Asking the right questions — a guide to critical thinking, 11th, Browne, 2013
1 the benefit and manner of asking the right questions
Critical thinking is not needed in such a world:
- We are allowed to make independent decision about religion, politics, and what we will and will not buy or believe.
- Anyone trying to persuade us will always explain the disadvantage of what he or she wants us to do.
- We can always quickly find a dependable expert when we are confused about one of the life’s important questions.
- our minds are calm, engaged, reflective, and curious whenever faced with an important choice.
In the real world, we are assaulted on all sides by others who insist that we must do what they tell us we should do. They claim to possess a truth that we must accept. They say they want to help us. They will not leave us alone to form our own understanding of who we should become.
They tell us half-truths at best.
They often sound as if they know far more than they do. They sound certain about what they claim to be true. They give you what you want to hear.
- fast thinking: typically controlled by emotions
- slow thinking: rational analysis
Critical thinking is about the critical questions in 3 dimensions:
- ability to ask and answer
- desire to actively use
Asking these critical questions is not just something you study in a book, it become part of who you are.
2 ways of thinking styles:
- sponge: absorb everything
- panning-for-gold: active interaction with knowledge, ask frequent questions and reflect on the answers
2 senses of critical thinking:
- weak-sense: defend your current beliefs
- evaluate all claims and beliefs, especially your own
You are entitled to your opinion and you quite understandably feel protective of them.
Critical thinking is not a solo practice, it is a social activity. So we need to consider how other people are likely to react to us. Many people are not eager to have their thinking questioned; often, they experience questioning as annoying and unfriendly.
argument = conclusion + reasons
How to keep the conversation going:
- make it clear to other people you want to learn
- give them assurances that you wish them well and any disagreement need not result in a verbal bloodbath.
- try to clarify your understanding of what the other person intends
- ask if there is any evidence that would cause them to change his mind
- try to present a model of caring and calm curiosity. As verbal heat turns up, remind yourselves that you are learners, not warriors
- make certain that your face and body suggest humility, rather than the demeanor of a know-it-all.
- create an environment that welcomes discussion and question-asking.
2 speed bumps interfering with your critical thinking
Being on the receiving end of critical questions, he may feel uncomfortable or even threatened. As a result, he may become angry or refuse to continue talking. Just become you see asking these questions are important to you and others doesn’t mean he sees the activity in a similar way.
Be aware of how our questions affect the people. If critical thinkers are not careful, they can damage or lose relationships due to the discomfort of those around them.
stereotypes get in the way of critical thinking because they attempt to short-circuit the difficult process of evaluation. As critical thinkers, we want to model curiosity and opens; stereotypes cut us off from careful consideration of what others are saying.
Halo effect: our tendency to associate a specific trait or quality with everything about that person.
belief perseverance: We enter all conversations with a huge amount of baggage. Your beliefs are valuable because they are yours. You have invested a lot of yourself in making those opinions part of who you are.
confirmation bias: our tendency to see only that evidence that confirms what we already believe as being good evidence. Our biggest bias may be that We are not biased, but those with whom we disagree are.
strong-sense critical thinking requires the recognition that judgments are tentative or contextual. We can never permit ourselves to be so sure of anything that we stop searching for an improved version.
availability heuristic: we naturally rely on the information we posses, instead of information we need to make a better decision.
recency effect: what’s immediately available as a basis for our thinking is often the most recent piece of information we have encountered.
egocentrism: we focus on what we know and what we know how to do that we often forget our audience.
wishful thinking: What we wish to be true, we simply declare is true. wishful thinking has staying power because of the frequency of our denial patterns. Quite unconsciously, we fight with the facts, trying to reinforce visions of the world that are rosy beyond the bounds of reality. magical thinking: somebody or some new ideas will make everything wonderful. We believe them not because of any evidence for their claim, but because we so much want to believe them.
All humans are born equal. This is a wishful thinking.
3 What are the issue and the conclusion
An issue is a question or controversy responsible for the conversation or discussion. It is the stimulus for what is being said.
- descriptive issue: those that raise questions about the accuracy of descriptions of the past, present, or future
- prescriptive issue: those that raise a question about what we should do or what is right or wrong, good or bad.
- When you identifying the issue, try to resist the idea that there is one and only one correct way to state the issue.
