This book is about thinking. But it is not about any thinking. It is about those kinds of thinking that take conscious effort, and which can be done well or badly. Most of our thinking takes little or no conscious effort. We just do it. You could almost say that we think without thinking! If I am asked whether I would like coffee or tea, I don’t have to exercise skill to reply appropriately. Similarly if I am asked a factual question, and I know the answer, it takes no skill to give it.
Expressing a preference or stating a fact are not in themselves thinking skills. There are language and communication skills involved, of course, and these are very considerable skills in their own right. But they are contributory skills to the activities which we are calling ‘thinking’. This distinction is often made by assigning some skills a ‘higher order’ than others. Much work has been done by psychologists, educationalists, philosophers and others to classify and even rank different kinds of thinking.
Most would agree that activities such as analysis, evaluation, problem solving and decision making present a higher order of challenge than simply knowing or recalling or understanding facts. What distinguishes higher orders of thinking is that they apply knowledge, and adapt it to different purposes. They require initiative and independence on the part of the thinker. It is skills of this order that form the content of this book.
Skills are acquired, improved, and judged by performance. In judging any skill, there are two key criteria: (1) the expertise with which a task is carried out; (2) the difficulty of the task. We are very familiar with this in the case of physical skills. There are basic skills like walking and running and jumping; and there are advanced skills like gymnastics or woodwork or piano playing. It doesn’t make much sense to talk about jumping ‘well’ unless you mean jumping a significant distance, or clearing a high bar, or somersaulting in mid-air and landing on your feet.
There has to be a degree of challenge in the task. But even when the challenge is met, there is still more to be said about the quality of the performance. One gymnast may look clumsy and untidy, another perfectly controlled and balanced. Both have performed the somersault, but one has done it better than the other: with more economy of effort, and more skilfully.
The first of these two criteria also applies to thinking. Once we have learned to count and add, tell the time, read and understand a text, recognise shapes, and so on, we do these things without further thought, and we don’t really regard them as skilled. You don’t have to think ‘hard’ unless there is a hard problem to solve, a decision to make, or a difficult concept to understand. So, as with physical performance, we judge thinking partly by the degree of challenge posed by the task. If a student can solve a difficult problem, within a set time, that is usually judged as a sign of greater skill than solving an easier one.
However, when it comes to assessing the quality of someone’s thinking, matters are more complicated. Mental performance is largely hidden inside a person’s head, unlike physical performance which is very visible. If two students give the same right answer to a question, there is no telling from the answer alone how it was reached. One of the two may simply have known the answer, or have learned a mechanical way to obtain it – or even just guessed it.
The other may have worked it out independently, by reasoning and persistence and imagination. Although the difference may not show from the answer given, the second student scores over the first in the long term, because he or she has the ability to adapt to different challenges. The first is limited to what he or she knew and could recall, or simply guessed correctly.
Unit 1 Thinking and reasoning
1.1 Thinking as a skill
1.2 An introduction to critical thinking
1.3 Solutions not problems
Unit 2 Critical thinking: the basics
2.1 Claims, assertions, statements
2.2 Judging claims
2.4 Identifying arguments
2.5 Analysing arguments
2.6 Complex arguments
2.10 Flaws and fallacies
Unit 3 Problem solving: basic skills
3.1 What do we mean by a ‘problem’?
3.2 How do we solve problems?
3.3 Selecting and using information
3.4 Processing data
3.5 Finding methods of solution
3.6 Solving problems by searching
3.7 Recognising patterns
3.8 Hypotheses, reasons, explanations and inference
3.9 Spatial reasoning
3.10 Necessity and sufficiency
3.11 Choosing and using models
3.12 Making choices and decisions
Unit 4 Applied critical thinking
4.5 Two case studies
4.6 Critical thinking and science
4.7 Introducing longer arguments
4.8 Applying analysis skills
4.9 Critical evaluation
4.10 Responding with further argument
4.11 A self-assessment
Unit 5 Advanced problem solving
5.1 Combining skills – using imagination
5.2 Developing models
5.3 Carrying out investigations
5.4 Data analysis and inference
Unit 6 Problem solving: further techniques
6.1 Using other mathematical methods
6.2 Graphical methods of solution
6.3 Probability, tree diagrams and decision trees
6.4 Have you solved it?
Unit 7 Critical reasoning: Advanced Level
7.1 Conditions and conditionals
7.2 Soundness and validity: a taste of logic
7.3 Non-deductive reasoning
7.4 Reasoning with statistics
7.5 Decision making
7.7 An argument under the microscope
7.8 Critical writing
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