How To Become A Critical Thinker

How To Become A Critical Thinker

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George Carlin once said that those in power did not want critical-thinking individuals who question what they're told, but rather a slew of mindless obedient workers just smart enough to run all of the machines so they can get more for themselves and less for the masses. 

Indeed, Carlin was onto something. What has become painfully clear is that our country's ability to think critically about any issue has rapidly deteriorated over the decades. We've been easily corralled endlessly into opposing groups that despise one another, always to the benefit of the ruling class. 

We've made some mistakes with our judgments and we have paid the price for our ignorance. Moving forward we need to learn from the past and begin to recompose our ability to think critically so that we may be less taken advantage of in the future. 

The skills of critical thought can be applied to many areas of life whether you're buying a house or watching the news or starting a business or applying for a new job. It's important to be able to make the best judgments about the information we possibly can to protect ourselves from grifters both in the public and private realms.

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Identify The Positions

The first step to critical thinking is being able to identify all of the arguments, problems, implications, and questions that surround a given situation. Narrowing down the most important elements of that situation will help to bring clarity in rendering a judgment, answer, or decision. What precisely do you want to know? 

    Identify and establish significance to every inquiry. Do not drift off into countless variations of questions. Focus on the most significant points first. What information will satisfy you and give you the most reasoned, logical conclusion? Identification will help you solve the problem at hand. 

    For Example:


    • Who is the best politician to vote for? 

    Identify significant elements to help solve the problem. 

    • Source A supports Candidate 1
    • Source B supports Candidate 2
    • What value does source A or source B have? 
    • Are my sources reputable? 
    • What knowledge do I have of each candidate? 
    • Am I being objective and unbiased?  
    • Is There a 3rd Option? 
    • Should I Even Vote At All? 

    Gather Information & Research

    When entering into any situation, particularly one where you're asked to comply with some order or other, it is imperative to gather as much information as possible. Beyond politics, this is a useful tactic. Find out everything you can about a product, service, politician, or place of employment. Get your facts in order and get them straight. Dig as deep as possible to get as much history and data as you can glean. 

    Consider The Sources Of Information

    When you're doing your research and gathering information, make sure those who are supplying the information have some authority. Consider your sources. It is difficult to know who is reputable and who isn't these days in a world of depravity and scandal, but it's easy to discount obviously untrustworthy sources. Compile information and compare it against other reputable sources. Also, look into reputable institutions that challenge the information. 

    Analyze & Interpret Data

    Combining all of your data, it then is important to analyze it objectively. In order to make a reasonable and concise decision or judgment, comb through all of the data from multiple sources and interpret which makes the most sense logically. Remove bias and treat each piece of information with thorough objectivity. 

    Question Things Reasonably 

    A part of considering the sources is to question things reasonably. If you want to know if, for example, milk is healthy or not, there are sources that may have facts but whose motives may make them biased.

    A vegan health news site may list all the reasons why milk is terrible for you, while conversely, the dairy industry that sells the product may have funded several experiments showing that milk is the healthiest drink on earth.

    It's reasonable to question the motives of an industry or institution that has an agenda. What's more, it's also important to research seemingly unbiased sources that have been sponsored by one group or another. 

    • Follow the money
    • Who is funding the research? 
    • Are there any financial supporters or quid pro quo?
    • What reasons might they have to be biased? 

    Be willing to challenge even accepted doctrines, but also know that there is such a thing as questioning wantonly. Not every institution is in cahoots with some nefarious puppet master pulling their strings. In our endeavor to radically question everything like Rene Descartes, we must know when to yield our doubt and accept facts as they are. 

    See What is Intelligent Skepticism? for more details. 

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    Avoid These 5 Logical Fallacies 

    1. The Strawman Fallacy - Make sure that the arguments you're investigating are accurate. Do not build strawmen and knock them down. Objectively analyze what information is being submitted to you and do not assume that a misrepresentation of their position or data is what is being presented. Challenge only what is declared as fact. 

    2. Appeal To Authority Fallacy - Not everything an authority says is accurate or immune to being erroneous. Likewise, not everything an authority says is inaccurate either. Inspect things objectively and search for the truth regardless of status or title. Even reputable and longstanding institutions can issue flawed data. Don't accept things as fact simply because someone in a position of power says so. 

    3. The False Dilemma Fallacy - Many times we are presented with the false dilemma fallacy, where it seems that there are only two possible options or outcomes in a given situation. Things, in reality, are rarely black and white. It is critical to apply nuance and consider the possibility of multiple options.

    4. The Middle Ground Fallacy - When considering the False Dilemma Fallacy, it's also beneficial not to assume that just because there are two extremely diametrically opposed positions offered that the truth is somewhere in between. While it's important to consider all of the possible outcomes, it's also possible that one of the extreme positions is ultimately accurate. 

    5. The Anecdotal Evidence Fallacy - When preparing to make a judgment about something, it helps to gather statistically significant information. Personal anecdotes can be a great way to entertain, but when deciding if something is worthwhile or accurate, it's critical to look at a broad scope of data. For example, you're getting ready to buy a car and you've seen excellent ratings for the car of your dreams.

    However, your Uncle says "I had one and it broke down on me all the time". While it may be true, it might have been a rare fluke or possibly something he did himself that affected the outcome. Do not accept anecdotes as grand truths.

    See this list here for more logical fallacies.  

    Be Prepared to Re-Evaluate 

    One of the wrenches in the gears of critical thinking is prideful positions. People have a tendency to cling to a position out of tradition or emotion. It becomes a matter of personal vendetta to support a position that may be faulty. To be truly free, you must be able to free yourself, at times, from yourself.

    Follow the evidence where ever it leads and be prepared to accept that your position is either wrong or needs revision. When we become critical thinkers, our pride in clinging to a political party or a philosophical position diminishes. 

    Know when to hold them, know when to fold them, as the great pokers players will tell ya. 

    In Conclusion  

    Applying evidence-based, critical thought will transform you from a gullible, credulous simpleton to a fierce and unbeatable skeptic. Hone your skills and soon you will be prepared to deal with the flimflamming hucksters, unctuous politicians, and villainous predators of the modern era. 

    If you enjoyed this article, check out The Ultimate Guide to Libertarianism. 

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