A conclusion is the message that the speaker or writer wishes you to accept. Conclusions are inferred and derived from reasoning. They are ideas that require other ideas to support them. Unsupported claims are mere opinions.
A fuzzy idea is about all you have. When we write or speak, we often think our meaning is crystal clear. Unfortunately, our audiences can’t hear our inner thoughts and our many hidden beliefs. They do not know our values or backgrounds. One of the greatest barriers to critical thinking is a failure to bridge the communication gap.
One quality that distinguishes mature writers from developing writers is the presence of a clear precise issue. If you dump a bunch of issues into a 5-page writting assignment, you may have tried to do too much.
Making your conclusion easily identifiable not only makes a reader’s task easier, but may also improve the logic of your writing. We should make a special effort to organize our thoughts and express them as explicitly as possible.
4 what are the reasons?
Reasons are beliefs, evidence, metaphors, analogies, and other statements offered to support or justify conclusions. They are the statements that form the basis for creating the credibility of a conclusion.
- You can’t determine the worth of a conclusion until you identify the reasons.
- reasons are explanations or rationales for why we should believe a particular conclusion
- evidence include the facts, research findings, examples from real life, statistics, appeals to experts and authorities, personal testimonials, and analogies. Different kinds of evidence are more appropriate in some situations than in others.
- There are many techniques to construct a reasoning structure. If some other technique works better for you, by all means use it.
5 what words or phrases are ambiguous
2 wrong assumptions:
- assume you and the author mean the same thing. You need to begin your search by avoiding mind reading. You need to get into the habit of asking, “what do you mean by that?”
- assume that terms have a single, obvious meaning. Many terms do not. Always ask, “could any of the words or phrases have a different meaning?”
e.g. human rights:
- Norwegian government: rights to be employed, receive free health care, obtain adequate housing
- American senator: freedoms of speech, religion, travel,peaceful assembly
The two versions of human rights are not necessarily consistent.
3 different approaches of definition:
- specific criteria
Synonym and example fail to tell you the specific properties that are crucial for an unambiguous understanding of the term. Useful definitions are those that specify criteria for usage — the more specific, the better.
Terms that trigger strong emotional reactions are called loaded terms. Their ability to move us outweighs their descriptive meaning. Such terms make trouble for critical thinking because they short-ciucuit thought and trick the mind by directly contacting its emotional circuits while bypassing the descriptive meaning circuits. The persuaders are often aware that some words carry heavy emotional baggage and try to take advantage of these probable emotions.
limits of your responsibility to clarify ambiguity
We suggest you ignore any reason containing ambiguity that makes it impossible to judge the acceptability of the reason.
It’s your responsibility as an active learner to ask questions that clarify ambiguity. But your responsibility stops at that point. You are not required to react to unclear ideas or options.
6 what are the value and descriptive assumptions
Hidden or unstated beliefs may be at least as significant in understanding the argument. Try to dig out the idea that is taken for granted.
change in the behaviors of its citizen: collective responsibility vs individual responsibility.
If you had been more reflective, you would never have accepted something. Remember, the visible surface of an argument will almost always be dressed in its best clothes because the presenter tries to trick you feel you make your own argument.
The invisible beliefs of critical thinkers are autonomy, curiosity and reasonableness.
Value assumptions. We all own a list of many good values such as flexibility, cooperation, and honesty. Most values are on everyone’s list. What makes a difference is the relative intensity with which you hold specific values.
A value assumption is an implicit/unstated preference for one value over another in a particular context. We use value preference and value priorities as synonyms.
typical value conflicts:
- loyalty vs honesty
- competition vs cooperation
- freedom of press vs national security
- order vs freedom of speech
- rationality vs spontaneity
- care (democrats) vs authority (republican)
7 Are there any fallacies in the reasoning
A fallacy is a reasoning trick that an author might use while trying to persuade you to accept a conclusion:
- use erroneous or incorrect assumptions
- distract us by making information seem relevant to the conclusion when it is not
- a reason itself depends on the conclusion’s already being true.
- Ad Hominem: An attack on the person, rather than directly addressing the person’s reasons
- Slippery Slope: assume a single proposed step will set off an uncontrollable chain of undesirable events, when resistances exist to prevent such a chain of events.
