Dedication To Critical Thinking
by Saye Taryor

In your constant search for knowledge, many claims will cross your path.  Critical thinking involves how you decide which claims to be true, false, or if you should suspend judgment on the claim.  Critical thinkers understand the difference between facts and opinions and are more likely to focus on a specific issue, as a result, coming to a most reasonable conclusion based on all the available information.     

Critical thinkers understand that biases usually control perception and judgment.  People overlook the negative actions of those they like and refuse to give the benefit of doubt to people they dislike.  If they want something to go well, they focus on its positives and if they want it to fail, they concentrate on its negatives.  CT’s understand this can lead to exaggerations and false characterizations of individuals. 

Critical thinkers understand the difference between matters of pure opinion vs opinions that can be evaluated based on factual matters.  If a person thinks Jam taste better then Jelly, it’s a matter of pure opinion.  On the other hand, if a person thinks he can run faster then his friend, it’s an opinion that can be put to the test.  When someone disputes a claim by saying, “everyone is entitled to their own opinion”, CT’s know that sometimes opinions are formed through misinformation and untested fact of matters.  CT’s understand that some opinions lack more reasoning and intelligence then others.    

Many people use “rhetoric”, or words and phrases, in a unique way to influences our beliefs and attitudes.  They do this without actually presenting why or how their claims are true.  Below is an example of rhetorical language.  Let’s say groups of people decide to hold a legal and peacefully demonstration, for something they feel passionate about.  In order to shed bad light on them someone may use the words, “radical trouble makers” instead of noting that the group peacefully demonstrated or just calling them demonstrators. Here’s another example.  A talk show host does a story called “Teenage drug use in America.”  What if the entire show is only based on the lives of young African Americans and the host ends the show stating that African Americans need to be self reliant and to focus on family?  Whether his statement is true or not, a viewer that is not a critical thinker will come away from the segment thinking that teenage drug use in America is mainly an African American issue, not understanding that all races are largely affected and that the presentation was bias or prejudicially presented. 

Critical thinkers understand “innuendo” and how it allows people to insinuate something negative about something or someone without actually saying it.  They also recognize “loaded questions” that revolve around unwarranted or unjustifiable assumptions.  When the assumption is not true, the question is loaded. 

Example: A young woman calls into a talk radio show to defend her position against death penalty and the host asks her how many abortions has she had. CT’s recognize how people sometimes use word like maybe, possibly and perhaps to water down their claims, just in case they are challenged.  Example: A reporter states that, “some may consider this to be a terrorist fist bump.”  The reporter is able to put the idea of a “terrorist fist bump” in the thoughts of his or her viewers without being held responsible for using an unnamed source for such a claim, especially when there has been no previous claim of such in the past.  CT’s recognize downplayers, horselaughs and hyperbole when they occur. 

Downplayer example: News spreads that the Republican Party has raised more money during the previous quarter then any other party in the history of campaigning, and that they have tripled the amount that the democrats raised.  In response, a democrat tells the public that the democratic party has raised more money then the republican party for the last three years, and that the republican party was due, to finally make more money. 

Horselaugh example: A female goes to her boss and tells him that she recognizes the fact that her male co-workers continue to make more then her despite the fact that she continues to bring in more revenue to the company then any of the other employees.  Her boss responds, “Ha, why do women always like to complain?”  “Weren’t you just in here yesterday complaining about the room temperature?”  The boss ignores the actual issue the woman has presented by laughing and using sarcasm of factual occurrences, to dismiss the valid claim presented. 

Hyperbole example: Someone states, “George Bush was the most actively involved president during the civil rights movement.”  Most people would assume that George Bush was actively involved in some fashion based on the claim.  They would only question if he were the most active.  CT’s would go one step further to investigate if George Bush was actively involved at all, during the civil rights movement.  They understand that some questions can be based on entire falsehoods. 

CT’s understand that people can be motivated to take positions on issues from language that plays on peoples pride, guilt, fear, loyalty and so on.  “Scare Tactics” and “Appeal to Anger and Indignation”. 

Scare Tactic example: “I know you usually vote democrat but your nominee supports socialized medicine.  If you don’t vote republican, America will turn into a communist nation and we will lose all our freedoms.”  The objective of this statement is to convince the listener, by fear, that they will lose their freedom if they vote for the democratic candidate.  The speaker provides no facts to support such a claim. 

Appeal to Anger and Indignation example: A man sits at his desk when a co-worker who wants his job enters his cubicle.  The co-worker says “Man, you work your butt off every day while your boss never is in the office.”  CT’s understand, just because the boss is not in the office does not mean he or she is not working.  The co-worker is only stirring up emotions without providing evidence for anyone to be upset.

Critical thinkers are able to distinguish the difference between claims about factual matters versus those that express moral values.  Words like right, wrong, ought and should are normally used to represent moral claims but can also be used for non-moral claims.  It is important to pay attention and recognize when individuals are not being consistent with their moral views. 

Example: A man goes around telling everyone that it is “never” right to kill innocent people.  When asked if it was wrong for his countries army to have killed innocent people in a recent air strike against terrorist, he retracts and says, “In that case, it’s an exception.” 

A second example of inconsistencies can be seen by the answers to the questions below. 

Example: (John) Is the killing of innocent people “ever” ok?

(David) No

(John) Was Americas use the atomic bomb just, despite the fact that it resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people?

(David's response) Yes.

Read "What Do You Think" Critical Thinking Booklet