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Chapter 1 Summary

  • Critical thinking is the systematic evaluation or formulation of beliefs, or statements, by rational standards. Critical thinking is systematic because it involves distinct procedures and methods. It entails evaluation and formulation because it’s used to both assess existing beliefs (yours or someone else’s) and devise new ones. And it operates according to reasonable standards in that beliefs are judged according to the reasons and reasoning that support them.

Why It Matters

  • Critical thinking matters because our lives are defined by our actions and choices, and our actions and choices are guided by our thinking. Critical thinking helps guide us toward beliefs that are worthy of acceptance, that can us help be successful in life, however we define success.
  • A consequence of not thinking critically is a loss of personal freedom. If you passively accept beliefs that have been handed to you by your family and your culture, then those beliefs are not really yours. If they are not really yours, and you let them guide your choices and actions, then they¾not you¾are in charge of your life. Your beliefs are yours only if you critically examine them for yourself to see if they are supported by good reasons.
  • Critical thinking does not necessarily lead to cynicism. It can complement our feelings by helping us sort them out. And it doesn’t limit creativity¾it helps perfect it.

How It Works

  • Critical thinking is a rational, systematic process that we apply to beliefs of all kinds. Belief is another word for statement, or claim. A statement is an assertion that something is or is not the case. When you’re engaged in critical thinking, you are mostly either evaluating a statement or trying to formulate one. In both cases your primary task is to figure out how strongly to believe the statement (based on how likely it is to be true). The strength of your belief will depend on the strength of the reasons in favor of the statement.
  • In critical thinking an argument is not a feud but a set of statements—statements supposedly providing reasons for accepting another statement. The statements given in support of another statement are called the premises. The statement that the premises are used to support is called the conclusion. An argument then is a group of statements in which some of them (the premises) are intended to support another of them (the conclusion).
  • Being able to identify arguments is an important skill on which many other critical thinking skills are based. The task is made easier by indicator words that frequently accompany arguments and signal that a premise or conclusion is present. Premise indicators include for, since, and because. Conclusion indicators include so, therefore, and thus.
  • Arguments almost never appear neatly labeled for identification. They usually come imbedded in a lot of statements that are not part of the arguments. Arguments can be complex and lengthy. Your main challenge is to identify the conclusion and premises without getting lost in all the other verbiage.