Develop Critical Thinking Skills – Embrace Reason and Logic, Understand the Truth, Win Any Argument

Executive summary: Critical thinking skills are of major importance in a world that changes at an unprecedented pace. A critical thinker can embrace logic and reason, can understand the truth and most of the times win the most difficult arguments. All these and much more will be scrutinized in this article.

 

Readability: 2701 words, Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 52.1/100, Estimated reading time: 12 minutes


 

The world economic forum published a poll some weeks ago suggesting that the most important skills for future workers are as follows:

 

 

I promised that I will cover most of them so let’s start with the one I consider most pertinent – critical thinking.

 

I will provide the etymology and then jump on to the definition.

 

Etymology:

 

From the suffix -al and Latin criticus, from Ancient Greek κριτικός ‎(kritikós, “of or for judging, able to discern”) < κρίνω ‎(krínō, “I separate, judge”), also the root of crisis).

 

Definition according to www.criticalthinking.org:

 

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.

 

Simplified definition:

 

Critical thinking is rational thinking that involves critique. What this means is that you need to be able to think rationally based on information collected by your environment, but at the same time question your own judgment (avoid personal flaws and biases) in order to form the most ideal version of truth possible.

 

Critical thinking is a very complex and sophisticated process. A person can’t really think critically without going through many experiences and making sure that during those experiences they observe, self-reflect, and thoroughly analyze the data provided.

 

Despite the complexity that this process entails, critical thinking is probably the most rewarding skill that you will ever possess and the benefits will be revealed in this article.

 

But before we get there, let’s start with why.

 

As you can see in the chart above, critical thinking has moved from the 5th to the 2nd place for 2020. Why is that?

 

Because our lives and the systems we operate in change constantly and at an unprecedented pace.

 

In that ever-evolving marketplace, only critical thinkers can prevail. They are the ones that understand that knowledge isn’t static but dynamic. They are more eager to challenge themselves and dive into uncharted waters. They invest in as many skills as possible and therefore are able to demonstrate the required prowess that will make them incredibly attractive to the most lucrative employers.

 

Employers nowadays don’t value the same things they did 20 or 30 years ago. They want people that can demonstrate an amalgamation of skills that can help them build incredibly valuable products.

 

And I think that, in part, this is influenced by the fact that the capitalistic landscape is starting to adopt more reasonable practices.

office-space

You don’t see a lot of sleazy sales methods anymore. Pretentious behaviors and office politics are steadily declining. Quality is valued over quantity. Consumers are more open to trying products from startups.

sektor5coworkingspaces

We are experiencing a perceptional shift that reshapes the way we understand and experience the world around us.

 

In this perceptional shift, critical thinkers are the ones who will dominate.

 

Now, because critical thinking is such a vast topic, I will try to elucidate the facets of the concept that I consider more interesting.

 

Those ones will include:

 

  1. History of critical thinking
  2. Logic and reason
  3. How to win any argument
  4. A 3-part method to improve critical thinking

 

History of critical thinking

 

The intellectual roots of critical thinking can be traced back to ~350BC. The first one to embrace critical thinking practices was the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. He was obsessed with the notion that many people were basing their ideologies on an empty rhetoric rather than sane and rational thinking.

socrates

Confused meanings, contradictory beliefs, biases and self-delusion formed the foundation of their argumentation and Socrates was constantly questioning those practices.

 

He also had an aversion towards authority because he believed that a person in power doesn’t necessarily possess sound knowledge and insight. He might just be a good manipulator and performer.

 

Socrates’ method of revealing unreasonable argumentation is called “Socratic Questioning” and epitomizes the idea of clarity and logical consistency.

 

His approach was later on adopted by Plato, Aristotle and the Greek skeptics, all of whom adopted the belief that things might be different than they appear and that the critical mind should read between the lines 1 to establish a reasonable truth.

 

The ancient Greek philosophers were the forefathers of the critical thinking movement and influenced the work of other renowned thinkers like Francis Bacon, Descartes, Niccolo Machiavelli, Isaac Newton, Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant.

 

Main elements of critical thinking – Logic and Reason

 

What is logic?

 

Well, logic comes from the Greek word logos, which means reason.

logos

So, logic and reason are strongly related. Actually, a brief definition of logic would be something along the lines of “the study of the principles of correct reasoning.”

 

Logic is the force that can give an argument the impetus it requires in order to prevail. Logic is free of emotion and it deals with information in its purest form. Logic is truth and truth is logic.

 

Now, We can’t really understand logic as a whole if we don’t investigate the two main logic subsets that comprise it: Informal and formal logic.

 

Informal logic

 

That’s the most popular form of logic because it is the one we use in our day-to-day lives. I also consider it the most critical one to self-examine because once you manage to understand the mistakes you do in that subset, you will improve your critical thinking immensely.

 

Informal logic consists of two types of reasoning: deductive and inductive.

 

Deductive reasoning is used when I try to apply information I find in a specific set to any member of that set. Example:

 

All Muslims are jihadists.

Mohamed is a Muslim.

Therefore Mohamed is a jihadist.

