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Critical Thinking Errors

Here are some of the errors and bad habits which can lead to shallow or uncritical decisions instead of careful judgments (from Ruggiero):


Ethnocentricity

Ethnocentricity is the attitude that "mine is better" or that "my way is the only way."

It is the attitude that everything is simple, black and white, definite. Every problem is someone else's fault.


Resistance to Change (Habits)

Resistance to change comes from fear and insecurity. It is natural, human.

There is a basic tension in life between security and freedom. A good example is drunk drivers. Security says we should stop all cars and check for drunks. Freedom says that doing so would constitute unwarranted search and an invasion of privacy.

Tradition and social patterns are often created to give security, and to resist change. And they can be worthwhile. A good example is everyone driving on the right side of the road.

Tradition, in fact, can be used to your advantage.

There are, however, some major problems with resistance to change:


Conformity

Conformity is the desire to do what everyone else is doing. It comes from the fact that we are social animals.

Conformity can be good...

Conformity can also be very hard to escape. There are many pressures to conform...

But, conformity can cripple your thinking...

GROUP THINK is probably the most severe example of conformity. It is the strong desire to concur in a group decision.


Face Saving (Ego)

Face saving is "attempting to preserve our image when reality threatens it" (Ruggiero).

Face saving is self-protection, ego protection, and sometimes compensation for feelings of inferiority.

Ego, within limits, is important...

THE PROBLEM WITH EGO...


Rationalization

Rationalization is the exact opposite of the process of reaching a logical or rational decision.

The process for reaching a rational decision is to start with evidence and then move to a conclusion.

Evidence --> Conclusion

With rationalization you start with the conclusion you want, and then you gather evidence to support that conclusion.

Conclusion --> Evidence


Stereotyping

Why don't sharks eat lawyers?
...Professional courtesy

What is black and brown and looks good on a lawyer?

...a Doberman Pinscher

How can you tell when a lawyer is lying?

...his lips move

What do you call two thieves in a rented office?

...a law firm

What is the difference between a dead dog on the highway
and a dead lawyer on the highway?

...there's skid marks in front of the dog

Why are lawyers buried twenty feet deep?

Because deep down they're good human beings

What do you call two lawyers in a Mercedes going off a cliff?

A shame--a Mercedes can hold six

The personality of lawyers is one of the favorite and most common targets of stereotyping. Stereotyping is a form of generalization which attributes traits or characteristics to everyone in a large group.

People who stereotype tend to have fixed and unbending opinions. They respond to challenges by distorting reality rather than reconsidering the assumptions and conclusions which they have labeled truth.... What happens is that the facts are compared to the stereotype and then rejected because they do not fit the stereotype.

Stereotyping is usually caused by ethnocentrism.

Ramifications of stereotyping:

THE PROBLEMS WITH STEREOTYPING:

To avoid stereotyping:


Faulty Common Sense

Faulty common sense appeals to common sense as an authority. It belittles any attempt to question the conclusions of what has been labelled as common sense or common knowledge.

How to avoid:

(Discuss, as an example, the use of the term "conspiracy theorist.")


Oversimplification

Simplification is often necessary for life to go on. But OVERsimplification distorts.

Causes:

(see Brzezinskiís book, Out of Control at http://www.accd.edu/pac/philosop/phil1301/outofcon.htm -CG]


Hasty Conclusions

A hasty conclusion is a judgment arrived at before sufficient evidence is obtained or looked at

The question, of course, is how much evidence is ENOUGH evidence. This question, in turn, brings up the necessity of discussing the difference between inductive and deductive thinking.

DEDUCTION
In deduction you have ALL the evidence. For example, if you are discussing the data from a census. A census counts EVERYONE. So any statement about the data from a census is complete and correct as long as the rules of logic are not broken.

INDUCTION
Inductive thinking, which is much more common, involves dealing with only partial evidence. As a result, any discussion of induction must include the concept of PROBABILITY. The more evidence is gathered, the greater the probability that you will be correct in your conclusions.

Also, remember that correlation does NOT equal causation. For instance, in the same time period the number of women working outside the home increased and the number of divorces increased. This fact alone does not mean that either trend caused the other. They may be completely unrelated.


Unwarranted Assumptions

Examples from Pumping Ions:

Unwarranted assumptions are unexamined conclusions which we take for granted.


Helpful Suggestions

To avoid ethnocentricity, examine your ideas as if they were someone else's.

To avoid resistance to change, set aside your negative reactions and use your reason.

To avoid conformity and group pressure, base your thinking on EVIDENCE.

To avoid face-saving mistakes, be honest with yourself.

To avoid rationalization, base your thinking on EVIDENCE.

To avoid stereotyping, avoid neat categories--they don't exist.

To avoid faulty common sense, always demand evidence and facts.

To avoid oversimplification, compare everything to reality, to verifiable facts.

To avoid hasty conclusions, fully explore both sides of the issue or question.

To avoid unwarranted assumption, get in the habit of looking for ideas which are not spelled out, but are hidden in the verbiage.

NOTICE THAT THE REAL KEY TO EACH PROBLEM IS YOUR BEING CONSCIOUS OF YOUR TENDENCY TO DO THEM.


Other Potential Problems

The following links define other problems and fallacies of thinking which you may encounter in yourself or others.


Next, let's look at the characteristics of critical thinkers.

line of books

Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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