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I am a freshmen taking an 'Effective/Logical Reasoning' course as an elective. Admittedly, I thought it would be something I could understand easily, but I soon found that this is not something I can grasp easily.

Is there a way I can improve my critical thinking skills? Most times, I would be clueless during my lessons (for supposedly simple questions). It seems like my mind just can't think like how the module requires... and I honestly feel so disappointed in myself. What is critical thinking, and what is its relation to IQ? Can it be learned?

Some example questions:

If all observed ravens are black, then ravens are black.
All observed ravens are black.

Which of the following combinations are true?
1. it follows deductively that all ravens are black or the sky is blue
2. It follows deductively that all ravens are black and the grass is green
3. It follows deductively that all ravens are black
4. It can never constitute the premise set of a sound argument

A. 1, 3
B. 2, 3
C. Only 3
D. Only 4


Dr Peter is an interesting lecturer because he scored 4.5 out of 5 on the 'ability to inspire interest in the module' and has accumulated many praises and a few criticism in this respect in his anonymous formal teaching feedback over the past 5 years.

Which of the following statements best describes this set of statements?
A. This is a non-evidential persuasion technique that appeals to compassion
B. This is testimonial evidence
C. This is a sound argument
D. This is not an appeal to human inclinations to imitate successful people

I know the definition of a deductive argument, and a sound argument, but somehow when I get such questions, I don't know how to link everything together. And I am also having difficulties analyzing case studies/questions like the way I'm meant to in this module. Or will I never get this?

  • Intelligence is multi faceted and 'logical' reasoning is only a small part. Your IQ is fine. - As for learning critical reasoning: If you are mathematically minded, you may find it helpful to learn some basic Formal logic and try to compare the formal structures in both. Another approach would be to study fallacies: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy – christo183 Oct 23 '19 at 5:48
  • I have no useful comment but I'm intrigued. In the first example I do not understand how an 'If-then' statement can be a premise since it is an argument. So I'd say none of the four given answers are correct. . , – user20253 Oct 23 '19 at 10:25
  • imvho failures in 'critical thinking' often come down to failure of reading comoprehension. take for example your two questions. in the first both one and three are true, dependent on whether 'or' means alternatively, or the logical operator 'or' -- meaning one or other has to be true for the sentence to be. liekwise, i would call the second question "testimonial evidence" -- but it raises questions as to if being an interesting teacher need be about character or qualification. the phrase 'critical theory' can be broader still, and include reasoning about ideology. i.e. includes many skills – user38026 Oct 25 '19 at 8:06
  • anyway, cognitively speaking it requires language facility, and an ability either to hold lots of information in the head at one time, so called short term memory, or an ability to break down that tasks so that your short term memory can cope – user38026 Oct 25 '19 at 8:09
  • also --and someone may correct me -- answering your questions may include some "critical" philosophy, that it's not analytically true that the grass is green, and that we don't just know what is intimidating to successful people – user38026 Oct 25 '19 at 8:34
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Welcome, Iva

I think the best help will come from texts on critical thinking. I suggest any of the following:

Colin Swatridge, Oxford Guide to Effective Argument and Critical Thinking (Oxford Guides). ISBN 10: 0199671729 / ISBN 13: 9780199671724.

Kemp, Gary, Bowell, Tracey, Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide. Published by Routledge, 2005. ISBN 10: 0415343135 / ISBN 13: 9780415343138.

Jill LeBlanc, Thinking Clearly: A Guide to Critical Reasoning. Published by W. W. Norton & Company 1998-09-21, 1998. ISBN 10: 0393972186 / ISBN 13: 9780393972184.

Roy van den Brink-Budgen: Critical Thinking for Students: How to Assess Arguments and Effectively Present Your Own. Published by How to Books Ltd (1999). ISBN 10: 1857034481 / ISBN 13: 9781857034486.

Critical thinking extends beyond formal logic but also includes it. It also handles logic usually through informal texts and not in the austerely abstract way preferred (for good reason) by traditional logic textbooks.

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First, allow me to point out that critical thinking is not so much learned as it is developed. There's an analogy here to the physical body. Newborn infants have (more-or-less) the same muscular and skeletal components as full-grown adults, but the muscles and skeletons of adults have changed over time in response to all sorts of factors — diet, hormones, exercise, skills, practices, etc - so that both the internal composition of the tissues and the collective organization of the body are markedly different. If you train your fingers you can become a touch-typist or a guitarist; if you lift weights you will create larger, more efficient muscles; if you run distance your body will organize for endurance and oxygen consumption. Likewise a mind will develop both naturally over time and in response to the particular ways in which you use and exercise it. We learn to think critically in much the same way we learn to ride a bike, as an organic extension of our natural abilities, not as a 'thing' separate from ourselves.

As to what critical thinking is...

I usually like to explain critical thinking in terms of Jean Piaget's work. Piaget thought there were two important aspects to the development of thinking:

  • Conservation: the ability to mentally hold some property constant as other things vary.
  • Reversibility: the ability to mentally 'undo' an action or effect to consider variations in causality.

So for instance, young children often think that people who are far away are actually tiny, because they look tiny. They haven't yet learned to conserve 'size': to hold 'size' (mentally) constant and account for the perceptual difference in terms of distance. Likewise, young children can understand (after the fact) that they broke a lamp by throwing something. But they often have a hard time making the logical connection that the lamp would not have broken if they had not thrown something. In a sense, conservation and reversibility are needed to overcome the immediate and overwhelming perceptual reality: that people are tiny, or the lamp is broken, because that's how it appears.