 

Inductive reasoning uses explicit data in order to create a bigger and more generalized judgment. Example:

 

Yesterday, you left home for work at 8am and arrived on time.

Today, you left home for work at 8am and arrived on time.

So, tomorrow, if you leave home for work at 8 you will arrive on time.

 

As you can see, the main problem with informal logic is the generalization included. Not all Muslims are jihadists and leaving home for work at 8am doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will arrive on time.

 

Both forms of reasoning can work but under specific circumstances. Deductive reasoning requires the correct use of words to quantify our subset. In our example, using “some” instead of “all” makes our statement more reasonable and therefore stronger. Inductive reasoning requires us to work with a larger set of data in order to achieve a more accurate result.

 

Logical fallacies

 

The reason you will encounter informal logic in your everyday interactions is because of logical fallacies. Those are incorrectly reasoned facts that stem from a plethora of factors. Some examples include:

 

Ad hominem (latin for “to the person/man”): That is when someone attacks the person and not the argument. It is the most common form of logical fallacy because it is the most personal one.

 

Stereotyping: That’s also a common one and it is usually bolstered in difficult times when emotion takes over reason in societal discourses.

 

Faulty sampling: When we use the wrong set of data to form a conclusion (like the example about time and work).

 

False dilemma: When we try to oversimplify and use binary logic in complex dilemmas. Especially when someone tries to explain something as black or white and the truth is gray.

 

Post Hoc/Ergo Propter Hoc (latin for It happened before this, therefore it happened because of this): Certain forms of prejudice fall into this category especially when we don’t feel lucky or things don’t go as planned (e.g. every time I wash my car it rains).

 

Formal logic

 

Formal logic focuses mainly on deductive reasoning and the validity of the conclusion produced. It is the most appropriate form of logic because it follows rules and compels us to adopt a more fact-based approach in our narrative.

 

Examples:

 

All liars can’t be trusted.

Some politicians are liars.

Therefore, some politicians can’t be trusted.

 

Or

 

All college professors need to have at least a Master’s degree.

Some of my acquaintances are college professors.

Therefore some of my acquaintances have at least a Master’s degree.

 

Deductive reasoning in formal logic can be represented as follows:

 

Every A is a B. Some Cs are As. Therefore, some Cs are Bs.

 

As long as the premise we use to represent the variables A, B and C is true, the conclusion some Cs are Bs will always follow. If the conclusion doesn’t follow, the argument is invalid.

 

 

Winning an argument by using critical thinking.

 

I have stated in the past that arguing is a waste of creative energy that could be invested elsewhere.

 

I still stand by my view and I propose refraining from arguing in the 30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses workbook. However, knowing how to respond if the situation arises can prove extremely convenient and can even win you some followers if you are a famous or semi-famous personality.

 

Below is a personal equation I have developed over the years after analyzing debates and interviews of various philosophers, thinkers, politicians and activists.

 

Argument winning = facts + frame + eloquence (optional)

 

Facts

 

Facts are important because people will always treasure the truth over assumptions. If truth is very difficult to define, focus on the most popular norm. For instance, we don’t know how the universe was created, but the big bang theory is quite acceptable at this point in time.

 

Usually, the most popular sources of facts are science publications, statistics and also material where you can find things the opposing party has stated in order to rebut their views.

 

One could argue that some publications and statistics serve certain interests, but as soon as they can’t prove that, you can always use this body of knowledge to your advantage.

 

Frame

 

The most interesting thing about frame and the reason why people usually favor it so much is because it communicates resilience and character. During an argument, one of the parties will attempt to use personal attacks in order to gain the upper hand. This will inevitably lead to emotionality and emotionality is the enemy of critical thinking and proper argumentation.

 

Especially during political debates, most of the candidates lose because they can’t really handle personal attacks. In an attempt to balance the attack, they become emotional and the other candidate suddenly looks more suitable for president.

 

The best way to deal with a personal attack is either to counterattack fiercely or to reframe the argument into something that you consider more favorable for you.

 

Fierce attack example:

 

Candidate A: Candidate B is crooked because he received money from external donors.

Candidate B: Candidate A is not a good fit because he was accused of rape. If we can’t trust him around our women how can we trust him to run our country?

 

This was an extreme example but it also showcases how vicious political debates can become.

 

Reframing example:

 

Candidate A: Candidate B is crooked because he received money from external donors.

Candidate B: Donors are our supporters who want to see this country prosper and flourish even more. We are in this together and fight for the American people. The only thing you fight for is personal power and how to satisfy your ego. We don’t need that. We are better than that. We want more than that.

 

Politics aside, I wouldn’t suggest using these tactics with friends. Those are methods used by famous people in order to increase their influence and stature. Arguments in personal relationships usually lead to friction and problems.

 

Empathy is the best way to deal with disagreements in the social sphere and also trying to promote reason above everything.

 

Finally, bear in mind that arguments aren’t always a bad thing. We tend to condemn argumentation because we relate it to immensely unpleasant situations. The truth is that debates can be extremely civilized and if both parties have an open mind, they can gain invaluable insight out of their discussion.

