passage can only be contextually surmised. Establishing the intention of a speaker or writer is sometimes the only determining factor of whether or not an argument is present. A charitable , and insofar as possible, an impartial conventional interpretation of the context, content, and purpose of the passage should be sought.
“[1] The types of sentences you use are quite varied. [2] I've noticed that your recent essays are quite sophisticated. [3] You have been learning much more about sentence structure.”
“ Because [1] of our preoccupation with the present moment and the latest discovery, [2] we do not read the great books of the past. Because [3a] we do not do this sort of reading, and [3b] do not think it is important, [4] we do not bother about trying to learn to read difficult books. As a result , [5] we do not learn to read well at all.” [1]

Statement [1] provides evidence for [2].

Next, [2] together with [3] ([3a] and [3b] being combined here as one compound statement for simplification) gives evidence for [4].

Finally, as a result of [4], statement [5] concludes with some degree of probability.

  • The number of arguments in a passage is conventionally established by the number of conclusions in that passage.
[1] John didn't get much sleep last night. [2] He has dark circles under his eyes. [3] He looks tired.
[1] Studies from rats indicate that neuropeptide Y in the brain causes carbohydrate craving, and [2] galanin causes fat craving. Hence , [3] I conclude that food cravings are tied to brain chemicals [4] because neuropeptide Y and galanin are brain chemicals.
  • The structure of the argument can be inferred by attending to the premise and conclusion indicators even though the content of the argument might not be fully understood.
[1] The piano teacher should consider an additional study of the pipe organ. [2] As an organist. the teacher would have added income at times when she is not teaching; consequently , and for this reason [3] she would receive added publicity and prestige. Therefore , [4] she would be likely to attract additional students and additional income.

Working with Premise Indicators:

for since as because [* when the term means “for the reason that” but not when it means “from the cause of”] in as much as follows from after all in light of the fact assuming seeing that granted that; given that in view of as shown by; as indicated by deduced from inferred from; concluded from due to the fact that for the reason [* often mistaken for a conclusion indicator ]
[2a] Reading the point of intersection of a graph depends on the accuracy with which the lines are drawn. [2b] Reading the point of intersection also depends upon the ability to interpret the coordinate of the point. [1]Thus, the graphical method for solving a system of equations is an approximation.
“[3] [the mind must] obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers.”

Working with Conclusion Indicators:

thus therefore consequently hence so it follows that proves that; demonstrates that; shows that indicates that accordingly [* an indicator often missed ] implies that; entails that; follows that this means we may infer; it can be inferred that suggests that results in in conclusion for this reason; for that reason [* often mistaken for premise indicators (a conclusion follows these phrases; a premise precedes these phrases .)]

argument examples in critical thinking

“[3a] So it may well be that cancer is induced not by the original substances but [3b] [it may well be that cancer is induced] by the products of their metabolism once inside the organism.”

Working with Equal Status Indicators:

or [ the inclusive “or,” i.e. “ either or or both ”] and as [* when it connects similar clauses; not when it connects a result with a cause ] in addition although despite; in spite of besides though but yet however moreover nevertheless not only … but also ( and also the semicolon “;”)
  • If one of the clauses has already been identified as a premise or a conclusion of an argument, then its coordinating clause is probably the same type of statement. Check the following examples.

Comment : Notice that statements [2] and [3] work together as a reason, so both together provide evidence for [1].

“ … [3] it depends on the indices of refraction of the lens material and [4] [it depends on] the surrounding medium.”

argument examples in critical thinking

For [1] and [2], so [3].
[1] If students were environmentally aware, they would object to the endangering of any species of animal. [2] The well-known Greenwood white squirrel has become endangered [3] as it has disappeared from the Lander campus [4] because the building of the library destroyed its native habitat. [5] No Lander students objected. [6] Thus , Lander students are not environmentally aware.
as because thus
  • Statement [6] is the final conclusion since it has the conclusion indicator “thus” and the import of the paragraph indicates that this statement is the main point of the argument. (It is also the last sentence in the paragraph.)
[1] If students were environmentally A ware, [ then ] they would O bject to the endangering of any species of animal. [5] No student O bjected [to the endangering of the Greenwood white squirrel].
[1] If A then O [5] Not O
“[6] Thus, Lander students are not environmentally A ware,”
[1] If A then O [5] Not O [6] Not A
“The explanation as to why productivity has slumped since 2004 is a simple one. That year coincided with the creation of Facebook ” [11]

argument examples in critical thinking

“In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the ship's prow is ‘gilded and shaped like the head of a dragon with wide open mouth’ so when, a moment later, the children stare at the picture ‘with open mouths’, they are being remade in its image … The painted ocean to which Joan is drawn is ‘like a mighty animal’, a ‘wicked virile thing’. The implication in both cases is that art is not safe, and that this is why it's needed.” [emphasis mine] [12]
“He asked: ‘Who are the Âdityas?’ Yâ gñ avalkys replied: ‘The twelve months of the year, and they are Âdityas, because they move along (yanti) taking up everything [ i.e. , taking up the lives of persons, and the fruits of their work] (âdadânâ h ). Because they move along, taking up everything, therefore they are called Âdityas.’”[emphasis mine] [13]

Circular Argument:

Links to diagramming online quizzes with suggested solutions, notes: diagramming arguments.

1. Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book (New York: Simon and Schuster: 1940), 89. ↩

2. Some English textbooks describe argumentative paragraph structure as deductive (proceeding from general to specific statements or inductive (proceeding from specific to general statements). For example, educator and rhetorician Fred Newton Scott writes:

“There are two orders of progress in thought, one proceeding from the statement of a general principle to particular applications of the principle (deductive reasoning), the other proceeding from the statement of particular facts to a general conclusion from those facts (inductive reasoning). In deductive reasoning, the general principle (stated usually at the beginning) is applied in the particulars; in inductive reasoning the general principle (stated usually at the end) if inferred from the particulars, as a conclusion. In a deductive paragraph, as would be expected, the sentences applying the principle to the particular case in hand, usually follow the topic-statement, which announces the principle. In an inductive paragraph the sentences stating the particular facts usually precede the topic-statement, which gives the general conclusion.” [emphases deleted]

Fred Newton Scott, Paragraph-Writing (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1909), 62-63. Since this distinction between induction and deduction proves faulty for many arguments, deductive arguments are now described as those that provide total support for their conclusion ( i.e. ,a they logically entail the conclusion); whereas, an inductive argument give partial support for their conclusion ( i.e. , they provide only some evidence for the conclusion.) ↩

3. Most paragraphs have a three-part structure: introduction (often a topic sentence), body (often supporting sentences), and conclusion (often a summary statement). In argumentative writing, the conclusion of an argument is often the topic sentence or main idea of a paragraph. Consequently, the first sentence or last sentence of many argumentative paragraphs contain the conclusion. ↩

4. René Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace: 1956), 127. ↩

5. Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792 London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1891), 273. ↩

6. Irvin D. Yalom, The Gift of Therapy (New York: Harper Perennial, 2009), 133. ↩

7. Maxim D. Frank-Kamenetskii, Unraveling DNA trans. Lev Liapin (New York: VCH Publishers, 1993), 175. ↩

8. Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind (London: 1921 George Allen & Unwin, 1961), 40. ↩

9. Wollstonecraft, Vindication , 175. ↩

10. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations , trans George Long (New York: Sterling: 2006), 69. ↩

11. Nikko Schaff, “Letters: Let the Inventors Speak,” The Economist 460 no. 8820 (January 26, 2013), 16. ↩

12. Matthew Bevis, “What Most I Love I Bite,” in the “Review of The Collected Poems and Drawings of Stevie Smith ,” London Review of Books 38 No. 15 (28 July 2016), 19. ↩

13. B ri hadâra n yaka-Upanishad in The Upanishads , Pt. II, trans. F. Max Müller in The Sacred Books of the East , Vol. XV, ed. F. Max Müller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900), 141. ↩

Readings: Diagramming Arguments

Carnegie Mellon University, iLogos: Argument Diagram Software and User Guide Free software cross-platform. Also, a list with links to other argument diagramming tools.

Martin Davies, Ashley Barnett, and Tim van Gelder, “ Using Computer-Aided Argument Mapping to Teach Reasoning, ” in Studies in Critical Thinking , ed. J. Anthony Blair (Windsor, ON: Open Monograph Press, 2019), 131-176. Chapter outlining how to use argument mapping software in logic classes. doi: 10.22329/wsia.08.2019

Jean Goodwin, “ Wigmore's Chart Method ,” Informal Logic 20 no. 3 (January, 2000), 223-243. doi: 10.22329/il.v20i3.2278 Tree diagram method for complex argument representation and inference strength assessment for legal analysis.

Mara Harrell, Creating Argument Diagrams , Carnegie Mellon University. Tutorial on identification of indicators, rewriting statements, providing missing premises, and reconstruction of arguments. (28 pp.)

Dale Jacquette, “ Enhancing the Diagramming Method in Logic ,” Argument: Biannual Philosophical Journal 1 no. 2 (February, 2011), 327-360. Also here . An extension of the Beardsley diagramming method for disjunctive and conditional inferences as well as other logical structures.

Michael Malone, “On Discounts and Argument Identification,” Teaching Philosophy 33 no. 1 (March, 2010), 1-15. doi: 10.5840/teachphil20103311 Discount indicators such as “but”, “however”, and “although” are distinguished from argument indicators, but help in argument identification.

Jacques Moeschler, “Argumentation and Connectives,” in Interdisciplinary Studies in Pragmatics, Culture and Society , eds. Alessandro Capone and Jacob L. Mey (Cham: Springer, 2016), 653-676.

John Lawrence and Chris Reed, “ Argument Mining: A Survey ,” Computational Linguistics 45 no. 4 (September, 2019), 765-818. doi: 10.1162/coli_a_00364 Review of recent advances and future challenges for extraction of reasoning in natural language.

Frans H. van Eemeren, Peter Houtlosser, and Francisca Snoeck Henkemans, Argumentative Indicators in Discourse (Dordercht: Springer, 2007). Sophisticated study of indicators for arguments, dialectical exchanges, and critical discussion. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4020-6244-5

Wikipedia contributors, “ Argument Map , Wikipedia . History, applications, standards, and references for argument maps used in informal logic.

(Free) Online Tutorials with Diagramming

Carnegie Mellon University, Argument Diagramming v1.5 (Open + Free) . Free online course on argument diagramming using built-in iLogos argument mapping software by Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative. (With or without registration and two weeks for completion).

Harvard University, Thinker/Analytix: How We Argue . Free online course on critical thinking with argument mapping with Mindmup free diagramming software, videos, and practice exercises. (Requires registration and 3-5 hrs. to complete).

Joe Lau, “ Argument Mapping ” Module A10 on the Critical Thinking Web at the University of Hong Kong. (No registration and an hour to complete).

Send corrections or suggestions to philhelp[at]philosophy.lander.edu Read the disclaimer concerning this page. 1997-2024 Licensed under the Copyleft GFDL license.

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Arguments | Language | Fallacies | Propositions | Syllogisms | Ordinary Language | Symbolic

Warren Berger

A Crash Course in Critical Thinking

What you need to know—and read—about one of the essential skills needed today..

Posted April 8, 2024 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk

  • In research for "A More Beautiful Question," I did a deep dive into the current crisis in critical thinking.
  • Many people may think of themselves as critical thinkers, but they actually are not.
  • Here is a series of questions you can ask yourself to try to ensure that you are thinking critically.

Conspiracy theories. Inability to distinguish facts from falsehoods. Widespread confusion about who and what to believe.

These are some of the hallmarks of the current crisis in critical thinking—which just might be the issue of our times. Because if people aren’t willing or able to think critically as they choose potential leaders, they’re apt to choose bad ones. And if they can’t judge whether the information they’re receiving is sound, they may follow faulty advice while ignoring recommendations that are science-based and solid (and perhaps life-saving).

