Rethinking Critical Thinking

Joanne Jacobs, Weblog, Aug 14, 2008
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I will have more to say about this on day in the future, but for now let me say that my own experience teaching critical thinking says that this assertion is wrong: "Critical thinking... is not a skill like riding a bike.... Instead... you have to buckle down and learn the content of a subject-facts..."

A quick thought experiment to demonstrate this. Would you accept the following reasoning as valid: "professor Snell believes that framming is the jim jam, but Snell is a quonicon." Obviously not; this is a clear instance of misdirection, talking about Snell rather than about framming. But the meaning of this example is opaque (I used nonsense words); our criticism is based not on the content but on the form of their example.

Reasoning based on form rather than content is widespread; it is the basis for logic and mathematical reasoning. Learning to recognize, and apply a criticism to, these forms is a skill that can be taught, one that can be applied independently of discipline. This is the entire basis for my Guide to the Logical Fallacies (posted online in 1995 and really in need of an update).
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