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What is Critical Thinking?

More Characteristics of Critical Thinking


Avoid Linguistic Misunderstandings
Language is a complex and subtle tool. It allows us to communicate all sorts of ideas, including brand-new ideas, but the same subtlety and complexity leads to all kinds of misunderstandings, ambiguities, and vagueness. The fact of the matter is, what we think we are communicating might not be what others are receiving, and what we are receiving may not be what others are intending to communicate.

Critical thinking, then, must allow for the existence of ambiguities, vagueness, and misunderstandings in our communications. A person who tries to think critically must endeavor to eliminate those factors as much as possible — for example, by trying to get key terms clearly defined early on rather than allowing a debate to proceed with people using the same words to talk about completely different concepts.


Avoid Common Fallacies
Most people can reason well enough to get by in their daily lives and no more. If that is enough to survive, why invest the extra time and work to improve? People who wish to have high standards for their beliefs and reasoning, however, cannot make do with the bare minimum just to get by in life — more education and practice are needed.

To this end, good critical thinking requires that a person become familiar with common logical fallacies which most people commit at some time or other without ever realizing it. Fallacies are errors in reasoning which creep into arguments and debates all the time; the practice of critical thinking should help a person avoid committing them and aid in identifying their appearance in others’ arguments. An argument that commits a fallacy cannot provide good reason to accept its conclusion; therefore, as long as fallacies are being committed, the arguments aren’t being very productive.


Don’t Jump to Conclusions
It’s easy and common for people to quickly go to the first and most obvious conclusion in any sort of dilemma, but the fact of the matter is the obvious conclusion isn’t always the correct one. Unfortunately, once a person adopts a conclusion it can be difficult to get them to give it up in favor of something else — after all, no one wants to be wrong, do they?

Because it is better to avoid trouble than to try to get out of trouble once in it, critical thinking emphasizes careful thinking as well — and this means not jumping to conclusions if you can avoid it. Go ahead and acknowledge the existence of an obvious conclusion because it might be right after all, but don’t actually adopt it until other options have been considered.


All of this is just a quick summary of some key attributes which people must cultivate in order to really think critically and skeptically about things. Although it may not seem immediately obvious, you really don’t need a degree in philosophy or science in order to become a better critical thinker. Some education about basic issues is required, but nothing that the average person can’t handle.

Some facets of basic logic may come across as difficult, but in the end there is only one way to become comfortable with it: practice. You will not, for example, become good at recognizing fallacies just by memorizing a list of names. Instead, you need to take the time to read arguments carefully and learn to identify fallacies that way. The more time you spend on that, the more natural it will become — and you will remember the names of the fallacies as a matter of course.

The same is true of other concepts in basic logic. If you think about them and use them, then you’ll feel comfortable with them and recognize certain argumentative strategies and techniques in anything you read without really trying. The precise terminology will follow along on its own. If you are interested in practice, one good place to find help is this site’s forum. There you will have a chance to read lots of arguments and see many of the techniques described on this site actually put into practice. You can also ask questions about the validity or soundness of particular arguments — there are plenty of people who can help you to better understand where an argument goes wrong or gets things right.

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