Critical Thinking: A Brief Introduction

Critical thinking isn’t the same as having a penchant for debating and criticizing people. Critical thinking has its origin in the field of philosophy, but it can also be expanded into other fields of study or be applied into our daily routines.

The simplest definition of critical thinking can be found in this particular journal. You can read it if you want to know more about it.

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe.

Let’s just dive into some examples to get a clear hold of it.

Imagine the following conversation:

In one evening, at 6 p.m., two friends were having a conversation.

A: Slamet won’t be coming to tonight’s party.

B: Why?

Based on B’s question regarding why Slamet will not be coming to the party, A can answer in three different ways.

1. A: I don’t like Slamet. His jokes are sometimes inappropriate.

2. A: Slamet is self-conscious. He doesn’t like being in a crowd.

3. A: Slamet is currently in Germany.

Before we get into it, these three answers can be considered as arguments. An argument is a set of reasonings that are used to support the next reasoning (for example, a conclusion).

So the question is, which of those three answers are good arguments?

To avoid misunderstanding, what I mean by good and bad arguments here isn’t based on morals, ethics, religions, or social norms. A good argument is one that can support a conclusion, while a bad argument is one that is unable to support either a conclusion or the next reasoning.

In other words, a good argument must have a premise that can, with high probability, turn a conclusion into an accurate fact.

Based on this definition, there’s only one answer that can be considered as a bad argument, which is the first answer.

The reason is that the first answer doesn’t give any explanation regarding why Slamet isn’t coming to the party. There is an exception, though, if previously there was also additional information which states that A is the one throwing the party and that he has invited all guests who are present.

On the contrary, the second and third answer can be considered as a good argument because each of them can rationalize Slamet’s absence at the party.

Let’s take the second answer as an example. If A’s argument about Slamet is right, that Slamet is a shy person and that he hates crowds, there’s a possibility that Slamet won’t be coming to the party since a party is often associated with crowds.

For the third answer, if A’s reasoning about Slamet being in Germany is true, there is every likelihood that he won’t have enough time to fly back from Germany in order to join the party.

Nevertheless, there’s a stark difference between the second and third answer. Let’s examine it further.

In the second answer, if the premises that state Slamet is self-conscious and that he hates crowds are accurate, those two premises don’t guarantee that the conclusion will certainly happen.

The reason is, although Slamet is a shy person, there’s still a chance that he overcomes his self-consciousness and decides to attend the party. This type of argument is called an ampliative argument.

Ampliative Argument: Any argument that is not deductively valid, or deductively invalid, is called an ampliative argument. The term refers to the fact that the conclusion of such argument goes beyond, or amplifies upon, the premises.

Whereas for the third answer, if the premise which states that Slamet is still in Germany is correct, therefore it can be guaranteed that Slamet won’t be able to attend the party – because a trip from Germany to Indonesia takes 13 hours on average, except maybe if you could teleport like Son Goku.

An argument with a premise that can vouch for the accuracy of the conclusion is called a deductive argument.

I suppose you would agree with me if I say that deductive arguments are better than ampliative ones. So, we can both get in the habit of thinking and seeking deductive arguments before we do or believe in something.

Ultimately, as I’ve written in the title, this article is merely a basic introduction that hopefully can set off your curiosity in delving deeper into critical thinking. Maybe next time I will go into more details about critical thinking.

Jakarta, November 11, 2016

Yabes Elia

Translated by Glenn Kaonang

Yabes Elia

Yabes Elia

An empath, a jolly writer, a patient reader & listener, a data observer, and a stoic mentor

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