Critical thinking to me is a useful tool because it allows someone to deduce and interpret scenarios and the world around them. So much relies on making the right choices. From going to a good school to picking a worthwhile major, to who to marry. Everything happens in accordance to how one reacts and does things.
Critical thinking enables a more effective thought process. It promotes asking questions and a desire to see the “whole picture.” If one does not try to see things from a varied perspective, one misses what the actual meaning behind something is since subjectivity differs from reality. Various authors like Bedau and Barnet, Chaffee, McMahon and Stout, and Facione will highlight what critical thinking is to them and how one may apply critical thinking to their own contemplations and writing. I define critical thinking as a means of connecting and interpreting thoughts and concepts.
Subjective experiences are inherent in people. I see things from my own unique perspective. If I did not see things from this perspective, I would not have a sense of self or individuality. However, things must always be examined from more than just one lens. When someone thinks critically of something, one opens up the avenue of interpretation across various areas and pathways. It is as if numerous branches that split and merge to lead someone to the truth or the important aspect interconnect the world.
By examining critical thinking not just from a personal view, but also through other’s perspective, I can get a better idea of what critical thinking entails and how I can use critical thinking in everyday life. Definitions change over time. The core meaning never does, but the definitions change. Therefore, grasping a definition from multiple avenues ensures comprehension and most importantly, connection.
Bedau and Barnet’s first section, roughly 152 pages, represents a short course in argumentative writing and reading. The first two chapters handle critical thinking and reading, attempting to dissect and understand things in a deeper level. They used early on the example of a legal case. Legal cases are cut and dry in that someone is guilty or not guilty. (Barnet and Bedau 6) When defense wins, the court drops all charges. When prosecution wins, the court charges the accused.
However, life is not like a courtroom. Life allows room for compromise. It is not consisting of an all or nothing, black or white definition. Because of this, it then becomes important to understand thoroughly the possibility of various avenues and alternatives to choose from to see more than what appears. When people write stories, they tend to write from a good vs. evil mindset. Great writers understand that characters are not so simple. The extra layer of complexity represented by the grey area promotes readers to desire to see more and analyze things.
Barnet and Bedau also highlight getting started writing. Writer’s block is a real thing that many people experience. Sometimes people just cannot form the right thoughts and become afraid of failure. They suggest writing anything down on paper to get things moving. Even if ideas seem disconnected and disjointed, eventually they will make sense.
Another aspect of critical thinking is connecting ideas together that seemingly had no connections to begin with. When writing essays, for example, it may seem difficult to write about socks and football. However, if one attempts to make the connections as athletes tend to develop foot fungus because of sweaty socks, one can make the associations needed to form a viable essay. It all rests on doing it and going through the motions in order to achieve the end goal.
Another important aspect of critical thinking Barnet and Bedau highlight is assessment or evaluation. They used the example of a law passed in West Virginia in 1989 that made school dropouts younger than 18 unable to hold a license. This invited contemplation over whether the law was fair or if it deterred teens from dropping out. The same reasoning can be used for current laws like Obamacare. People criticize it for increasing healthcare spending. However, if it was removed, then the American government will lose billions of dollars and millions of people will be uninsured.
There is a give and take process with critical thinking that is often hard to do. People want things to have simple answers but when they evaluate a topic or an action, they see that nothing is simple and everything leads to something else. When a person finds an answer to question, there is another question to replace it. Compromise as earlier said remains the key part of critical thinking. One takes and rejects parts of things in order to come up with a viable conclusion and solution.
Interpretation leads to various ways to interpret something, especially something that is abstract or lends more to subjective meaning. Facione defines critical thinking through a thought experiment.
Imagine you have been invited to a movie by a friend. But it’s not a movie you want to see. So, your friend asks you why. You give your honest reason. The movie offends your sense of decency. Your friend asks you to clarify your reason by explaining what bothers you about the film. You reply that it is not the language used or the sexuality portrayed, but you find the violence in the film offensive. Sure, that should be a good enough answer. But suppose your friend, perhaps being a bit philosophically inclined or simply curious or argumentative, pursues the matter further by asking you to define what you mean by “offensive violence.” (Facione 2)
He then asks the readers to define offensive violence. I personally think of offensive violence as something that generates fear and disgust when I see it. For example, when a man beats his wife. That kind of violence offends me. However, when I see a soldier fighting for his country, that violence does not offend me. Then I think what makes one form of violence okay and not the other?
To me, necessary violence is not offensive. If you have fight for your country or fight someone attacking you, that is not offensive. However, unnecessary violence is offensive. Bullying someone, abusing someone, hitting an innocent bystander, these things offend me because these typically do not want to fight and are just being mistreated. When someone commits violence for the enjoyment of it that is even more disturbing and offensive.
This is how Facione enables someone to understand critical thinking. He gives an example that someone can easily define on their own and then invites the reader to apply that kind of reasoning to defining critical thinking. Critical thinking gives a label to one’s thought processes. It promotes effective communication with others because one has the information with which to explain something.
When someone says ice cream does not taste good, and someone asks them why and they respond with “because it doesn’t taste good,” that shows the lack of critical thinking that individual has. However, when someone asks that question and the person responds with “I don’t like ice cream because it bloats me and I don’t want to gain weight from eating it,” that provides the person asking the question with enough information to draw a conclusion. Effective writing is a part of effective communication and critical thinking helps with that.
Chaffee gives various scenarios to help readers understand critical thinking and apply it to their writing. One such example is “Trapped in an Arms Race” where he explains the arms race between drug testers and drug takers. “Those who stand to benefit most from cheating will always be more creative than those enforcing the rules, unless the latter have equivalent incentives” (Chaffee, McMahon and Stout 148) Looking at recent history of baseball stars who later tested positives for steroids, it is easy to see how true it rings. Necessity breeds creativity. If people are desperate enough for success and resources, they will think of ways to evade the negative ramifications of being caught by finding ways to remain innocent.
Critical thinking helps me understand the how and why behind sports stars and their pursuit of greatness through steroids. Money is a game changer for many and some sports stars that used steroids in order to become great realized the benefits outweighed the risk. Even though they were caught eventually, they became famous, made a lot of money, and enjoyed a long career. People do risky things and sometimes it does not pay off. However, for these baseball stars, it did.
In conclusion, it is hard to define abstract concepts and even harder to describe these concepts in a way that is not abstract. However, critical thinking enables one to define something by reaching and drawing from various sources. Some of these sources could be experienced, while others could be observed. In the end, everything critical thinking represents allows for a deeper understanding and interpretation of the world and the people in it.
Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Adam Bedau. Current Issues And Enduring Questions. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. Print.
Chaffee, John, Christine McMahon, and Barbara Stout. Critical Thinking, Thoughtful Writing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999. Print.
Facione, Peter A. Critical Thinking. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press, 1998. Print.
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