Critical Thinking is, in some ways, the study of distinctions. Where once we thought there was one, now there are many. Explanations, for example, split into troubleshooting, detective work, and medical diagnoses, among others. Anomalies divide into two categories: systematic and conditional. Defences of our actions branch into justifications and excuses. By the end of this text, we will have dealt with each of these in detail.
In Critical Thinking in general, we deal with conclusions. Some conclusions are explanations. Some are patterns. Some are principles. Other conclusions are recommendations of various sorts. Within each category we can, and will, identify further distinctions. Arguments, in our terminology, are conclusions plus reasons to think the conclusion is acceptable.
Conclusions can be explanations or recommendations, among other things.
Arguments are conclusions plus reasons to think the conclusion is acceptable.
Giving reasons is like giving directions to a destination. If you want to get to the ferry terminal, follow the Marine Parade to the end and take a left; that’s the quickest route. The weather forecast calls for rain, so you’d best bring an umbrella; a forecast of rain is a good reason to think you should bring an umbrella.
On the surface these distinctions might seem wholly academic. In practice, we’ll experience the value of distinguishing this kind of thinking from that kind of thinking. As we develop classification schemes, we’ll exercise these and many other distinctions.
“Thinking” is not a singular concept. There is no single process that is thinking, and we distinguish kinds of thinking to demonstrate this fact. In the world many observable actions, behaviours, and dispositions exemplify our thinking. In a sufficiently flexible framework we conceive of "thinking as “these things are thinking” (as are many other things), rather than “thinking is this thing” (and is made up of many parts that we might enumerate). This flexibility is the source of our system's power and adaptability. Furthermore, this approach is akin to how we teach language. Josephine is learning Spanish. We show her how the words work, rather than telling her what the words mean.