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Reichenbach: An Introduction to Critical Thinking

Chapter 2 Study Guide

Six Steps of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves the use of a group of interconnected skills to analyze, creatively integrate, and evaluate what you read and hear. To become a critical thinker you must be able to decide whether an author’s opinions are true or false, whether he or she has adequately defended those ideas, whether certain recommendations are practical, as well as whether particular solutions will be effective.

  1. Critical Thinking Dispositions

    Critical thinking involves certain dispositions. A disposition is a tendency to act or think in a certain way. Review the list of dispositions that are characteristic of critical thinkers.

  2. Critical Thinking Skills

    To learn how to think critically, one must learn skills that build upon each other. Only by concentrating on and practicing these basic skills can mastery of critical thinking be achieved. The author lists three basic characteristics of the skills required to think critically: they are interconnected (review a sample list of these skills), they build on each other, and they are goal-oriented in that we can constantly apply them to situations in everyday life.

  3. Characteristics of Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking involves the use of a kind of thinking called reasoning, in which we construct and/or evaluate reasons to support beliefs. Critical thinking also involves reflection — the examination and evaluation of our own and others’ thoughts and ideas. Finally critical thinking is practical. Actions are more rational if they are based on beliefs that we take to be justified. Critical thinking then, is the careful, deliberate determination of whether we should accept, reject or suspend judgement about the truth of a claim or a recommendation to act in a certain way.

    Review what the guiding model of the text. This model is discussed in steps or stages. For each step note the specific headings to help you identify the level discussed.

  4. Step 1: Knowledge

    In terms of critical thinking, the basic level of acquisition of knowledge requires that you be able to identify what is being said: the topic, the issue, the thesis, and the main points. See Chapter Three.

  5. Step 2: Comprehension

    Comprehension means understanding the material read, heard or seen. In comprehending, you make the new knowledge that you have acquired your own by relating it to what you already know. The better you are involved with the information, the better you will comprehend it. As always, the primary test of whether you have comprehended something is whether you can put what you have read or heard into your own words. Review some key words that help you identify when comprehension is called for. Remember that comprehending something implies that you can go beyond merely parroting the material back but instead that you can give the material your own significance.

  6. Step 3: Application

    Application requires that you know what you have read, heard, or seen, that you comprehend it, and that you carry out some task to apply what you comprehend to an actual situation. Review the some tasks that require application.

  7. Step 4: Analysis

    Analysis involves breaking what you read or hear into its component parts, in order to make clear how the ideas are ordered, related, or connected to other ideas. Analysis deals with both form and content. Review how critical thinkers analyze form. Review how critical thinkers analyze content.

  8. Step 5: Synthesis

    Synthesis involves the ability to put together the parts you analyzed with other information to create something original. Review some key words that help you identify when synthesis is called for.

  9. Step 6: Evaluation

    Evaluation occurs once we have understood and analyzed what is said or written and the reasons offered to support it. Then we can appraise this information in order to decide whether you can give or withhold belief, and whether or not to take a particular action. Review some key words that help you identify when synthesis is called for. Never put evaluation ahead of the other steps in critical thinking steps; otherwise, you will be guilty of a "rush to judgement." When emotion substitutes for reasons, evaluation incorrectly precedes analysis.

EXERCISE 1: For each of the following test questions, decide which of the six steps you are asked to perform.

  1. Explain what is meant by the phrase "negative reinforcement".   Answer
  2. Who was the author of the Declaration of Independence?   Answer
  3. Compare and contrast the themes of Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang.    Answer
  4. For your final exam in home economics, you will be asked to take an existing dress pattern and modify it into your own design.   Answer
  5. Discuss the merits of the Marshall Plan following World War II.   Answer
  6. Of the following mythological figures, which does not belong with the others? Siren, Kelpie, Lorelei, Amazon.   Answer
  7. Combining the theories of John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, and John Rawls, sketch out your own theory of social justice.   Answer
  8. Using Question 7, give three ways Congress could implement your theory of social justice.   Answer
  9. Write a critique of last night’s drama department performance of Twelfth Night.   Answer
  10. Define and explain the term, "a priori."   Answer
  11. On the cadaver of the fetal pig in the biology laboratory, identify the aorta, the heart and the lungs.   Answer
  12. On the map at the front of the class, identify the country of Indonesia.   Answer

