The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines logic as “the science of reasoning, proof, thinking, or influence.” Critical thinking as described by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero, ‘is the process by which we test claims and arguments and determine which have merit and which do not.” (Beyond Feelings, 6) At one level, I think we all know what critical thinking means — it means good thinking as opposed to illogical, irrational thinking. Since critical thinking is not necessarily being “critical” and negative I think it would be appropriate or more accurate to call it evaluative thinking. The results of the evaluation can range from acceptance to rejection, positive, negative, or anything in between. As I understand it the essence of critical thinking is logic and that we use very little explicit logic in ordinary life. I understand that the basic principles of logic use in evaluating arguments are as follows: (1) Premises are either true or false (incorrect or correct); (2) Conclusions are either valid or invalid, (3) Correct premises plus valid reasoning equal a sound argument ,and lastly (3) An incorrect premise or invalid reasoning makes an argument unsound.
I think most of my thinking at the ordinary level is based on perception, language , and information. At the most there is one logic step: If this than that. I think most thinking takes place in the perceptual stage. These are the questions that arise, How much do I take in? and How do I look at things? This perception is based on habits of perceptions and what I hear, what I read and how I express myself. I understand that we do not need to use much explicit logic because we have already built the logic into our language. For example, killing is ‘bad’ unless justified by war or self-dense. I know that with investment decisions I followed what was recommended and what my friends were doing and then rationalized it with the following rationalization: Everyone does this and the stock rises for a while and when the market eventually gets a severe correction I rationalize that as well. This rationalization is based on information — not all-available information but a selection that fits what I was inclined to do anyway.
I think that logic can be used to reinforce perceptions (and prejudices) but logic and argument will not change perceptions. Perception is more than sensing, it is processing, reacting, and interpreting. Faith Bryne describes perception as, “detecting the nature of both outer and inner worlds. In many cases, it also means responding in some way, either consciously or unconsciously.” (Perception, 57) Perception is the way we look at things and I think processing is what we do with that perception. In my view if we take processing for granted then perception becomes even more important, because the way we look at a situation will determine what we can do about it.
The influences (family, teachers, religion, race, environment, and economic level) that have shaped or conditioned my identity by instilling values, beliefs, viewpoints or attitudes that I have accepted without challenge serves as a perceptual block. The situations in which I am less of an individual because of these influences occur when I refuse to understand someone else’s opinion or look for other points of view because of something I have been conditioned to believe is true. I am not very consistent in ensuring that my opinions are informed. Often times I have not taken careful consideration of the evidence and have treated opinions as facts especially if I have expressed it to the point that I have begun to believe it as truth. At times, in what matters most I am inclined to assume too much and take too much for granted. I feel the strongest urge to conform when someone is a positive role model and conforming to this type of behavior I believe adds value. However, a situation in which this conformist tendency has interfered with my judgment is following others because it seemed the lesser of two evils. All to often at the workplace this is how some decisions are made just to close an issue that ultimately will recycle.
I think I seek to confirm my biases rather than control them in seeking evidence that only confirms my bias and not questioning or seeking the opposing point of view. Additionally, I tend to jump or make hasty conclusions more often than I would like. This occurs more so in the area of personal relationships.
I have learned that there are some errors and bad habits that can lead to shallow or uncritical decisions instead of careful judgments. I have gained the most insight from the following errors and bad habits, which are: Ethnocentricity, Resistance to change (habits), Conformity, Face saving (ego), Rationalization, Stereotyping, Faulty common sense, Oversimplification, Hasty conclusions, and Unwarranted assumptions.
I think the real key to each the of errors and habits mentioned above is my being conscious of the tendency to do them and to get into the habit of applying and practicing the different ways or approaches to avoiding the blockers to critical thinking. This will be an ongoing process if I am to be in control of my own beliefs, and to somehow gain an understanding of the truth, then I must know what good reasoning is, and be aware of the ways in which my reasoning (and that of others) can go astray.
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When you are first faced with the task of writing a long essay or term paper it can be intimidating, but you make your job and the reader’s job much easier by following some basic rules of thumb. Of course, if your professors offer you any specific guidelines about writing be sure to follow those first. Otherwise, incorporate the advice that follows into your papers wherever appropriate.
Of course, papers should always be typed, double-spaced on 8-1/2 x 11 paper on one side of the page only, and letter-quality print or better is always expected. Often you are expected to supply a cover sheet giving the date, your name, the title of the paper, the class, and the professor’s name. Tables and figures should be numbered consecutively throughout the text, and if there are a good number of them, then separate lists of tables and figures at the beginning of the paper may be expected. Tables and figures should always have descriptive captions, and if they come directly from sources, the sources must be specifically credited in the captions with the same citation style that you use throughout the paper.
A paper’s title should be succinct and definitive, individual and informational. Clearly, the title "An Overview of the Hydraulic Fracturing of Methane-Bearing Coal Formations" is more complete, satisfying, and informative than "Hydraulic Fracturing." The title is important because it announces the paper’s specific content and typically serves as a pathway to the paper’s thesis.
Your introduction is your opportunity to be at your most individual. You should get your reader’s attention immediately by announcing the paper’s subject or by launching into a relevant scenario or narrative that informs or illustrates your overall argument. A paper illustrating the costly effects of poor mine design, for instance, might open with the scenario of how a poorly designed pillar at a salt mine in Louisiana once collapsed, fracturing the surface above and draining an entire lake into the mine. A paper on the supply and demand of nickel might begin by straightforwardly announcing that the paper will explain the uses of nickel, detail its market structure, and use data to forecast the future supply and demand of the metal.