- search for perfect solution: attack a solution because it doesn’t completely solve all the problems
- appeal to popularity: justify a claim by appealing to sentiments that large groups of people have in common; falsely assumes that anything favored by a large group is desirable.
- appeal to questionable authority: an authority not in that specific area.
- appeal to emotions: use emotionally loaded language to distract audience from relevant reasons and evidence. Common emotions appealed to are fear, hope, patriotism, pity and sympathy.
- straw person: distorting our opponent’s point of veiw so that it is easy to attack.
- Either-or: assume only 2 alternatives when there are more than 2.
- Explaining by naming/labeling: Explaining is a demanding work that often tests the boundaries of what we know. It is frequently tempting to hide our ignorance of a complex sequence of causes by labeling the behavior. This trick our mind that we know the phenomenon and the cause. Such explanations oversimplify and prevent us from seeking more insightful understanding.
- planning fallacy: underestimate how long they will need to complete a task
- glittering generality: use vague, emotionally appealing words to divert our attention too much to the nature of the person and too little to the legitimate reasons.
- red herring: use a seemingly relevant topic B to replace topic A
- begging the question: conclusion is assumed in the reasoning
8,9 How good is the evidence
Always keep in the back of your mind that no evidence will be a slam dunk that gets the job done conclusively. You are looking for better evidence not perfect evidence.
When people react to simple requests for evidence with anger or withdrawal, they usually do so because they are embarrassed as they realize that, without evidence, they should have been less assertive about their beliefs.
Major kind of evidence:
- intuition. Much intuition relies on unconscious processing that largely ignores relevant evidence and reflects strong biases. Use it with caution because it is private and others have no way to judge its dependability.
- personal experience. It is vivid in our memory but may lead to hasty generalization.
- case example. it has detailed catchy description, it is vivid and interesting. Because dramatic cases appeal to our emotions, they distract us from paying close attention to their value as evidence and from seeking other more relevant research evidence. The good thing is they demonstrate important possibilities and put a personal face on abstract statistics.
- testimonials. The problems are selectivity, personal interest, omitted information and human factor. It is not very helpful as evidence.
- appeal to authority. the primary source is better than the secondary source. Be careful that several factors can influence how evidence is reported: personal needs, prior expectations, general beliefs, attitudes, values, theories, and ideologies. We may check his track record.
- personal observation: we tend to see/hear what we wish to see/hear, selecting and remembering those aspects of an experience that are most consistent with our prior experience and background. And the accuracy can be affected by poor attention, rapid movement of events observed and stressful environments.
- research studies: research varied greatly in quality. Many claims never get retested. research finding do not prove conlusion but support conclusion at best. Researchers also have expectations, attitudes, values and emotions that bias the questions they ask and the way the conduct research. The need for financial gains, status, security and other factors can affect research outcomes and seleciton of which studies will be published. They have different definitional assumptions, different measures, ambiguous in the wording and gaming in surveys
- analogies. They both stimulate insights and deceive us. the relevance of the similarities and the differences.
10 are there vival causes
e.g. the cause of the increase in the depression rate among elementary children:
- prevalence of teasing among peer groups
- parental neglect
- too much TV news coverage of terrorism and wars
- lack of religion
A frequently made error is to look for a simple, single cause of an event. Actually, the cause is really the result of a combination of many contributory causes. It also varies for a particular individual.
we tend to see the cause of human behavior as coming from internal (their personal characteristics) rather than from external (situational forces).
Constructing the causes of past events largely relies on the memories of people but memories are often greatly distorted.
11 are the statistics deceptive
- Data and scope can be selective,
- mesurement method can be selective
- conclusion can be partial
12 what significant information is omitted
Almost any information that you encounter has a purpose: affect your thinking in some way to persuade you. It is wise to hesitate and to think about what the author may not have told you.
certainty of incomplete reasoning:
- time and space limitation
- most of us have a very limited attention span
- the knowledge possessed by the person making the argument will always be incomplete
- an outright attempt to deceive
- persuaders have different values and beliefs. They try to extinguish your curiosity and to encourage you to rely on unreasonable emotional responses to shape your choices.
The Bourne Ultimatum
It’s funny how different things look, depending on where you sit.
13 what reasonable conclusions are possible
very few important questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or an absolute “no”.
Dichotomous thinking: think in black or white.