When I discuss critical thinking with others, the vast majority indicate that they are skeptical and critical thinkers. However, when I ask them what process they use for critical thinking, most do not have a clear answer. The majority seem to rely on an intuitive process for their thinking. As pointed out by several authors, passively relying on intuition as a means of thinking is likely to produce very biased, unclear and inaccurate thinking. So to increase the probability of making accurate conclusions I believe it is essential to have a process when thinking.
A few years ago I came across some videos and writings by a philosopher named Peter Boghossian. In one of his videos he speaks about a three step process for critical thinking which works well for me. The steps are comprised of three questions which can be asked of yourself, or others, to help determine the accuracy of a given conclusion. Here they are with a few of my own clarifications and additions.
1) How do I (or you) know that?
- For this question to be helpful one needs to understand how to assess the reliability of a source or method of understanding. For example, “I read it on the internet” vs. “I read a Cochrane review on the topic”.
2) Can I think of any counter examples which prove the conclusion false
- Pain science is a great example of how this question can be helpful. The traditional Cartesian model of pain is unable to explain nociception without pain and pain without nociception. So those examples demonstrate that the Cartesian model of pain is incomplete and a new more accurate explanation is needed.
3) How could this belief be wrong
- This is where alternative explanations need to be considered. It amazes me how confident a person can be about a conclusion, yet they have not even considered the plausibility of alternative explanations.
- Sometime I replace this questions with “what are potential alternative conclusions and why is conclusion “X” more plausible?”
In order for this process to be successful, the user needs other important skills. For example, a strong critical thinker should be able to identify assumptions and avoid logical fallacies. The Foundation for Critical Thinking identifies several other skills needed for “High Order Thinking.” I recommend their “Guide to Critical Thinking”, “The Thinker’s Guide to Clinical Reasoning” and “The Art of Socratic Questioning.”
What do you think about this process? What process do you use when thinking?