What is Logic? What is Critical Thinking?

Strategies and Skills for Critical Thinking, Using Logic

Logic is the science of how to evaluate arguments and reasoning. Critical thinking is a process of evaluation which uses logic to separate truth from falsehood, reasonable from unreasonable beliefs. If you want to better evaluate the various claims, ideas, and arguments you encounter, you need a better understanding of basic logic and the process of critical thinking.

These are not trivial pursuits. They are essential to making good decisions and forming sound beliefs about our world.

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Logic Sleuth
Logic Sleuth. H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Archive Photos/Getty

Is learning about logic and how to properly construct arguments really important? Most people may not need such skills in their day-to-day lives, but the truth is that almost everyone will benefit from learning how to think more critically.

This does not only apply to our own beliefs, but also to all the ideas and claims that we regularly encounter. Without the right mental tools, we have little hope of reliably separating truth from falsehood.

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Unskilled and Unaware

Everyone makes mistakes. Quite often, what is most important is the ability to first recognize our mistakes and then what we do about it.

Unfortunately, there are fields where the worse a person is, the less likely they are to even recognize that they have made mistakes, much less will be able to fix them. Indeed, they are actually likely to accuse those who know more of being the ones who are wrong.

Critical thinking and logic are one of these fields. Many people imagine that they are already quite good at it and thus don't believe that they need to learn more. This prevents them from ever improving.

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People use words like "logic" and "logical" a lot, often without really understanding what they mean.

Strictly speaking, logic is the science or study of how to evaluate arguments and reasoning. It's not a matter of opinion, it's a science of how arguments must be formed in order to be reasonable or correct. Obviously, a better understanding is critical for helping us reason and think better. Without it, it's too easy for us to fall into error.

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The term "critical thinking" is used often but it isn't always properly understood. Put simply, critical thinking means developing reliable, rational evaluations about an argument or idea.

Critical thinking is a means for separating truth from falsehood and reasonable from unreasonable beliefs. It frequently involves finding flaws in the arguments of others, but that's not all that it's about. It's not simply about criticizing ideas, it is about developing the ability to think about ideas with greater critical distance.

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Arguments are about disagreement - people aren't likely to argue over things they agree on. As obvious as that may be, it isn't always as obvious what, exactly, people disagree on. This is especially true for those who are caught up in the midst of a disagreement.

This is a problem because disagreements can't be resolved if those involved don't recognize what their disagreement is really about - or worse yet, actually disagree on what they disagree about. If those involved don't work that out, the only thing they'll accomplish by arguing is to create more animosity.

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Propaganda is any organized, coordinated effort to convince masses of people to adopt some particular idea, belief, attitude, or viewpoint.

It's easiest to see government propaganda in the context of wartime. The label is also applicable to the efforts of corporations to buy their products, to apologists trying to get people to adopt their religion, and many other situations. Understanding the nature of propaganda and how it works is critical to being able to think more critically about it.