Posted by: W. E. Poplaski | June 24, 2008

How to Study: Notes on Critical Thinking III

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argument: A set of statements in which one follows logically as a conclusion from the others.

assumption: Something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition.

conclusion: A judgment or decision reached after deliberation.

hypothesis: A tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.

inference: The act or process of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true.

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Lists are useful.  When you have a decision to make, a great place to start is by making a list.  Then again, lists contain only a limited amount of information.  For example, a list of materials is not sufficient for performing an experiment—you also need the procedure.

Likewise, a list of critical thinking traits, though useful, will only take you so far (see the list of ten traits in the June 17, 2008 post,How to Study: Notes on Critical Thinking II’ ). Understanding how the traits of that list fit together is more useful than simply enumerating them.

You can consider these three traits from that list to be analogous to a chemical reaction in a crucible:

(2) understanding the differences among hypotheses, assumptions, and conclusions,

(4) being a careful listener of other people’s ideas, and

(6) distinguishing between valid and invalid inferences, suspending judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence.

These three items are where the work gets done; it is how you acquire understanding.  To see how the analogy of a chemical reaction works, consider the following.

Trait 2 is the crucible of your thinking process.  Hypotheses, assumptions and conclusions are the elements that compose the vessel containing the argument.  If you can identify these elements, you can set the arguments up for combustion—i.e., you are in a position to analyze the arguments. (Dr. Paul’s website,, describes the differences between assumptions and inferences.)

Trait 4 corresponds to identifying and placing the reactants into the crucible; this is the process of bringing arguments to your attention. We can define ‘being a careful listener’ broadly to include all media and contexts—whether it involves reading an author’s text, watching a video, or listening to a friend’s problem.  A careful listener is an attentive listener.

(This University of Alabama webpage describes attentive listening.

Also, there is this webpage from the City College of San Francisco. )

Trait 6 is the reaction process; you determine the validity of the argument’s inferences. It is here that you question the reliability and bias of your sources (e.g., Do they have an ‘axe to grind’?  Do they have a vested interest?), as well as check the reasonableness of assumptions.  You then evaluate the argument’s validity and attempt to fit it in with your previous knowledge and past experiences. 

(These websites give more information about inferences and evaluating hypotheses: )

The remaining seven traits play important and necessary supporting roles to the critical thinking process. You can think of them as the factors that must be controlled to have a successful reaction.


  1. […] post:  Critical thinking III Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Chapter 1 – Indroduction to Critical […]

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