The Other National Deficit – Critical Thinking

If I only had a brainI am probably attempting to distill this too much but it seems that many of the problems in the world would disappear if we could teach our youth two things – to think critically and to recognize logical fallacies. Recognizing logical fallacies is part of critical thinking but deserves special attention because of their ubiquity and their apparent effectiveness in shaping, or misshaping, opinions.

Neither of these two end points should be remarkably hard to achieve; neither is a complex subject. The biggest challenge might be overcoming the opposition of groups threatened by the prospect of society making decisions based on reason and not emotion.

After all, groups wishing to maintain power probably find more success with emotional arguments than facts and logic. A case in point is the 2012 Republican Party of Texas platform states on page 12, “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”[1] Challenging one’s “fixed beliefs” is that the core of critical thinking.

In terms of governing, imagine the changes that would occur if people critically evaluated the political statements of politicians on both sides of the aisle. The news cycle would be much less exciting and entertaining but things might actually get done.

At the risk of extreme oversimplification here are my top ten elements of critical thinking and my top ten logical fallacies. Maybe I’ve missed the point entirely – decide for yourself!

Top ten characteristics of critical thinking

  1. Opinions are based on reason rather than emotion.
  2. Acceptance that in order to overcome bias, it first must be recognized in one’s self as well as others.
  3. Willingness to change or abandon any belief and accept another that is supported by more evidence.
  4. Skepticism of any position or statement including your own,
  5. Appreciation that ambiguity is more common that veracity.
  6. Recognition that there are many perspectives on most issues and no one issue is intrinsically more correct than the others.
  7. Recognition that respecting authority and questioning authority are not mutually exclusive
  8. Acceptance that no question has one absolute answer.
  9. Recognition the complexity and interrelationships among opinions and ideas that precludes black and white opinions.
  10. Recognition that understanding issues requires persistence and constant re-evaluation

Top ten logical fallacies

  1. Appeal to Antiquity – People have been eating meat forever so it must not be bad for you.
  2. Argument from authority – My cardiologist has saved many lives and says Obamacare will bankrupt the country so it must be true.
  3. Bandwagon Fallacy – What do you mean you don’t like Fox news, it’s all we watch here.
  4. Argumentum ad Populum – The majority of Americans think racial profiling is acceptable so there must not be anything wrong with it.
  5. Argumentum ad Nauseum – All the blogs have been saying the same thing for the last month so it has to be true.
  6. False Analogy – The government is like a business therefore it should make a profit.
  7. False Dichotomy – We either have to eliminate Obamacare or we’ll never balance the budget.
  8. Non-Sequitur – All Republicans are conservatives therefore video games cause violence.
  9. Slippery Slope – There can’t be any restrictions on guns otherwise the government will take them all away.
  10. Post hoc ergo propter hoc – I had acupuncture and my headache went away so acupuncture must work.
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3 thoughts on “The Other National Deficit – Critical Thinking

  1. Re: “Willingness to change or abandon any belief and accept another that is supported by more evidence” You should also consider the quality of the evidence.

    “Acceptance that no question has one absolute answer.” There are plenty of questions that have one absolute answer. For example, What’s two plus two?

    • Excellent points. There are far fewer absolute answers than many people believe, but they do exist. Most math equations produce absolute answers even if those solutions form part of a belief that is not absolute (i.e. Absolute crime stats versus what those might mean to various policing issues). I discussed this in a blog of my own (at duncanbooks.com/the truth is the truth, relatively speaking). As I wrote there, to say there are no absolute answers would itself be absolute (and self-contradictory).

      Overall, though, this post is very good, at least in my opinion. The author displays the most important aspect of CT: intellectual humility; ‘just my opinion, I could be wrong’.

  2. I find that the last five (#6-10) out of the top ten logical fallacies –
    False Analogy, False Dichotomy, Non-Sequitur, Slippery Slope and Post hoc ergo propter hoc – are most commonly abused. Interestingly, # 7 of the top ten characteristics of critical thinking – – “Recognition that respecting authority and questioning authority are not mutually exclusive” – appears to correspond to the # 7 logical fallacy – false dichotomy. It’s the same “logic” as, “you’re either with us or against us”. Btw, 2+2=4 is an absolute answer unless you start looking at it from the theory of relativity perspective…

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