People’s interactions with each other and the world are founded on their ability to think. Critical reasoning is another unique skill of living beings that allows them to form and present their opinions and converse with others to make decisions. Thus, it is vital to understand what factors contribute to the development of one’s critical thinking and how they may help one discuss complex questions.
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The first possible framework for addressing the concepts of argumentation was designed by Paul and Elder (2006) who introduced eight elements of thought as the basis for every statement. Another approach suggests for people ask the right questions when considering an issue (Stanlick & Strawser, 2015). These ideas can be similar to each other because they have a similar aim – uncovering hidden or lacking information in arguments. Their comparison, however, may show that the integration of the two approaches into one can guide their users to the most thought-out conclusions.
Elements of Thought
The complete theory by Paul and Elder consist of three parts, the elements of thought being a set of actions that develop one’s critical thinking. These elements are: “purpose, question at issue, information, interpretation and interference, concepts, assumptions, implications and consequences, and point of view” (Paul & Elder, 2006, p. 5). An argument, according to the authors, has to account for all of these aspects to be decisive. Therefore, when questioning a subject, a person can rely on these elements as a guide to assessing the quality of one’s logic.
The result of using this framework yields several questions about the issue at hand. For example, the element of purpose implies that all reasoning must have an aim that it hopes to achieve. The question “Why is this subject discussed?” can help one to reveal the underlying problems or see the root of the argument. Other elements provide people with similar questions, creating a specific path for examining logical conclusions.
The concept of “right questions” suggests that to critically evaluate an argument, one has to know which inquiries will gather the most vital information about a subject. Browne and Keeley (2015) provide such questions as “What are the reasons?” and “What are the descriptive assumptions?” as good examples. Here, one can see that the intention is to discover more details about an argument, approaching it from different sides and attempting to deconstruct each presented idea or fact. The right questions should show what seems to be correct or erroneous, and what pieces of knowledge are missing from one’s view. The strategy of asking certain questions is helpful, and research demonstrates that the ability to pose questions correctly leads to an in-depth investigation into problems (Yildirim & Soylemez, 2018). Thus, the strategy of asking the right questions has a role in enhancing one’s reasoning skills.
Comparison and Integration
The description of each approach shows that the elements of thought and right questions have many similarities. First of all, their purpose is identical – to help a person to understand not only the contents of an argument but also its subtext. The approaches are focused on the weaknesses of reasoning, looking at its different sides. However, one may see that the strategy introduced by Paul and Elder (2006) is structured, presenting eight distinct categories that should be addressed. In contrast, the idea of right questions is less explicit since it is not clear which question can or cannot be considered “right.” As Hanscomb (2017) notes, the quality of chosen questions may determine how well one examines an issue. Therefore, the lack of clarity in discussing the right questions weakens their reliability in critical thinking.
It is possible, however, to integrate both strategies into one’s knowledge and extract the best qualities from them. Paul and Elder’s elements of thought offer a structure with the help of which each argument can be reviewed. Using these elements as steps in investigating a problem, a person will not forget about the key questions that have to be considered. At the same time, the elements by themselves do not contain inquiries but guide one to develop the right questions. The result of this combination is a system for effective critical thinking. First, an individual remembers all eight elements in the correct order. Then, each element is used as a foundation for insightful questions. In that way, people can not only explore the ideas of others but also construct their own opinions acknowledging all potential weaknesses in advance.
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The skill of critical thinking is helpful in all areas of people’s lives. The approaches to investigating arguments may benefit from having a solid structure, providing people with a system that is easy to use and follow. Thus, the framework of the elements of thought can be a solution to approaching analytical reasoning. It assists people by separating all information about an issue into eight segments that can be questioned further. Here, the idea of asking the right questions is presented since these inquiries do not appear without one’s understanding of what should be put under scrutiny. All in all, the “elements of thought” can be viewed as a general approach to critical thinking whereas the “right questions” is an outcome of knowing how to examine an argument.
Browne, M. N., & Keeley, S.M. (2015). Asking the right questions: A guide to critical thinking (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Hanscomb, S. (2017). Critical thinking: The basics. New York, NY: Routledge.
Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2006). The miniature guide to critical thinking concepts and tools. Web.
Stanlick, N. A., & Strawser, M. J. (2015). Asking good questions: Case studies in ethics and critical thinking. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.
Yildirim, S., & Soylemez, Y. (2018). The effect of performing reading activities with critical reading questions on critical thinking and reading skills. Asian Journal of Education and Training, 4(4), 326-335.