Moreover, as a society, if we can’t think critically about the many serious challenges we face, it becomes more difficult to agree on what those challenges are—much less solve them.

On a personal level, critical thinking can enable you to make better everyday decisions. It can help you make sense of an increasingly complex and confusing world.

In the new expanded edition of my book A More Beautiful Question ( AMBQ ), I took a deep dive into critical thinking. Here are a few key things I learned.

First off, before you can get better at critical thinking, you should understand what it is. It’s not just about being a skeptic. When thinking critically, we are thoughtfully reasoning, evaluating, and making decisions based on evidence and logic. And—perhaps most important—while doing this, a critical thinker always strives to be open-minded and fair-minded . That’s not easy: It demands that you constantly question your assumptions and biases and that you always remain open to considering opposing views.

In today’s polarized environment, many people think of themselves as critical thinkers simply because they ask skeptical questions—often directed at, say, certain government policies or ideas espoused by those on the “other side” of the political divide. The problem is, they may not be asking these questions with an open mind or a willingness to fairly consider opposing views.

When people do this, they’re engaging in “weak-sense critical thinking”—a term popularized by the late Richard Paul, a co-founder of The Foundation for Critical Thinking . “Weak-sense critical thinking” means applying the tools and practices of critical thinking—questioning, investigating, evaluating—but with the sole purpose of confirming one’s own bias or serving an agenda.

In AMBQ , I lay out a series of questions you can ask yourself to try to ensure that you’re thinking critically. Here are some of the questions to consider:

  • Why do I believe what I believe?
  • Are my views based on evidence?
  • Have I fairly and thoughtfully considered differing viewpoints?
  • Am I truly open to changing my mind?

Of course, becoming a better critical thinker is not as simple as just asking yourself a few questions. Critical thinking is a habit of mind that must be developed and strengthened over time. In effect, you must train yourself to think in a manner that is more effortful, aware, grounded, and balanced.

For those interested in giving themselves a crash course in critical thinking—something I did myself, as I was working on my book—I thought it might be helpful to share a list of some of the books that have shaped my own thinking on this subject. As a self-interested author, I naturally would suggest that you start with the new 10th-anniversary edition of A More Beautiful Question , but beyond that, here are the top eight critical-thinking books I’d recommend.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark , by Carl Sagan

This book simply must top the list, because the late scientist and author Carl Sagan continues to be such a bright shining light in the critical thinking universe. Chapter 12 includes the details on Sagan’s famous “baloney detection kit,” a collection of lessons and tips on how to deal with bogus arguments and logical fallacies.

argument examples in critical thinking

Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments Into Extraordinary Results , by Shane Parrish

The creator of the Farnham Street website and host of the “Knowledge Project” podcast explains how to contend with biases and unconscious reactions so you can make better everyday decisions. It contains insights from many of the brilliant thinkers Shane has studied.

Good Thinking: Why Flawed Logic Puts Us All at Risk and How Critical Thinking Can Save the World , by David Robert Grimes

A brilliant, comprehensive 2021 book on critical thinking that, to my mind, hasn’t received nearly enough attention . The scientist Grimes dissects bad thinking, shows why it persists, and offers the tools to defeat it.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know , by Adam Grant

Intellectual humility—being willing to admit that you might be wrong—is what this book is primarily about. But Adam, the renowned Wharton psychology professor and bestselling author, takes the reader on a mind-opening journey with colorful stories and characters.

Think Like a Detective: A Kid's Guide to Critical Thinking , by David Pakman

The popular YouTuber and podcast host Pakman—normally known for talking politics —has written a terrific primer on critical thinking for children. The illustrated book presents critical thinking as a “superpower” that enables kids to unlock mysteries and dig for truth. (I also recommend Pakman’s second kids’ book called Think Like a Scientist .)

Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters , by Steven Pinker

The Harvard psychology professor Pinker tackles conspiracy theories head-on but also explores concepts involving risk/reward, probability and randomness, and correlation/causation. And if that strikes you as daunting, be assured that Pinker makes it lively and accessible.

How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion and Persuasion , by David McRaney

David is a science writer who hosts the popular podcast “You Are Not So Smart” (and his ideas are featured in A More Beautiful Question ). His well-written book looks at ways you can actually get through to people who see the world very differently than you (hint: bludgeoning them with facts definitely won’t work).

A Healthy Democracy's Best Hope: Building the Critical Thinking Habit , by M Neil Browne and Chelsea Kulhanek

Neil Browne, author of the seminal Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, has been a pioneer in presenting critical thinking as a question-based approach to making sense of the world around us. His newest book, co-authored with Chelsea Kulhanek, breaks down critical thinking into “11 explosive questions”—including the “priors question” (which challenges us to question assumptions), the “evidence question” (focusing on how to evaluate and weigh evidence), and the “humility question” (which reminds us that a critical thinker must be humble enough to consider the possibility of being wrong).

Warren Berger

Warren Berger is a longtime journalist and author of A More Beautiful Question .

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Critical thinking definition

argument examples in critical thinking

Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process, which is why it's often used in education and academics.

Some even may view it as a backbone of modern thought.

However, it's a skill, and skills must be trained and encouraged to be used at its full potential.

People turn up to various approaches in improving their critical thinking, like:

  • Developing technical and problem-solving skills
  • Engaging in more active listening
  • Actively questioning their assumptions and beliefs
  • Seeking out more diversity of thought
  • Opening up their curiosity in an intellectual way etc.

Is critical thinking useful in writing?

Critical thinking can help in planning your paper and making it more concise, but it's not obvious at first. We carefully pinpointed some the questions you should ask yourself when boosting critical thinking in writing:

  • What information should be included?
  • Which information resources should the author look to?
  • What degree of technical knowledge should the report assume its audience has?
  • What is the most effective way to show information?
  • How should the report be organized?
  • How should it be designed?
  • What tone and level of language difficulty should the document have?

Usage of critical thinking comes down not only to the outline of your paper, it also begs the question: How can we use critical thinking solving problems in our writing's topic?