 

Eloquence

 

Eloquence is optional but sometimes it can really affect the way you are perceived by your environment. Using big words usually disorients the other party and if you are having a debate in front of a crowd you will definitely be perceived as more knowledgeable and authoritative.

 

Eloquence is probably the most difficult of the three skills to cultivate. It requires practice and constant exposure to unknown words and phrases in order for your brain to become accustomed to them.

 

If you really want to cultivate that skill I would suggest following eloquent speakers like Sam Harris or Alain de Botton and reading most of the books I suggest in my email list. While doing so, try and keep a record of words you like in order to revisit them from time to time and eventually entrench them in your vocabulary. Example:

critical thinker

 

A 3-part method to improve critical thinking

 

Now, critical thinking apart from the main benefits it offers in your social and professional life it also serves as a useful tool when it comes to decision making.

 

Whenever you face a difficult decision and you need to approach a topic from many perspectives you need to employ critical thinking in order to ensure the most optimal result.

 

For that process, I have developed a 3-part method that promotes a holistic approach to critical decision-making. It goes as follows:

 

1. Collect information from many sources

 

The decision you are facing will be subject to many factors, thus open to many interpretations.

 

Let’s assume that you want to vote for a specific candidate. How are you going to investigate whether or not this candidate is really the best choice? Watch the news? Watch Youtube videos? Read blog posts?

 

That’s what most people do, but when it comes to critical thinking that is not enough. Investigating a topic from a holistic perspective requires that we go deeper.

 

Deeper usually means that you need to read relevant history, do a background check, investigate policies suggested and also look into opposing views. Why might there be critics? Is the criticism legitimate? Is the critic qualified?

 

Eventually, by gathering all that information you will be able to form a more sound understanding of the concept in question.

 

2. Understand the information deeply

 

Reading about specific topics is not really enough. In order to understand the topic deeply you need to test it and reevaluate it based on scrutiny and skepticism.

 

Learn to discuss the topic with other fellow thinkers online and offline in order to form a solid and confident view.

 

3. Introspect

 

Understand the implication of your choice and realize whether or not it is affected by personal biases, emotions, and manipulative views.

 

That’s why I constantly stress out the importance of self-awareness. We live in a time where people are fighting for our attention almost every second and they will say anything to grab it.

 

A self-aware critical thinker needs to battle his own flawed perception and deeply scrutinize his personal issues in order to be capable of forming a reasoned and clear view of a topic (especially politics).

 

Closing remarks

Darwin

Critical thinking epitomizes the idea of evolution and the concept that Charles Darwin so eloquently articulated:

 

It’s not the strongest of the species that survives but the one that is the most adaptable to change.

 

That’s what the people over at the world economic forum were probably thinking when creating the list.

 

Critical thinking gives you mastery over yourself and the ability to be constantly at the forefront of the things to come.

 

Never stop cultivating it.

 

Please share this article in order to make the world a more reasonable place.

 

p.s. “Speak Like a Leader” and “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” are great handbooks that can help improve your critical thinking skills immensely.

 

p. p. s. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to get our epic articles in your inbox on a weekly basis. It is awesome, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will wait for you once you confirm your subscription.

 

Sources:

1. http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-logic-definition-examples-quiz.html 

2. http://philosophy.hku.hk/think/arg/complex.php


 

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Andrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at The Quintessential Man - The only online community that offers a holistic approach to self-growth. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
  • ♠InvidiaAbsit(The800LbGorilla)

    Great article! Is there anyone else here to converse with about the subject.

  • Gio

    Incredible article. Concise, to the point and without excess fluff. The answers you propose in the argument winning section are gold. After watching numerous debates between politicians and other intellectuals I agree that this is the best way to go. In my personal relationships I try to keep the conversations civilized and use open-ended questions to challenge the other party.

  • Rafael Contreras

    Argument winning = facts + frame + eloquence. That’s gold.

  • Dani

    Loved the article and the way you presented it, very informative yet not a boring and time consuming read. I will try to cultivate some or most of the ideas into my daily life as always and see how it’s gonna turn out.

    • Thanks. I try to structure it in a way that makes it easier for the reader. Structure is always critical to the way you will deliver your message.

  • Nobody’s Stranger

    I strongly relate to this article. In the past couple of months, I’ve had more success with habit change, and improvement in almost every area of my life than ever before. I’ve been trying to make these changes for years, and only recently found any lasting success. It was all started with critical thinking. A few months ago, I chose to improve my decision making, and slowly developed my critical thinking skill by closely analyzing each decision, the pros and cons, and the results each one had. Using that information, I improved my decision-making process continually.

    I now see that as the keystone habit that led to changes in all areas of my life. Making better decisions led to developing better habits and living more consciously. The past two weeks have been the most painful and challenging of my life, but I’ve also grown more than I ever have before, to a level I would not have considered possible even two months ago.

    Now I realize that it was only a little while before then that I discovered TQM, thanks to this insightful comment: https://boldanddetermined.com/the-metamorphosis/#comment-1594079. Reading the blog and trying to apply 30 Challenges, 30 Days (but failing miserably) has definitely had an impact on these results. Thanks, Andrian! I’ll give 30C30D another shot in September, after building up to it.