In brief, a paper’s introduction should define and limit the paper’s scope and purpose, indicate some sense of organization, and, whenever possible, suggest an overall argument. Another important principle in technical writing is that the introduction should be problem-focused, giving the reader enough background so that the paper’s importance and relationship to key ideas are clear. A rule of thumb about the introduction’s length: about 5-10% of the entire paper.
As examples of how creative an introduction can be, here are the opening lines from a geography paper and a paper on optics, both of which use narrative technique to arouse our interest. Note how the first excerpt uses an "I" narrator comfortably while the second excerpt does not use "I" even though the writer is clearly reflective about the subject matter. The first excerpt is from a paper on the generic nature of America’s highway exit ramp services; the second is from a paper on shape constancy.
The observation struck me slowly, a growing sense of déjà vu. I was driving the endless miles of Interstate 70 crossing Kansas when I began to notice that the exits all looked the same. . . .
Our eyes often receive pictures of the world that are contrary to physical reality. A pencil in a glass of water miraculously bends; railroad tracks converge in the distance. . . .
Thesis Statement / Objective
Most papers have outright thesis statements or objectives. Normally you will not devote a separate section of the paper to this; in fact, often the thesis or objective is conveniently located either right at the beginning or right at the end of the Introduction. A good thesis statement fits only the paper in which it appears. Thesis statements usually forecast the paper’s content, present the paper’s fundamental hypothesis, or even suggest that the paper is an argument for a particular way of thinking about a topic. Avoid the purely mechanical act of writing statements like "The first topic covered in this paper is x. The second topic covered is y. The third topic is . . ." Instead, concretely announce the most important elements of your topic and suggest your fundamental approach—even point us toward the paper’s conclusion if you can.
Here are two carefully focused and thoughtfully worded thesis statements, both of which appeared at the ends of introductory paragraphs:
This paper reviews the problem of Pennsylvania’s dwindling landfill space, evaluates the success of recycling as a solution to this problem, and challenges the assumption that Pennsylvania will run out of landfill space by the year 2020.
As this paper will show, the fundamental problem behind the Arab-Israeli conflict is the lack of a workable solution to the third stage of partition, which greatly hinders the current negotiations for peace.
Body Paragraphs / Section Headings
Never simply label the middle bulk of the paper as "Body" and then lump a bunch of information into one big section. Instead, organize the body of your paper into sections by using an overarching principle that supports your thesis, even if that simply means presenting four different methods for solving some problem one method at a time. Normally you are allowed and encouraged to use section headings to help both yourself and the reader follow the flow of the paper. Always word your section headings clearly, and do not stray from the subject that you have identified within a section.
As examples, I offer two sets of section headings taken from essays. The first is from Dr. Craig Bohren’s "Understanding Colors in Nature" (1), which appeared in a 1990 edition of Earth & Mineral Sciences; the second is from a student’s paper on the supply and demand of asbestos.
Section Headings From "Understanding Colors In Nature"
- Color By Scattering: The Role of Particle Size
- Color By Scattering: The Positions of Source and Observer
- The Blue Sky: The Role of Multiple Scattering
- Color By Absorption in Multiple-Scattering Media
- Color by Absorption: Microscopic Mechanisms are Sometimes Elusive
Section Headings From "Asbestos: Supply and Demand"
- Industry Structure
- The Mining and Properties of Asbestos
- World Resources and Reserves
- Byproducts and Co-products
- Economic Factors and Supply and Demand Problems
- Uses of and Substitutes for Asbestos
- The Issue of Health on Supply and Demand
Just by considering the section headings in the above examples, we can begin to see the fundamental structures and directions of the essays, because both sets of headings break the paper topic into its natural parts and suggest some sort of a movement forward through a topic. Note how these headings—as all section headings should—tell us the story of the paper and are worded just as carefully as any title should be.
Most importantly, then, you must use your section headings in the same way that you use topic sentences or thesis statements: to control, limit, and organize your thinking for your reader’s sake.
Most papers use "Conclusion" as a heading for the final section of the text, although there are times when headings such as "Future Trends" will serve equally well for a paper’s closing section. When you are stuck for a conclusion, look back at your introduction; see if you can freshly reemphasize your objectives by outlining how they were met, or even revisit an opening scenario from the introduction in a new light to illustrate how the paper has brought about change. Your conclusion should not be a summary of the paper or a simple tacked-on ending, but a significant and logical realization of the paper’s goals.
Beware of the temptation to open your final paragraph with "In conclusion," or "In summary," and then summarize the paper. Instead, let your entire conclusion stand as a graceful termination of an argument. As you write your conclusion, concentrate on presenting the bottom line, and think of the word’s definition: a conclusion is an articulated conviction arrived at on the basis of the evidence you have presented.
What follows is an excerpt from a conclusion to a paper entitled "Exercise in the Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis in Women." Note how the conclusion reflects directly on the paper’s hypothesis and spells out the bottom line, gracefully bringing closure to the paper’s argument:
The majority of evidence presented in this paper supports the hypothesis that exercise positively affects bone mineral density in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Significantly, exercise has been shown to increase bone mineral density in premenopausal women even after the teenage years, and it helps preserve the bone mass achieved in the following decades. There is also evidence that exercise adds a modest, yet significant amount of bone mass to the postmenopausal skeleton. As these findings demonstrate, women of all ages can benefit by regular weight-bearing exercise, an increased intake of calcium-rich foods, and—for postmenopausal women—the maintenance of adequate estrogen levels. For all women, it is never too late to prevent osteoporosis or lessen its severity by making appropriate lifestyle choices.
Any sources cited must be correctly listed on a References page using the Author-Year or Number system (see Chapter 5 of this handbook).