Critical Thinking Dispositions

Critical thinkers are:

  1. curious about the world.
  2. creative questioners.
  3. frequently asking "why?" and seeking reasons to defend a
  4. position.
  5. interested only in credible sources of information.
  6. able to take into account the total situation or context when interpreting something.
  7. relevant thinkers who stick to the main point.
  8. always looking for alternative explanations, positions, or arguments.
  9. open-minded and who seriously consider points of view other than their own.
  10. willing to change a position when the evidence is sufficient to make them do so.
  11. able to withhold judgement when the evidence is insufficient.
  12. eager to seek precision.
  13. able to realize the limits of knowing; hence they look for probability rather than proof.
  14. able to realize the role of personal bias in the process of knowing something.
  15. able to deal in an orderly manner with the parts of a complex whole and anticipate the next step in a process.
  16. sensitive to the feelings, levels of knowledge, and degree of sophistication of others when presenting their findings.
  17. able to apply critical thinking abilities to a wide variety of subjects.

Sample List of Critical Thinking Skills

  1. Clarification Abilities—the ability to discern the thesis and main points of what you read and hear. See Chapter Three.
  2. Inference-related Abilities—making an inference that some true statements provide reasons to think that other statements are true. Review some requirements for working with inferences.
  3. Ability to Employ Strategies—adapting to unique situations and problems effectively in a carefully reasoned way. Review what the ability to employ strategies enables you to do.

Requirements for making inferences

  1. The ability to identify and distinguish the evidence (premises) from the conclusion.
  2. The ability to draw correct conclusions from the information given.
  3. The ability to assess the truth of the evidence.
  4. The ability to dig out the presuppositions of the argument.
  5. The ability to consider the relevance of the information to the conclusion of a line of reasoning.
  6. The ability to evaluate whether the evidence is strong enough to support the conclusion.

The Ability to Employ Strategies Enables you to:

  1. decide what is at issue or what is the problem.
  2. create various options to deal with the problem.
  3. know where and how to get information.
  4. identify the criteria for evaluating the options.
  5. determine how to test various options for dealing with the problem.
  6. assess or weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the options or proposed solutions

Guiding Model for the Text

  1. acquiring knowledge or information
  2. comprehending or understanding what you read and hear
  3. applying what you understand to given situations
  4. analyzing the information that you understand
  5. synthesizing and creatively using what you understand and have analyzed
  6. critically evaluating what you understand and have analyzed or created

Key Words that Call for Comprehension









Draw a Conclusion

Tasks that Require Application

  1. Apply what you have learned to an actual situation.
  2. Illustrate or give an example of what was said.
  3. Prepare a dish to show you understood the recipe
  4. Predict what will happen when the teacher mixes two beakers of chemicals
  5. Demonstrate that the thesis is true or develop a scenario that shows how what you have read will work out.
  6. Dramatize the moral that you just discussed.

Analyzing Form (the structure of what you read or hear)

  1. Critical thinkers look for organizational patterns or principles in what others present to them.

  2. Critical thinkers observe the relationships between the ideas, noting their temporal relation and their logical order.
  3. Critical thinkers are able to break down the material into its components.

Analyzing Content (that which you read or hear is actually about)

  1. Critical thinkers order the material to distinguish dominant from subordinate ideas.
  2. Critical thinkers distinguish statements of evidence from hypotheses.
  3. Critical thinkers see what assumptions or presuppositions the author makes.
  4. Critical thinkers find evidence of the author’s purposes.
  5. Critical thinkers note how one idea relates to another.
  6. Critical thinkers categorize information received.
  7. Critical thinkers set up comparisons among things.

Key Words that Call for Synthesis








Key Words that Call for Evaluation









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