Let's say, you have a Powerpoint on how critical thinking can reduce poverty in the United States. You'll primarily have to define critical thinking for the viewers, as well as use a lot of critical thinking questions and synonyms to get them to be familiar with your methods and start the thinking process behind it.

Are there any services that can help me use more critical thinking?

We understand that it's difficult to learn how to use critical thinking more effectively in just one article, but our service is here to help.

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In order to write critically, you need to be able to think critically. Critical thinking skills are useful in many aspects of your life. The world of work expects employees to be objective, critical thinkers. Assessment tasks at university aim to help students develop critical abilities. There are many tests that employers use to measure thinking skills. The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (W-GCTA) (Pearson TalentLens (2019) is one such test often used for graduate recruitment. The domains it tests are also useful in academic writing at university; for example, academic writing values critical skills that present ideas in a clear, structured, well-reasoned way, communicate a certain point of view and convince others of your argument.

Effective critical thinkers can:

Descriptive writing merely describes information without any further comment, questions or evaluation. The table shows how critical writing can be added to descriptive writing, and if you click on the text, it provides pop-up examples using the topic of crumpets . 

Adapted from Cottrell (2005); developed further from University of Plymouth (2010).

Often in assignments, you are expected to critically evaluate - this means to assess the relevance and significance of concepts relating to a specific topic or assignment question. Introduce your point. Give examples from reading. Is there support for your argument or can you identify weaknesses?  Are there different perspectives to compare and contrast? Build your explanation and create your objective, reasoned argument (case or thesis) based on the evaluation from different perspectives. You will include your conclusion and point of view, communicating your stance, having made a judgment on research you have found and its significance in contributing to answering your assignment question.

Use the TED model to integrate critical thinking into your writing:

Each example of evidence in your writing should have a clear purpose or function. Be explicit and tell the reader what it contributes to your reasoning.  

Premises are claims or assertions and when linked they lead the reader to a conclusion. Claims are presented as statements or claims to truth. If your readers contest the validity of  any of the premises, they will probably have to reject the  conclusion you have drawn; your entire argument will fail. Premises are often chained together to strengthen an argument as more reasons offered, lead to a strong, authoritative conclusion.

Let's take our essay title: Should boxing be banned?

Here’s a simple argument:

Obviously, in academic writing your arguments are often more complex and you will introduce more background reading, evidence, research, statistics and figures to back up your developing stance. Here’s an example of a more complex argument structure and plan which builds through the development of broad themes and premises:  

Ensure that your arguments are valid. The conclusions must flow from the premises and there must be an internal logic to the claims made.

Avoid flawed arguments. Here’s one:

  • Freud was a clever man (premise one-true).
  • Freud had a beard (premise two-true).
  • All men with beards are clever. Conclusion-untrue. We cannot conflate having a beard with always being clever. Premises can be true, but they can still lead to a false conclusion.

Criteria apply to Freud: certainly, he was a man with a beard. Freud happened to have a beard and allegedly, he was clever. However, not all bearded men are clever, therefore this argument fails because the conclusion 'all men with beards are clever' is not true.

Arguments are likely to emerge from wide reading. Read journal articles around your topic. What are debates within a topic area or field? What themes are emerging? Which main ideas are contested? If you present a view, offer an opposing point of view and anticipate and neutralise counter arguments. What major ideas prevail? Are there new ideas? Are any ideas outmoded and why? Remember to use regular signposting to the reader to indicate what sense you make of the different threads of information contributing to your overall argument.

Criticality and your subject area

Different subject areas may require different approaches to criticality. Ask your subject tutors for advice on what they understand by good critical writing.  It is likely you will need to read widely to obtain research and evidence no matter what the subject. Be guided by your assignment question and spot the key verbs. Are you being ask to analyse or evaluate?

Criticality in your field could emphasise particular thinking and writing skills. Check this list below and try to identify thinking processes that may be important for your subject area/field. Some critical ways of writing may not be expected in your subject. There may be different emphases placed in our subject area. Bear the following possibilities in mind when you are preparing your assignment answers.

  • Providing supporting evidence and arguing an opinion based on reading;
  • Examining cause and effect;
  • Analysing constituent parts or factors, deconstructing;
  • Comparing and contrasting-processes, functions, ways of doing things, different theories and outcomes;
  • Offering solutions to problems;
  • Making recommendations after discussing options;
  • Synthesising information and identify new thinking;
  • Theorising about causes, other contributory factors, problems, failure, unexpected outcomes;
  • Innovating: taking known ideas and combining them and adapting them to introduce something new;
  • Discussing conditions which help and hinder;
  • Identifying trends, categories, criteria;
  • Drawing parallels;
  • Discussing why something will or won't work/ did or did not work e.g. in science;
  • Asking critical questions and using theory to explain phenomena;
  • Identifying contradictions, discrepancies, inconsistencies, lack of clarity on any issues;
  • Applying particular theoretical perspectives or lenses to offer understandings;
  • Exploring complexity, rather than offering simple explanations;
  • Being aware of fallacies, mental traps and biases in the thinking of others and yourself;
  • Contributing new ideas and understandings to the discussion of your subject area;
  • Sometimes it is possible to use theory from another setting to explain phenomena e.g psychological theory could explain phenomena in a management problem;
  • Analysing gaps between theory/ policy and implementation in reality- Are any recommendations implied? What problems could you forecast with real-world implementation? Are there any foreseeable problems or anticipated problems adapting ideas to your setting or context? Are there barriers to implementation? Could you comment on conditions which need to be in place to ensure effective implementation? What conditions would hinder implementation in your context?

How to ensure articles to back up ideas are appropriate

Ideally apply criteria for supportive evidence such as:

  • articles in journals should be 3-5 years old (unless otherwise stated);
  • peer reviewed journals;
  • with authoritative authors;
  • journal articles already cited by others.

You could use tools to analyse research validity, such as CASP tools.  The CASP website provides a range of tools for different types of research studies such as systematic reviews, quantitative research, qualitative research, randomised controlled trials. 

