Critical thinking is a big topic in the military community. We are educating our leaders on what critical thinking is, how to apply it, and how it can improve our decision making processes. It was during one of these sessions this week that my mind began to wander a bit, and wonder how I could apply these skills to other areas of my life. Especially as a parent, critical thinking skills can be a valuable tool to discern the information that is given to us from others, as well as to ensure that we are making educated choices about our families.
“Critical thinking is the disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” -Dr. Richard Paul
In other words, we need to question information that was given to us in order to make better decisions.
There are three things that can help increase our critical thinking skills including self-awareness, critical reasoning, and reflective thinking. First, self-awareness is knowing your own biases, strengths and weaknesses and how these might effect your decision making process. Knowing that I am biased in favor natural remedies, and what many people call attachment parenting, and how that bias effects my interpretation of parenting advice is an important tool in researching additional topics to ensure that I broaden my knowledge. Second, critical reasoning is the process of solving problems, finding the causes to problems, and making good judgements. Critical reasoning includes making sure that we investigate the information that is given to us to ensure that we are getting a well rounded picture of the information, and not taking the presented data as Truth without investigation. Third, reflective thinking is learning from our past experiences. By learning from our own experiences we are able to improve our futures by not making the same mistakes twice. Using these three concepts can help us to approach different parenting decisions in a rational and logical way to make the best decisions for our families.
Another aspect of critical thinking is being able to recognize the fallacies in arguments that are used to try to persuade us to make a decision. There are many types of fallacies including:
- Hasty judgement – Making assumptions about a whole group or range of cases based on a sample that is inadequate
- Missing the point – The premises of an argument do support a particular conclusion—but not the conclusion that the arguer actually draws.
- Post Hoc or False Cause – Assuming that because B comes after A, A caused B.
- Slippery Slope – The arguer claims that a sort of chain reaction, usually ending in some dire consequence, will take place, but there’s really not enough evidence for that assumption.
- Weak Analogy – two things that are being compared aren’t really alike in the relevant respects,
- Appeal to Authority – get readers to agree with us simply by impressing them with a famous name or by appealing to a supposed authority who really isn’t much of an expert,
- Ad Populum or Speaking for Everyone – the arguer takes advantage of the desire most people have to be liked and to fit in with others
- Ad Hominem and Tu quoque (personal attacks) – focus our attention on people rather than on arguments or evidence
- Appeal to Pity – tries to get people to accept a conclusion by making them feel sorry for someone
- Appeal to Ignorance – the arguer basically says, “Look, there’s no conclusive evidence on the issue at hand. Therefore, you should accept my conclusion on this issue.”
- Straw Man – the arguer sets up a wimpy version of the opponent’s position and tries to score points by knocking it down.
- Red Herring – Partway through an argument, the arguer goes off on a tangent, raising a side issue that distracts the audience from what’s really at stake.
- False Dichotomy – the arguer sets up the situation so it looks like there are only two choices. The arguer then eliminates one of the choices, so it seems that we are left with only one option: the one the arguer wanted us to pick in the first place.
- Begging the Question – relies on a premise that says the same thing as the conclusion (which you might hear referred to as “being circular” or “circular reasoning”)
- Equivocation – sliding between two or more different meanings of a single word or phrase that is important to the argument
I realize that this isn’t an in depth explanation of each, but a few of these caught my eye as being used by parents to try to convince others to make the same decisions that they did. Appeal to ignorance is used by vaccine advocates by saying that they haven’t proved vaccines to be unsafe, so therefore they must be safe. Ad Hominem and tuquoque fallacies have been prevalent recently regarding the hiring of Jenny McCarthy on the television show The View. An appeal to pity might be used to try to tell you to forward face your child’s car seat sooner despite research proving that rear facing to the age of four is absolutely safer, “well, they must be so bored facing backwards, they’d be much happier forward facing!” Ad Populum fallacies are used to encourage routine infant circumcision in that “he wouldn’t want to look different, he’ll be made fun of.”
And even as I write those examples, I realize that I have used the same types of fallacies in my arguments for natural living and advocating different topics. It has been eye opening this week to hear about these concepts. I hope to grow more in my critical thinking skills and also in my research skills to ensure that I can make logical decisions based upon reliable research.
Here are some general tips for finding fallacies in your own arguments:
- Pretend you disagree with the conclusion you’re defending. What parts of the argument would now seem fishy to you? What parts would seem easiest to attack? Give special attention to strengthening those parts.
- List your main points; under each one, list the evidence you have for it. Seeing your claims and evidence laid out this way may make you realize that you have no good evidence for a particular claim, or it may help you look more critically at the evidence you’re using.
- Learn which types of fallacies you’re especially prone to, and be careful to check for them in your work. Some writers make lots of appeals to authority; others are more likely to rely on weak analogies or set up straw men. Read over some of your old papers to see if there’s a particular kind of fallacy you need to watch out for.
- Be aware that broad claims need more proof than narrow ones. Claims that use sweeping words like “all,” “no,” “none,” “every,” “always,” “never,” “no one,” and “everyone” are sometimes appropriate—but they require a lot more proof than less- sweeping claims that use words like “some,” “many,” “few,” “sometimes,” “usually,” and so forth.
- Double check your characterizations of others, especially your opponents, to be sure they are accurate and fair.
I hope to apply these to my writing in the future to be a well balanced and well researched advocate as well. Have you caught yourself using a fallacy when giving parenting advice to others? How have you changed your parenting approach to avoid fallacies in the past?