Critical thinking is aimed at deciding what to believe or do. We think critically whenever we try to decide what some evidence shows, whenever we assess or evaluate what someone else believes or is arguing, and whenever we try to present our own reasons for believing something. Keeping these three kinds of questions in mind can help us to organize our thinking. As we read or listen to someone develop their reasons for believing something, we should be asking these three kinds of questions.
a. Questions about meaning
Knowing how to reflect critically on meaning is fundamental to critical thinking. Before we decide what to believe or what to do, we need to make sure that we have clearly defined the words and concepts that we use to formulate the statements that we are assessing, to describe the proposals we are considering, and to frame the problems we are facing or the solutions we are contemplating. Otherwise, we run the real risk that we'll end up believing something we shouldn't , doing something that won' t succeed, or failing to solve the problems we tackle.
- What is the claim being defended, or the course of action being proposed?
- What are the claim's key words and what do they mean?
- Can we provide examples to illustrate them and can we identify some contrasting concepts?
- What is the framework within which this claim or proposal is being raised?What are some alternative or contrasting frameworks?
b. Questions about truth
- Some questions about truth are about the acceptability of premises. What are the sources of the information in the premises? Are those sources reliable? What objections to the truth of those premises are there, and how are they to be addressed?
- Some questions about truth are about the sufficiency of premises. What forms of reasoning are in use? Would those premises constitute a valid argument for the conclusion? What conclusions could be validly drawn from those premises?
- Some questions about truth are about alternatives. What other views on this subject are there? What are the strongest reasons in their favor? What are the strongest objections to them?
c. Questions about value
- Why is it important to perform this study?
- What is the context that makes this study important or interesting?
- Would the answers to these questions impact or influence studies in other disciplines?
- How does this conclusion fit into the author's broader argument?
Hunter, David A. 2014. A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking: Deciding What to Do and Believe, Second Edition. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.