Learning the Basics
of Critical Thinking
You are now pretty much swimming in the waters of critical thinking and you need to know that this chapter gets a little technical here and there. Don't worry; there is nothing in it you can't handle.
This book rests on a pivotal concept called inference (Hughes, 2000). It refers to a special relationship between different thoughts. Inference differs from merely thinking and from causal explanation (Fisher, 2001). When we are merely thinking, thoughts come to us, one after another, with no particular link. When we use causal thinking, we simply connect ideas by inserting a word or phrase between the ideas like “because” or “that's why.” No forethought or reasons are given to the connection, just a causal “because.” Some people believe these meandering ideas constitute real critical thought. But they have no particular structure or goal. They feel comfortable, however, and on occasion serve us well, as in personal tastes or appreciation of art. Yet, with no structure or goal, all sorts of thinking problems can arise.
Inference, on the other hand, asks, even demands, that one thought is supported, justified, or reasonably linked to another. The greater the strength between ideas, the better the overall thought. How this is done and what problems get in the way of good inferences are the bulk of what is to come.