Critical Thinking Lesson 7. Lesson 7 Objectives Evaluate the sources and information related to a belief in terms of Reliability Purposes and interests Reputation Value Differentiate knowing from believing Identify ways of presenting beliefs. Ways of Forming Beliefs.
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Lesson 7 Objectives
Evaluate the sources and information related to a belief in terms of
Purposes and interests
Differentiate knowing from believing
Identify ways of presenting beliefs
Throughout our lives, we form beliefs about the world around us to explain why things happen as they do, to predict how things will happen, and to govern the choices we make.
What exactly are beliefs? Beliefs represent an interpretation, evaluation, conclusion, or prediction that a person believes to be true.
Below are examples of each type of belief.
Interpretation: The statement “I believe that the U. S. Constitution’s guarantee of ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms’ does not prohibit all governmental regulation of firearms” represents an interpretation of the Second Amendment.
Evaluation: The statement “I believe that watching daytime talk shows is unhealthy because they focus almost exclusively on the seamy side of human life” expresses an evaluation of daytime talk shows.
Conclusion: The statement “I believe that one of the main reasons two out of three people in the world go to bed hungry each night is that industrially advanced nations have not done a satisfactory job of sharing their resources” expresses a conclusion about the problem of world hunger.
Prediction: The statement “I believe that if drastic environmental measures are not undertaken to slow global warming, the polar icecaps will melt and the earth will be flooded” is a prediction about events that will occur in the future.
Beliefs are not static. We continually form and reform our beliefs throughout much of our lives. This process often follows this sequence:
We form beliefs in order to explain what is taking place.
We test these beliefs by acting on the basis of them.
We revise these beliefs if our actions do not achieve our goals.
We retest these revised beliefs by again using them as a basis for action.
As we actively participate in this ongoing process of forming and re-forming beliefs, we are using our critical thinking abilities to identify and critically examine our beliefs by, in effect, asking the following questions:
How effectively do these beliefs explain what is taking place?
To what extent are the beliefs consistent with other beliefs about the world?
How effectively do the beliefs help us to predict what will happen in the future?
To what extent are these beliefs supported by sound reasons and compelling evidence derived from reliable sources?
Earlier in the course, we identified four main sources for our beliefs:
People of authority
These sources fall into two categories: indirect experience
(1 and 2) and personal experience (3 and 4).
Beliefs Based on Indirect Experience
We depend on the experience of others to provide us with beliefs and to serve as foundations for our beliefs.
For example, does Antarctica exist? How do we know? Have we ever been there and seen it with our own eyes? Probably not; nevertheless, we believe in the existence of Antarctica.
Of all of our beliefs, few are actually based on our direct personal experience.
Beliefs Based on Personal Experience
We also form beliefs based on evidence we observe and on our own personal experience.
However, how we interpret and understand direct experience — what conclusions we draw from what we perceive — often depends on what we already believe.
In offering evidence to support our beliefs, we often choose those perceptions and experiences that fit with existing beliefs and ignore contradictory experiences.
We use the word knowing to distinguish beliefs supported by strong reasons or evidence (e.g., the belief that life exists on earth) from beliefs for which there is less support (e.g., the belief that life exists on other planets) or from beliefs disproved by reasons or evidence to the contrary.
This saying expresses another way to understand the difference between believing and knowing:
“You can believe what is not so, but you cannot know what is not so.”
Knowledge and Truth
What do we do when the truth of a situation is unclear? As critical thinkers, we must:
Analyze and evaluate all the available information
Develop our own well-reasoned beliefs
Recognize when we lack sufficient information to arrive at well-reasoned beliefs.
We must realize, too, that beliefs may evolve over time as we obtain more information or improve our insight.
Some people take refuge in a belief in the absolute, unchanging nature of knowledge and truth as presented by some authority, or they conclude that there is no such thing as knowledge or truth and that trying to seek either is futile.
Relativism is the idea that all beliefs are considered “relative” to the person or context in which they arise.
For a relativist, all opinions are equally valid; no one is ever in a position to say with confidence that one view is right and another one wrong.
Relativism is appropriate in some cases — for example, in matters of taste such as fashion.