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Critical thinking without judgment

“In class there is never fear of arguments or awkward tension. Instead, there are stimulating questions and critical evaluations and conclusions.”

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Critical Thinking: Definition and Analysis

This essay about the significance of critical thinking in various aspects of life, from academia to everyday interactions. It emphasizes the importance of analysis and synthesis in fostering intellectual autonomy and resilience. Through examples in different contexts, it highlights how critical thinking enables individuals to navigate complex information, evaluate arguments, and cultivate intellectual humility.

How it works

Critical thinking, a term often echoed in scholarly circles, workplaces, and beyond, is a skill of immense significance across various dimensions of life. It serves as the cornerstone of education, problem-solving, decision-making, and personal development. However, despite its ubiquitous presence, the concept of critical thinking remains somewhat enigmatic, with its definition subject to interpretation and nuanced understanding. In this exploration, we delve into the depths of critical thinking, endeavoring to unravel its essence, dissect its components, and illuminate its implications.

At its essence, critical thinking can be described as the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information or arguments in a systematic and reasoned manner.

It goes beyond mere acceptance or rejection of ideas; rather, it involves a rigorous examination of evidence, assumptions, and logical coherence. Critical thinkers engage in reflective and independent thinking, questioning assumptions, exploring alternative perspectives, and arriving at well-informed conclusions. Essentially, critical thinking acts as intellectual armor, equipping individuals with the tools to navigate the complex landscape of information and ideas in today’s world.

One of the foundational elements of critical thinking is analysis. Analysis entails breaking down complex ideas or issues into their constituent parts, closely examining them, and discerning patterns, relationships, or implications. It serves as the scaffolding for reasoned judgments by providing a framework for understanding. During analysis, evidence is scrutinized, biases are uncovered, the credibility of sources is assessed, and underlying assumptions are revealed. Through this process, a deeper understanding of the subject matter is attained, enabling individuals to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses more effectively.

However, analysis in critical thinking is not limited to deconstruction; it also involves synthesis – the integration of disparate elements into a coherent whole. Synthesis represents the culmination of analytical inquiry, where insights gleaned from individual pieces of information or perspectives are merged to form a comprehensive understanding. It is the creative aspect of critical thinking, where innovative ideas or solutions emerge from the interplay of diverse viewpoints. Thus, analysis and synthesis work in tandem to foster holistic comprehension and innovative thinking.

To underscore the significance of analysis in critical thinking, one can examine its application across various contexts. In academia, students are frequently tasked with analyzing literary texts, scientific data, historical events, or philosophical arguments. Through close examination, experimentation, or historical research, students learn to dissect complex phenomena, identify underlying themes or principles, and construct coherent interpretations. Similarly, professionals in fields such as business, law, or healthcare rely on analytical skills to dissect problems, assess risks, and formulate effective strategies. Whether it involves conducting market research, analyzing legal precedents, or diagnosing medical conditions, the ability to analyze information critically is indispensable.

Moreover, analysis in critical thinking extends beyond academic or professional domains; it permeates everyday life. Consider the deluge of information encountered through media channels, social networks, or interpersonal interactions. In an era of information overload and misinformation, the ability to analyze sources critically is paramount. Individuals must scrutinize news articles for bias, fact-check viral claims, and discern the agenda behind persuasive rhetoric. By honing analytical skills, individuals become less susceptible to manipulation and more adept at navigating the complexities of the modern world.

Furthermore, analysis in critical thinking fosters intellectual humility – the recognition of one’s fallibility and the willingness to revise beliefs in light of new evidence or perspectives. In a world marked by ideological polarization and echo chambers, intellectual humility is a rare trait. However, critical thinkers, through their commitment to rational inquiry and open-mindedness, cultivate this virtue. They recognize that truth is multifaceted and elusive, and that certainty is often illusory. Consequently, they approach arguments or viewpoints with skepticism, subjecting them to rigorous analysis before rendering judgment.

In conclusion, critical thinking, grounded in analysis, is an indispensable skill for navigating the complexities of the modern world. It empowers individuals to dissect information, evaluate arguments, and synthesize insights, fostering intellectual autonomy and resilience. Whether in academia, professional endeavors, or everyday life, the ability to think critically is indispensable. By honing analytical skills and nurturing intellectual humility, individuals can traverse the vast expanse of information and ideas with clarity and discernment. As dedicated practitioners of critical thinking, let us embrace the challenge of analysis, for therein lies the path to intellectual enlightenment and empowerment.

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argument examples in critical thinking

Mar-a-Lago judge issues rare denial to potential legal arguments about 'tyrannical repression' and the Presidential Records Act in Trump's classified documents case

L eft: Aileen M. Cannon speaks remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (U.S. Senate); Right: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump visits a Chick-fil-A, April 10, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Jason Allen)

The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago classified documents case issued a rare denial to a man seeking to file a pretrial brief as a would-be amicus curiae, or friend of the court.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has been mostly permissive when it comes to pretrial briefs, including friend of court briefs, in the case — only denying one other prior attempt in early March from a man serving a lengthy federal prison sentence for mail and wire fraud.

On Tuesday, the court declined to allow another such nonparty filing. The rejected brief was submitted by Darryl B. Phillips, a pro se litigant who describes himself as “a private citizen and retired Electrical Engineer” with “experience analyzing complex systems, software and semiconductors” and the author of “many technical reports.”

“Amici’s interest in this case arises from observations as a donor in the 1980s to a charity providing humanitarian aid to brutally repressed minorities in Soviet Russia,” the brief reads. “Tyrannical repression was implemented through various means that included weaponization of the criminal justice system. Amici is concerned about trends towards similar tyranny in the United States and fears for the future.”

Phillips, who hails from a small town in northern California, offers a media critique by way of an explanation about the series of events that led him to filing a brief in the 45th president’s case.

“This amicus brief is written after accepting a challenge to read the indictment, applying engineering critical thinking skills to analysis of the indictment, finding many serious flaws in it, writing a report on those flaws, and noting no competent discussion of those flaws in the press or public,” Phillips’ filing goes on.