Now, this particular practice can be extended almost indefinitely. For example, if we consider an abstract concept like 'democracy', it's obvious that a lot of people simple take it for granted as an appearance. They say things like "We live in a democracy" or "the US is the greatest democracy in the world" and present those claims as mere given facts. But to think critically about such an abstract concept, we have to stop and wonder what qualities must be conserved for something to be a democracy: Liberty? Voting rights? Opportunity? Freedom of speech? And we have to be able to reverse the idea; to consider that (perhaps) the US might not be a democracy, and to reason it back and forth until we can make an informed decision. Most every subject you will run across on a college level will demand critical thinking, and the farther you go into any subject, the deeper and more abstract that critical thinking will need to be. But it's not a gun you can jump; you will just naturally grow into it as you study.

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  • I upvoted because I like the distinction between learning and development. I'd be interested if you could briefly compare and contrast them. Is development in your usage merely a physical metaphor for a mental process, etc? – J D Oct 25 '19 at 22:43
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    @JD — roughly put, one learns facts, but one develops understandings. I like to think of this in Wittgensteinian terms, where learning the rules of a game does not in-and-of-itself convey an understanding of the strategy of the game; that is a separate process. – Ted Wrigley Oct 25 '19 at 23:51
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    Of course, this is complicated by the fact that development is largely invisible to the person developing. They don't understand something, then something shifts in their head and suddenly they do understand it, and from that moment on they can't really see why they didn't understand previously. We are always in our own zone of proximal development... – Ted Wrigley Oct 25 '19 at 23:54
  • As a former educator, I like the Vygotskian reference, and you're absolutely right; now I see. As common sense is largely constantly refined by intuitions which originate in prelinguistic associations, understanding, which is grounded in our embodied experience, does literally grow as the neural matter we have builds connections that are by far and large below conscious, and thus, rational introspection, and so understanding supersedes factual discourse (whatever empirical and rational blend) because it undergirds it. You are a clever man. Thanks for the 411! – J D Oct 26 '19 at 0:01
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Welcome, Iva. Thinking critically is no easy task, and there are plenty of resources out there to help you along. What anyone needs to do is develop some strategies for inculcating a set of skills, because critical thinking is a skill, and it is somewhat independent of IQ. There are also impediments to critical thought such as bias, deception, fallacy, illusion, and confabulation. The first step to improving critical thinking is read the WP articles above, and then moving on.

Also know, you are not alone. See related SE Posts:

How can I develop my critical thinking skills?
What is insight and can we develop it?
Rigorous, modern introductions to informal reasoning and critical thinking?

Having spent much time in conversation with Mensans, I can tell you that critical thinking is a skill that you'll find more among philosophers and mathematicians and engineers generally, because to some extent, critical thought is a product of an attitude more than a capacity. According to the American Bar Association, the best thinkers are:

1) Physics/math majors, with an average LSAT of 160.
2 and 3) Tied for second place, economics majors and philosophy/theology majors, with an average LSAT of 157.4.
4) International relations majors, with an average LSAT of 156.5.
5) Engineering majors, with an average LSAT of 156.2.

Of these majors, physicists, mathematicians, economists, and engineers are all students of an extensive amount of mathematics and logic, and philosophers receive formal training in logic, so it's a good bet that improving your logical and mathematical skills will help. In fact, at the university level, mathematics is essentially an exercise in logic. Majors in international relations, theologians, and philosophers are all engaged in practices which are highly logic-oriented.

It is not unreasonable to presume, then that math and philosophy are two excellent ways to improve logical skills and critical thinking ability, and it is an ability that can be improved. How? Studying and interacting with others, like you have done here.

As for your sample question, right away, a philosophy major would know that this problem is a logical problem referring to induction, deduction, and abduction, all forms of inference which is a skill used in argumentation. Once a student explores this topic, suddenly she is confronted with questions like what is meaning? How do syntax and semantics relate? What is truth? What is there really? How do I know that what I believe is true? (The last two questions are very important in critical thinking and are related to ontology and epistemology.)

In fact, your logic class is typical fare for philosophers:

Which of the following combinations are true?
1. it follows deductively that all ravens are black or the sky is blue
2. It follows deductively that all ravens are black and the grass is green
3. It follows deductively that all ravens are black
4. It can never constitute the premise set of a sound argument
*
A. 1, 3
B. 2, 3
C. Only 3
D. Only 4

This question is pulled from the musing of Carl Hempel and is known as the Raven Paradox, and presumes you have knowledge of deduction and propositional logic including the knowledge of modus ponens and logical conjunction. In fact, your problem can be seen as:

If P then Q, and P So which of the following is true? 1. P or R 2. P and S 3. P

Therefore having a high IQ might help a thinker to intuit the rules, but for most, this is a matter of learning.

For anyone who is struggling with critical thinking and aspires to improve, it is often a question of persistence and education. Unless one has dyscalculia, IQ is most likely to determine the effort and speed one can acquire critical thinking skills, not determine if one can.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. - Lao Tzu

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To answer this question " What is Critical Thinking, and How does one go about learning it?." We should ask some questions and take into account some notes.

We may ask:

  • Is the Critical Thinking Philosophical Thinking?, i.e: Critical Thinker=Philosopher.

  • Could we learn Philosophy and become Philosophers, namely: real philosophers?.

  • Could we consider the person who could be affected by Propaganda and the like, Conscious?.

  • What is the elements of Consciousness?.

  • Is it possible that a person from childhood is critical thinker?, i.e: critical thinker since age 8 years old.

  • To what extent IQ affects The Critical Thinking?.

  • Since Consciousness of human beings is composed of Intellect and Emotions, So we should control Intellect and Emotions, i.e: increase the positives and decrease the negatives.

From all of the above we conclude that:

  • Mostly Critical Thinker=philosopher.

  • We can learn Critical Thinking.

  • Controlling emotions is very important: no bias, not to be affected by propaganda.

  • Increasing our IQ, Since IQ is very important also.

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