However, knowledge, in the form of well-supported beliefs, does exist: Some beliefs are better than others because they can be analyzed against measurable criteria.
Understanding Falsifiable Beliefs
Another important criterion for evaluating a belief is that it be falsifiable. This means that it is possible to state conditions under which the belief could be disproved.
For example, if you believe you can create ice cubes by placing water-filled trays in a freezer, you could disprove this belief if no ice cubes form after you put the trays in the freezer.
If you believe your destiny is related to the positions of the planets and stars (as astrologers do), it is unclear how you would conduct an experiment to test that belief. A belief that is not falsifiable can never be proved, and is therefore questionable.
When you write, you present your beliefs in three ways: reports, inferences, and judgments.
Your choice of words establishes which of the three you are using:
Report: My bus was late today.
Inference: My bus will probably be late tomorrow.
Judgment: The bus system is unreliable.
Reporting Factual Information
The first statement on the previous slide reports a fact: the bus was late. When you describe the world in ways that can be verified, you are reporting factual information.
Inferring from Evidence
In the second statement, there is no way to determine whether the bus will indeed be late. When you describe the world based on factual information, yet go beyond the facts to make statements about what is not currently known, you are inferring.
In the third statement, the speaker is applying certain standards (criteria) to conclude that the bus service is unreliable. You are judging when you describe the world in ways that evaluate it on the basis of certain criteria.
In this Lesson you’ll write a paper in which you consider some influences on the development of your beliefs about a social issue or an idea related to an academic field. (See the text for more detailed guidelines.)
The Writing Situation
Purpose: You will look closely at how you come to accept concepts and at how you define what you believe and what you consider true. In doing so, you will take different kinds of information and pull them together. Such synthesis is the central purpose of many kinds of academic and professional writing.
Audience: As usual, your instructor will be the audience who will judge how well you have articulated your beliefs, how you have selected the influences on your beliefs, how you have handled the sources, and how you have planned, drafted, revised, and edited your essay.
The Writing Situation, Continued
Subject: Examining the sources of beliefs and evaluating evidence are among the most challenging of activities. As you draft, be aware of the criteria for constructing a solid argument: specific support for a claim, whether information is current, appropriateness of examples and authorities, and responsible attribution.
Writer: You should be as open as possible to new ways of thinking about your beliefs. After such critical analysis, some writers find that their beliefs have been strengthened; others may realize that some of their beliefs were based on unreliable information and need to be reevaluated.
The Writing Process
Think about sources in your field that have provided you with information that you believe. Why have they had this effect?
Think about any sources that you are reluctant to trust or believe. Why have they had this effect?
What concepts in this field do you believe most firmly? Are there some that you question?
Freewrite for five minutes about your ideas for this project.
The Writing Process, Continued
Defining a Focus: Does your idea have more than one or two aspects? For example, the issue of high-stakes testing in public schools raises questions about the kind of tests used, the effects on students’ passing to the next grade, the effects on school funding or ratings, and the effects on curriculum. If this is the case, consider focusing on only on one aspect.
Here are some other suggestions for defining a focus:
If you haven’t decided on one belief, write several. Are they interpretations, evaluations, conclusions, or predictions?
Consider your level of belief. Are you strongly convinced that your belief is plausible? Why or why not?
Focus on differences. Does a popular press, television, or website account differ from what a book says or what a professor has taught you?
The Writing Process, Continued
If you created a rough outline while you were looking for a focus, review it to see if you need to rearrange your ideas.
If you have several sources for your belief, does each one deserve at least a paragraph?
If your beliefs have changed, will you address this in your paper?
If you are contrasting two perspectives, have you structured the contrast logically?
Have you planned a conclusion? Does it refer to the influences on your beliefs?
The Writing Process, Continued
Draft a new outline or map, if necessary, as you rethink what you want to say. Look at your preliminary thesis statement. Do you need to rework it now, or should you wait until you have drafted more?
Shape the paragraphs that will make up the body of your essay. Draft clear topic sentences; think about where the topic sentence should be placed in each paragraph.
Draft an opening paragraph and a concluding paragraph, understanding that you may want to revise them later.
Revising, Editing, and Proofreading: Use the Step-by- Step method in Chapter 6 on pages 169– 171 to revise your essay.