The heart of the barred brief is an exploration of the Presidential Records Act. The author argues Cannon incorrectly denied dismissal on that defense — but says both Trump’s defense attorneys and special counsel Jack Smith “failed in their understanding and presentation of the law as it relates to the facts of the case.”

As for the facts themselves, Phillips’ understanding of the details at issue more or less tracks with how the defense sees things and will likely argue them in court: Trump had something not entirely unlike plenary power to de-classify and retain the documents in question.

After citing part of the superseding indictment that stakes out the government’s basic timeline of how the documents scarpered off as “Trump ceased to be President” and “departed the White House,” the brief says Smith made a basic error that rises to a “knowing lie.”

“This root allegation of unauthorized possession is false,” Phillips says. “It argues a false chronology. President Donald Trump had the boxes moved before 12:00PM on January 20, 2021 while he had Article II Sections 1&2 powers to both authorize possession and waive executive order derived classification regulations regarding the documents.”

While the legal theories advanced by Phillips are unlikely to be considered (unless, perhaps, they are later adopted by Trump’s defense attorneys), the substantially similar idea that a U.S. president “has absolute authority over presidential papers” also undergirds an amicus brief filed in the case that was allowed by Cannon.

As Law&Crime previously reported , a group fronted by former Trump White House senior policy advisor and family separation architect Stephen Miller filed a proposed amicus brief on March 1. That group, the America First Legal Foundation (AFL) claims it has “expertise” on both the PRA and the National Archives (NARA). Miller, who is not a lawyer, had his organization’s proclaimed expertise on those issues criticized by legal experts who focus on such laws — one attorney told Law&Crime that trying to respond to the group’s claims would be “akin to arguing with someone in 2024 that the world is not flat or engage in debate over whether the moon is made of cheese.”

Still, the judge overseeing the case allowed the former Trump speechwriter to have his say about the issues.

“The Court has reviewed the motions and finds that the proposed amici bring to the Court’s attention relevant matter that may be of considerable help to the Court in resolving the cited pretrial motions,” Cannon wrote in early March . “The amicus briefs are accepted for Court consideration.”

Later, Smith pilloried the AFL’s arguments about the PRA and NARA, calling them “unsupported and untenable” in reality.

Lacking a political pedigree that would allow his non-expert opinion into the case, Phillips’ journey from accomplished EE to potential amicus curiae is much shorter. His brief notes: “Patience from the Court is requested regarding deadlines as the ability to file an amicus brief pro se as a private citizen was only learned about on 4/4/2024.”

The post Mar-a-Lago judge issues rare denial to potential legal arguments about ‘tyrannical repression’ and the Presidential Records Act in Trump’s classified documents case first appeared on Law & Crime .

Mar-a-Lago judge issues rare denial to potential legal arguments about 'tyrannical repression' and the Presidential Records Act in Trump's classified documents case

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NPR defends its journalism after senior editor says it has lost the public's trust

David Folkenflik 2018 square

David Folkenflik

argument examples in critical thinking

NPR is defending its journalism and integrity after a senior editor wrote an essay accusing it of losing the public's trust. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

NPR is defending its journalism and integrity after a senior editor wrote an essay accusing it of losing the public's trust.

NPR's top news executive defended its journalism and its commitment to reflecting a diverse array of views on Tuesday after a senior NPR editor wrote a broad critique of how the network has covered some of the most important stories of the age.

"An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don't have an audience that reflects America," writes Uri Berliner.

A strategic emphasis on diversity and inclusion on the basis of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, promoted by NPR's former CEO, John Lansing, has fed "the absence of viewpoint diversity," Berliner writes.

NPR's chief news executive, Edith Chapin, wrote in a memo to staff Tuesday afternoon that she and the news leadership team strongly reject Berliner's assessment.

"We're proud to stand behind the exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories," she wrote. "We believe that inclusion — among our staff, with our sourcing, and in our overall coverage — is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world."

NPR names tech executive Katherine Maher to lead in turbulent era

NPR names tech executive Katherine Maher to lead in turbulent era

She added, "None of our work is above scrutiny or critique. We must have vigorous discussions in the newsroom about how we serve the public as a whole."

A spokesperson for NPR said Chapin, who also serves as the network's chief content officer, would have no further comment.

Praised by NPR's critics

Berliner is a senior editor on NPR's Business Desk. (Disclosure: I, too, am part of the Business Desk, and Berliner has edited many of my past stories. He did not see any version of this article or participate in its preparation before it was posted publicly.)

Berliner's essay , titled "I've Been at NPR for 25 years. Here's How We Lost America's Trust," was published by The Free Press, a website that has welcomed journalists who have concluded that mainstream news outlets have become reflexively liberal.

Berliner writes that as a Subaru-driving, Sarah Lawrence College graduate who "was raised by a lesbian peace activist mother ," he fits the mold of a loyal NPR fan.

Yet Berliner says NPR's news coverage has fallen short on some of the most controversial stories of recent years, from the question of whether former President Donald Trump colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, to the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19, to the significance and provenance of emails leaked from a laptop owned by Hunter Biden weeks before the 2020 election. In addition, he blasted NPR's coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

On each of these stories, Berliner asserts, NPR has suffered from groupthink due to too little diversity of viewpoints in the newsroom.

The essay ricocheted Tuesday around conservative media , with some labeling Berliner a whistleblower . Others picked it up on social media, including Elon Musk, who has lambasted NPR for leaving his social media site, X. (Musk emailed another NPR reporter a link to Berliner's article with a gibe that the reporter was a "quisling" — a World War II reference to someone who collaborates with the enemy.)

When asked for further comment late Tuesday, Berliner declined, saying the essay spoke for itself.

The arguments he raises — and counters — have percolated across U.S. newsrooms in recent years. The #MeToo sexual harassment scandals of 2016 and 2017 forced newsrooms to listen to and heed more junior colleagues. The social justice movement prompted by the killing of George Floyd in 2020 inspired a reckoning in many places. Newsroom leaders often appeared to stand on shaky ground.

