sbccPhilosophy-111 Critical Thinking And Writing:

20 Distinctions for Critical Thinkers and Writers






"Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge."  ~Alfred North Whitehead

The purpose of a liberal arts education is to liberate the mind from ignorance, to instill in each student, the life-long critical thinking skills necessary and sufficient to develop and appreciate all their cultural skills, global abilities, scientific interests and artistic temperaments through a rigorous criticism of the existing body of human knowledge. In this way a 'liberal arts' education liberates the mind from ignorance. One of the critical thinking skills necessary to accomplish this is the skill in making reasonable and useful conceptual distinctions. This list is offered as a minimal starting point rather than an exhaustive syllabus. Other academic disciplines and practitioners may define these distinctions differently and appropriately to their discipline. This list is consistent with how some philosophers define them traditionally, but it is not canonical. Consequently, each is open for philosophical debate and critical analysis.

As a beginning exercise in critical thinking, each student would be well served by contemplating the distinctions as presented below and then give their own reasons for either agreeing or disagreeing with them. This will serve to begin a student's journal of a life of ideas.

Twenty Basic Distinctions for Critical Thinking

Twenty Basic Distinctions for Critical Thinking

1. Beliefs / Knowledge:  Beliefs are opinions we accept as true or false. Knowledge is accepting beliefs when confirmed by logic and best evidence.

2. Sentence / Proposition: Any syntactically and grammatically correct group of words is a sentence, whereas only those sentences that state a claim is either true or false are propositions.

3. Syntax / Grammar:  The general rules for ordering words in a language is syntax, whereas the specific set of rules for proper usage of words in a language is grammar.

4. Assumption / Presumption:  Any claim accepted as true in reasoning to another claim is an assumption, whereas a presumption is using an assumption in the process of reasoning.

5. Connotation / Denotation:  In logic, the unique qualities or attributes common to all referred to by a term is its connotation, whereas a list of only those individual things having those unique qualities or attributes constitutes a term’s denotation. (Note: Other linguistic studies ascribe broader associative meaning to “connotation.”)

6. Subjective claim / Objective claim:  Any truth claim that cannot be independently verified as true or false is a subjective claim, whereas any truth claim that can be independently verified as true or false is an objective claim.

7. Imply / Infer:  To leave conclusions that may be drawn by others is to imply. To draw conclusions from what is implied is to infer.

8. Explanation / Argument: Explanations provide information about who, what, how, when, where, and even why a statement is either true or false; whereas arguments provide reasons for accepting that the statement is either true or false. 

9.  Premise / Conclusion:  A premise is a proposition offered as a reason for accepting the truth or falsity of another proposition called a conclusion. 

10.  Formal / Informal Argument: A formal argument is any argument that has all stated premises and a stated conclusion according to an established pattern of inference.  An informal argument may have missing premises that are thought to be reasonable assumptions in a pattern of reasoning.

11. Logic / Rhetoric: Logic is the study of making inferences in the process of reasoning.  By contrast, Rhetoric is the art of evoking desired responses by any linguistic means available. 

12. Logical possibility / Empirical Probability:  Any claim that does not contradict itself is a logically possible claim.  However, only logically possible claims that can, in fact, be verified by observable, testable evidence, are empirically probable claims. 

13.  Fallacy / Error:  Fallacies, whether formal or informal, are conclusions arrived at by some mistake in the process or pattern of reasoning itself. Errors are merely cognitive miscalculations or misperceptions. 

14.  Valid / Sound:  A deductive argument is valid if the conclusion follows from the premises by necessity, i.e., on the assumption that the premises are true, then the conclusion would also have to be true.  A deductive argument is sound if, and only if a) it is valid, and b) the premises of the argument are true according to best available evidence either analytically or empirically. 

15.  Deductive / Inductive:  When it is claimed that a necessary conclusion is drawn out of premises given as reasons to accept it, then that phase of the reasoning process is called deductive.  When a “probable” or “likely” conclusion is projected from verification of instances cited, then that phase of the reasoning process is called inductive.  Inductive probability can range anywhere from “weak” to “strong”.

16.  Necessary Conditions / Sufficient Conditions: Any elements required for events to take place are known as necessary conditions.  Any elements that are enough for something to take place are known as the sufficient conditions.

17.  Causes / Effects: Those necessary and sufficient conditions thought to be required in order for another event to take place are called causes.  Any events that result from those necessary and sufficient conditions actually taking place are called effects. 

18.  Analytic / Synthetic: Propositions derived from a purely mental examination of ideas and their elements are analytic. Propositions determined as true or false from observations or facts are synthetic.

19.  a priori / a posteriori: Knowledge independent of observation is a priori knowledge (Latin: a priori, before the fact). Knowledge after observation is a posteriori knowledge (Latin: a posteriori, after the fact).

 20.  Ethical Principles / Moral Codes: Any set of general rules or laws thought to govern human conduct constitutes ethical principles.  Any set of maxims, guides, or precepts that apply ethical principles to particular human conduct constitutes moral codes.