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What is Logic? What is Critical Thinking?

Strategies and Skills for Critical Thinking, Using Logic


Logic is the science of how to evaluate arguments and reasoning. Critical thinking is a process of evaluation which uses logic to separate truth from falsehood, reasonable from unreasonable beliefs. If you want to better evaluate the various claims, ideas, and arguments you encounter, you need a better understanding of basic logic and the process of critical thinking. These aren't trivial pursuits; they are essential to making good decisions and forming sound beliefs about our world.

Who Cares?

Why bother to learn more about logic and arguments? Does it really matter and does it really help anyone? As a matter of fact, yes it does — and we would all benefit from not only learning how to think more critically but also from exercising greater skepticism in our lives. Every day we encounter a myriad of opinions, claims, and ideas. We can't separate the wheat from the chaff without the right tools.

Unskilled and Unaware

Being mistaken about something is not a flaw in a person’s reasoning and neither is being unskilled in constructing or analyzing logical arguments. Where a flaw does occur, however, is in the fact that the worse a person is at such tasks, the less likely they are to realize it, the more likely they are to overestimate their abilities, and the less likely they are to realize that others’ efforts are superior. This seems to be especially true when it comes to logic and critical thinking: people imagine they are already good at it, but they lack both the basic skills to do it well and the skills necessary to realize that they aren't doing it well.

What is Logic?

The term "logic" is used quite a lot, but not always in its technical sense. Logic, strictly speaking, is the science or study of how to evaluate arguments and reasoning. Logic is what allows us to distinguish correct reasoning from poor reasoning. Logic is important because it helps us reason correctly — without correct reasoning, we don't have a viable means for knowing the truth or arriving at sound beliefs.

What is Critical Thinking?

The term "critical thinking" is used, in one form or another, throughout this site — but what does it mean? Some may get the impression that it simply involves finding fault with others and others' ideas, but that isn't really the case. As a general rule, critical thinking involves developing some emotional and intellectual distance between yourself and ideas — whether your own or others' — in order to better evaluate their truth, validity, and reasonableness. Critical thinking isn't criticism, it's the ability to think about ideas with some critical distance and reflection.

Agreement and Disagreement

When people argue about something, it is because they disagree. If they already agreed, they probably wouldn't be offering arguments for or against anything. Unfortunately, when people are in the midst of a disagreement, it isn't always clear to them or to others just what they are disagreeing about. Figuring out where the actual disagreement lies and where potential agreement might exist is very important because otherwise people will just end up talking past each other. The only thing accomplished in such cases is the creation of animosity, not the development of understanding.

Propaganda and Persuasion

When most people think of propaganda, they tend to think of the posters and songs created by or with the aid of a government during wartime. The truth of the matter is that propaganda has a much broader application. It refers not only to efforts by a government to get people to adopt certain beliefs or attitudes, but it can also be applied to the ways in which corporations try to get you to buy things and how apologists promote the agenda of their cause. The more you understand about propaganda, the easier it will be to recognize it and think critically about it.

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