Leaders at many newsrooms, including top editors at The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times , lost their jobs. Legendary Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron wrote in his memoir that he feared his bonds with the staff were "frayed beyond repair," especially over the degree of self-expression his journalists expected to exert on social media, before he decided to step down in early 2021.

Since then, Baron and others — including leaders of some of these newsrooms — have suggested that the pendulum has swung too far.

Legendary editor Marty Baron describes his 'Collision of Power' with Trump and Bezos

Author Interviews

Legendary editor marty baron describes his 'collision of power' with trump and bezos.

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger warned last year against journalists embracing a stance of what he calls "one-side-ism": "where journalists are demonstrating that they're on the side of the righteous."

"I really think that that can create blind spots and echo chambers," he said.

Internal arguments at The Times over the strength of its reporting on accusations that Hamas engaged in sexual assaults as part of a strategy for its Oct. 7 attack on Israel erupted publicly . The paper conducted an investigation to determine the source of a leak over a planned episode of the paper's podcast The Daily on the subject, which months later has not been released. The newsroom guild accused the paper of "targeted interrogation" of journalists of Middle Eastern descent.

Heated pushback in NPR's newsroom

Given Berliner's account of private conversations, several NPR journalists question whether they can now trust him with unguarded assessments about stories in real time. Others express frustration that he had not sought out comment in advance of publication. Berliner acknowledged to me that for this story, he did not seek NPR's approval to publish the piece, nor did he give the network advance notice.

Some of Berliner's NPR colleagues are responding heatedly. Fernando Alfonso, a senior supervising editor for digital news, wrote that he wholeheartedly rejected Berliner's critique of the coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict, for which NPR's journalists, like their peers, periodically put themselves at risk.

Alfonso also took issue with Berliner's concern over the focus on diversity at NPR.

"As a person of color who has often worked in newsrooms with little to no people who look like me, the efforts NPR has made to diversify its workforce and its sources are unique and appropriate given the news industry's long-standing lack of diversity," Alfonso says. "These efforts should be celebrated and not denigrated as Uri has done."

After this story was first published, Berliner contested Alfonso's characterization, saying his criticism of NPR is about the lack of diversity of viewpoints, not its diversity itself.

"I never criticized NPR's priority of achieving a more diverse workforce in terms of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. I have not 'denigrated' NPR's newsroom diversity goals," Berliner said. "That's wrong."

Questions of diversity

Under former CEO John Lansing, NPR made increasing diversity, both of its staff and its audience, its "North Star" mission. Berliner says in the essay that NPR failed to consider broader diversity of viewpoint, noting, "In D.C., where NPR is headquartered and many of us live, I found 87 registered Democrats working in editorial positions and zero Republicans."

Berliner cited audience estimates that suggested a concurrent falloff in listening by Republicans. (The number of people listening to NPR broadcasts and terrestrial radio broadly has declined since the start of the pandemic.)

Former NPR vice president for news and ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin tweeted , "I know Uri. He's not wrong."

Others questioned Berliner's logic. "This probably gets causality somewhat backward," tweeted Semafor Washington editor Jordan Weissmann . "I'd guess that a lot of NPR listeners who voted for [Mitt] Romney have changed how they identify politically."

Similarly, Nieman Lab founder Joshua Benton suggested the rise of Trump alienated many NPR-appreciating Republicans from the GOP.

In recent years, NPR has greatly enhanced the percentage of people of color in its workforce and its executive ranks. Four out of 10 staffers are people of color; nearly half of NPR's leadership team identifies as Black, Asian or Latino.

"The philosophy is: Do you want to serve all of America and make sure it sounds like all of America, or not?" Lansing, who stepped down last month, says in response to Berliner's piece. "I'd welcome the argument against that."

"On radio, we were really lagging in our representation of an audience that makes us look like what America looks like today," Lansing says. The U.S. looks and sounds a lot different than it did in 1971, when NPR's first show was broadcast, Lansing says.

A network spokesperson says new NPR CEO Katherine Maher supports Chapin and her response to Berliner's critique.

The spokesperson says that Maher "believes that it's a healthy thing for a public service newsroom to engage in rigorous consideration of the needs of our audiences, including where we serve our mission well and where we can serve it better."

Disclosure: This story was reported and written by NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by Deputy Business Editor Emily Kopp and Managing Editor Gerry Holmes. Under NPR's protocol for reporting on itself, no NPR corporate official or news executive reviewed this story before it was posted publicly.

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COMMENTS

  1. LOGOS: Critical Thinking, Arguments, and Fallacies

    And threats to the system demand a defensive response. Critical thinking is short-circuited in authoritarian systems so that the conclusions are conserved instead of being open for revision. ... You can think of this type of argument as a faulty chain of events or domino effect type of argument. Example 6: If you don't study for your ...

  2. Chapter 2 Arguments

    Chapter 2 Arguments. Chapter 2. Arguments. The fundamental tool of the critical thinker is the argument. For a good example of what we are not talking about, consider a bit from a famous sketch by Monty Python's Flying Circus: 3. Man: (Knock) Mr. Vibrating: Come in.

  3. What Is Critical Thinking?

    Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment. To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources. Critical thinking skills help you to: Identify credible sources. Evaluate and respond to arguments.

  4. 3.1: The Basics

    3.1: The Basics. So far, we've discussed the basic ideas behind arguments or inferences. Each argument has premises which are the assumptions or the support of the argument. Each argument also has usually one, but sometimes more conclusions. The conclusion is the main point of the argument.

  5. Logic and the Study of Arguments

    2. Logic and the Study of Arguments. If we want to study how we ought to reason (normative) we should start by looking at the primary way that we do reason (descriptive): through the use of arguments. In order to develop a theory of good reasoning, we will start with an account of what an argument is and then proceed to talk about what ...

  6. [A01] What is an argument?

    A crucial part of critical thinking is to identify, construct, and evaluate arguments. In everyday life, people often use "argument" to mean a quarrel between people. But in logic and critical thinking, an argument is a list of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the others are the premises or assumptions of the argument.

