“To achieve any challenging end, though, we also must have criteria: gauges, measures, models, principles, standards, or tests to use in judging whether we are approaching that end. What’s more, we must apply our criteria in a way that is discerning, discriminating, exacting, and judicious. We must continually monitor and assess how our thinking is going, whether it is on the right track, whether it is sufficiently clear, accurate, precise, consistent, relevant, deep, or broad for our purposes”.
There are phrases bandied about so often that they appear to lose their meaning. You read a newspaper and see them, turn on the radio and hear them, watch the TV and there they are. On the other hand, there are some phrases that you do not hear enough of and should hear more often. ‘Critical reasoning’ is one of such phrases that should be heard more often.
Critical reasoning has the characteristic of being a heuristic tool; one that can be taken anywhere you go. It can be with you always, (even in those seemingly difficult exam periods!) to comprehend and assess various situations and problems.
So, critical reasoning is important: but what exactly is it? I consider it embedded in the view that says: “Serious thinking originates in a commitment to grasp some truth, to get to the bottom of something, to make accurate sense of that about which it is thinking … Specific restraints and requirements must be met, something outside the will to which the will must bend, some unyielding objectivity we must painstakingly take into account. This severe, inflexible, stern reality is exactly what forces intellectual criticality and productivity into one seamless whole”.
Critical reasoning is the process of subjecting your mind to collect information, interpret it and express it in the most sound, reasonable and objective way possible. Striving to reason critically will not only mean that you will reach better thought out conclusions, but those who will rely on your analysis would possibly be drawing from some of the closest forms of ‘bias free’ reasoning.
Steven Pinker, a Cognitive Scientist, in his book, ‘How the Mind Works’, explains that: “An intelligent system then, cannot be stuffed with trillions of facts. It must be equipped with a smaller list of core truths and a set of rules to deduce their implications. But the rules of common sense, like the categories of common sense, are frustratingly hard to set down”.
Critical Thinking helps you think about your thinking.
As a tool, critical reasoning functions beyond being a problem-solving device – it helps you think about your thinking.
Throughout the lives of many of us, we are only taught to memorize facts, dates, definitions, names, events and more often than not, we are never taught how to think. In the rare case we are taught how to think; we are not taught how to think about our thinking.
Simply put, your thought needs to be analyzed for its origin, prejudice, bias etc. It is basically asking yourself, why do I think the way I do? What influences my thoughts? Why don’t I think any other way?
Oddly enough, the world we live in is one in which we are constantly assailed with opinions, narratives, truths, ideas, notions and arguments. Developing the skill of critical reasoning will not only help you process the information in the most effective way but ensure that you are on the most objective track to doing so.
Tools of Thought
To some, certain words are associated with critical reasoning and they-in and of themselves-are tools of thought.
These words are reason, logic and evidence and to an extent, ethics.
Reasoning in the most efficient, consistent and honest way involves taking rules to guide the deduction of facts, opinions and their weight.
Let us be honest: developing the ability to critically reason is rigorous and demanding but ultimately pays off in the fact that you are less prone to making errors in your analysis, synthesis and judgments of issues, problems and situations.
The world and the people within it need to be interpreted but we must first understand that we are limited from attaining a state of pure objectivity.
However, we can develop our thinking so well that we essentially avoid the intellectual mistakes and dishonesty we may have made in the past. In the main, we have the ability to not just master our thoughts but master how we think but this can only be done if we train our minds to think.
So just how can we train our minds to think? For the part 2 of this article, I’ll share some of the methods you can use to help you think critically and how you can apply critical thinking in your life.
Watch this space.
 See Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2008). The Thinker’s Guide to the Nature and Functions of Critical and Creative Reasoning. The Foundation for Critical Thinking, at p. 5.
 Same reference as above, on page 6.
 See Pinker, S. (1997). How the Mind Works. Penguin Books, at p. 14.