A Guide to Critical Thinking

M. Neil Browne, Stuart M. Keeley - Pearson - 2015 - 192 p.

Asking the Right Questions

2019 April 06 | by Arduino Mancini Critical thinking

What is critical thinking?

And why is it today an essential component of everyone’s professional and personal life?

We can define critical thinking as

a body of knowledge and skills that supports the process of evaluating the authentic meaning of arguments you heard, aimed at assessing whether those arguments are credible and convincing.

We live in a world in which the amount of information available significantly exceeds the one we need to make a decision; so, critical thinking represents a crucial skill for evaluating the genuine meaning of what we see, hear or read, and decide what to use in the future and what to set aside as not relevant.

Unfortunately, there is no widespread awareness of the importance of this skill and developing it is not so easy. This book is an outstanding tool to learn how not to blindly accept the information you come across, to analyse it critically and synthesise it effectively.

More in detail, this concise text teaches will help you to:

  • explore the components of arguments (conclusions, reasons, evidence, assumptions, …) and verify its robustness;
  • spot fallacies, manipulations and obstacles to critical thinking in both written and visual communication;
  • respond to alternative points of view and develop a solid foundation for making personal choices about what to accept and what to reject.

A book that has significantly contributed to increasing my sense of self-efficacy in dealing with complex situations and making decisions.

An excellent investment: will you do it?




1) The Benefit of Asking the Right Questions

  • Introduction
  • Critical Thinking to the Rescue
  • The Sponge and Panning for Gold: Alternative Thinking Styles
  • An Example of the Panning-for-Gold Approach
  • Panning for Gold: Asking Critical Questions
  • The Myth of the “Right Answer”
  • Thinking and Feeling
  • The Efficiency of Asking the Question, “Who Cares?”
  • Weak-Sense and Strong-Sense Critical Thinking
  • The Satisfaction of Using the Panning-for-Gold Approach
  • Trying Out New Answers
  • Effective Communication and Critical Thinking
  • The Importance of Practice
  • The Right Questions

2) What Are the Issue and the Conclusion?

  • Kinds of Issues
  • Searching for the Issue
  • Searching for the Author’s or Speaker’s Conclusion
  • Clues to Discovery: How to Find the Conclusion
  • Critical Thinking and Your Own Writing and Speaking
  • Practice Exercises

3) What Are the Reasons?

  • Reasons + Conclusion = Argument
  • Initiating the Questioning Process
  • Words That Identify Reasons
  • Kinds of Reasons
  • Keeping the Reasons and Conclusions Straight
  • Reasons First, Then Conclusions
  • “Fresh” Reasons and Your Growth
  • Critical Thinking and Your Own Writing and Speaking
  • Practice Exercises

4) What Words or Phrases Are Ambiguous?

  • The Confusing Flexibility of Words
  • Locating Key Terms and Phrases
  • Checking for Ambiguity
  • Determining Ambiguity
  • Context and Ambiguity
  • Ambiguity, Definitions, and the Dictionary
  • Ambiguity and Loaded Language
  • Limits of Your Responsibility to Clarify Ambiguity
  • Ambiguity and Your Own Writing and Speaking
  • Summary
  • Practice Exercises

5) What Are the Value Conflicts and Assumptions?

  • General Guide for Identifying Assumptions
  • Value Conflicts and Assumptions
  • Discovering Values
  • From Values to Value Assumptions
  • Typical Value Conflicts
  • The Communicator’s Background as a Clue to Value Assumptions
  • Consequences as Clues to Value Assumptions
  • More Hints for Finding Value Assumptions
  • Avoiding a Typical Difficulty When Identifying Value Assumptions
  • Finding Value Assumptions on Your Own
  • Values and Relativism
  • Summary
  • Practice Exercises

6) What Are the Descriptive Assumptions?

  • Illustrating Descriptive Assumptions
  • Clues for Locating Assumptions
  • Applying the Clues
  • Avoiding Analysis of Trivial Assumptions
  • Assumptions and Your Own Writing and Speaking
  • Summary
  • Practice Exercises

7) Are There Any Fallacies in the Reasoning?

  • A Questioning Approach to Finding Reasoning Fallacies
  • Evaluating Assumptions as a Starting Point
  • Discovering Other Common Reasoning Fallacies
  • Looking for Diversions
  • Sleight of Hand: Begging the Question
  • Summary of Reasoning Errors
  • Expanding Your Knowledge of Fallacies
  • Fallacies and Your Own Writing and Speaking
  • Practice Exercises

8) How Good Is the Evidence: Intuition, Personal Experience, Testimonials, and Appeals to Authority?

  • The Need for Evidence
  • Locating Factual Claims
  • Sources of Evidence
  • Intuition as Evidence
  • Dangers of Appealing to Personal Experience as Evidence
  • Personal Testimonials as Evidence
  • Appeals to Authority as Evidence
  • Summary
  • Practice Exercises

9) How Good Is the Evidence: Personal Observation, Research Studies, Case Examples, and Analogies?

  • Personal Observation
  • Research Studies as Evidence
  • Generalizing from the Research Sample
  • Biased Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Critical Evaluation of a Research-Based Argument
  • Case Examples as Evidence
  • Analogies as Evidence
  • Summary
  • Practice Exercises

10) Are There Rival Causes?

  • When to Look for Rival Causes
  • The Pervasiveness of Rival Causes
  • Detecting Rival Causes
  • The Cause or A Cause
  • Rival Causes and Scientific Research
  • Rival Causes for Differences Between Groups
  • Confusing Causation with Association
  • Confusing “After this” with “Because of this”
  • Explaining Individual Events or Acts
  • Evaluating Rival Causes
  • Evidence and Your Own Writing and Speaking
  • Summary
  • Practice Exercises

11) Are the Statistics Deceptive?

  • Unknowable and Biased Statistics
  • Confusing Averages
  • Concluding One Thing, Proving Another
  • Deceiving by Omitting Information
  • Risk Statistics and Omitted Information
  • Summary
  • Practice Exercises

12) What Significant Information Is Omitted?

  • The Benefits of Detecting Omitted Information
  • The Certainty of Incomplete Reasoning
  • Questions that Identify Omitted Information
  • The Importance of the Negative View
  • Omitted Information That Remains Missing
  • Missing Information and Your Own Writing and Speaking
  • Practice Exercises

13) What Reasonable Conclusions Are Possible?

  • Assumptions and Multiple Conclusions
  • Dichotomous Thinking: Impediment to Considering Multiple
  • Conclusions
  • Two Sides or Many?
  • Searching for Multiple Conclusions
  • Productivity of If-Clauses
  • Alternative Solutions as Conclusions
  • The Liberating Effect of Recognizing Alternative Conclusions
  • All Conclusions Are Not Created Equal
  • Summary
  • Practice Exercises

14) Practice and Review

  • Question Checklist for Critical Thinking
  • Asking the Right Questions: A Comprehensive Example
  • What Are the Issue and Conclusion?
  • What Are the Reasons?
  • What Words or Phrases Are Ambiguous?
  • What Are the Value Conflicts and Assumptions?
  • What are the Descriptive Assumptions?
  • Are There Any Fallacies in the Reasoning?
  • How Good Is the Evidence?
  • Are There Rival Causes?
  • Are the Statistics Deceptive?
  • What Significant Information Is Omitted?
  • What Reasonable Conclusions Are Possible?

Final Word

  • The Tone of Your Critical Thinking
  • Strategies for Effective Critical Thinking


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