  7. Chapter 8: Identifying Arguments

    But in logic and critical thinking, an argument is a list of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the others are the premises or assumptions of the argument. An example: It is raining. So you should bring an umbrella. In this argument, the first statement is the premise and the second one the conclusion.

  8. Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking. Critical Thinking is the process of using and assessing reasons to evaluate statements, assumptions, and arguments in ordinary situations. The goal of this process is to help us have good beliefs, where "good" means that our beliefs meet certain goals of thought, such as truth, usefulness, or rationality. ... This example ...

  9. Arguments in Context

    Arguments in Context is a comprehensive introduction to critical thinking that covers all the basics in student-friendly language. Intended for use in a semester-long course, the text features classroom-tested examples and exercises that have been chosen to emphasize the relevance and applicability of the subject to everyday life. Three themes are developed as the text proceeds from argument ...

  10. PDF FUNDAMENTALS OF CRITICAL ARGUMENTATION

    Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation presents the basic tools for the iden-tification, analysis, and evaluation of common arguments for beginners. The book teaches by using examples of arguments in dialogues, both in the text itself and in the exercises. Examples of controversial legal, political, and ethi-cal arguments are analyzed.

  11. Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking. Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms ...

  12. 3. What is a Good Argument (I)?

    I can see how people might initially get this impression, since so many of the introductory examples you see in logic and critical thinking texts are short two-premise arguments. For the purpose of introducing new logical concepts, the short two-premise argument forms are very useful. But you can have arguments with five, ten or a hundred premises.

  13. Critical thinking arguments for beginners

    In critical thinking and logic, 'argument' has a particular meaning. It refers to a set of statements, consisting of one conclusion and one or more premises. The conclusion is the statement that the argument is intended to prove. The premises are the reasons offered for believing that the conclusion is true. A critical thinking argument ...

  14. 1.4: More Complex Argument Structures

    Lansing Community College. So far we have seen that an argument consists of a premise (typically more than one) and a conclusion. However, very often arguments and explanations have a more complex structure than just a few premises that directly support the conclusion. For example, consider the following argument: No one living in Pompeii could ...

  15. Arguments and Critical Thinking

    Sherry Diestler, Becoming a Critical Thinker, 4th ed., p. 403. " Argument: An attempt to support a conclusion by giving reasons for it.". Robert Ennis, Critical Thinking, p. 396. "Argument - A form of thinking in which certain statements (reasons) are offered in support of another statement (conclusion).".

  16. Critical Thinking: Step 5: Structuring Arguments

    Argument Activity. Rank the following arguments from 1-5 (5 being the best) as "reason" for taking an umbrella to school. March is usually a rainy month, and this is the first day of March. It will probably rain today. I listened to three weather forecasters last night and they, all predicted rain for this afternoon. It will probably rain ...

  17. Standard Argument Form

    Standard argument form is a graphical method for displaying arguments, making plain the purpose of a statement by its placement. Premises are separated, numbered, and placed above a line, and the conclusion is placed below the line. The act of inference is represented with three dots (or the word "so") placed next to the conclusion.

  18. Sound and unsound arguments

    First, the argument must be valid. All invalid arguments are unsound. Second, the premises of the argument must all be true. Any argument that has even a single false premise is unsound. To be sound, an argument must meet both requirements. Let's go back to the example with the purple cats.

  19. Improving Critical Thinking Through Argument Mapping

    For example, an argument that provides a (1) support for a (2) support for a (3) support for a (4) claim has four levels in its hierarchical structure. ... Improving critical thinking using web ...

  20. 41+ Critical Thinking Examples (Definition + Practices)

    There are many resources to help you determine if information sources are factual or not. 7. Socratic Questioning. This way of thinking is called the Socrates Method, named after an old-time thinker from Greece. It's about asking lots of questions to understand a topic.

  21. Diagramming Arguments, Premise and Conclusion Indicators, with Copious

    Example Argument: [1] Studies from rats indicate that neuropeptide Y in the brain causes carbohydrate craving, and [2] galanin causes fat craving. Hence, [3] I ... Free online course on critical thinking with argument mapping with Mindmup free diagramming software, videos, and practice exercises. (Requires registration and 3-5 hrs. to complete

  22. CRITICAL THINKING

    In this Wireless Philosophy video, Geoff Pynn (Northern Illinois University) follows up on his introduction to critical thinking by exploring how abductive a...

  23. A Crash Course in Critical Thinking

    Neil Browne, author of the seminal Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, has been a pioneer in presenting critical thinking as a question-based approach to making sense of the ...

  24. Using Critical Thinking in Essays and other Assignments

    Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process ...

  25. LibGuides: Susannah's Test Copy Critical Writing: Skill guide

    The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (W-GCTA) (Pearson TalentLens (2019) is one such test often used for graduate recruitment. The domains it tests are also useful in academic writing at university; for example, academic writing values critical skills that present ideas in a clear, structured, well-reasoned way, communicate a certain ...

  26. Critical thinking without judgment

    Critical thinking without judgment Critical thinking without judgment "In class there is never fear of arguments or awkward tension. Instead, there are stimulating questions and critical evaluations and conclusions." Featuring ...

  27. Critical Thinking: Definition and Analysis

    Essay Example: Critical thinking, a term often echoed in scholarly circles, workplaces, and beyond, is a skill of immense significance across various dimensions of life. ... and that certainty is often illusory. Consequently, they approach arguments or viewpoints with skepticism, subjecting them to rigorous analysis before rendering judgment ...

  28. Mar-a-Lago judge issues rare denial to potential legal arguments ...

    The post Mar-a-Lago judge issues rare denial to potential legal arguments about 'tyrannical repression' and the Presidential Records Act in Trump's classified documents case first appeared ...

  29. NPR responds after editor says it has 'lost America's trust' : NPR

    The arguments he raises — and counters — have percolated across U.S. newsrooms in recent years. The #MeToo sexual harassment scandals of 2016 and 2017 forced newsrooms to listen to and heed ...