National Conference on Student Writing and Critical Thinking in Agriculture


Teaching Critical Thinking: Skills versus Attitudes

(Including the Virtues of a Reasonable Person in a Critical Thinking Class)


Ed Sherline

Department of Philosophy

University of Wyoming

Laramie, WY  82071-3392



Handout 2:  An inventory of the basic skills needed for understanding and evaluating arguments in teaching critical thinking across the curriculum.


This inventory was compiled from the following three texts:  Copi and Cohen, Hurley, and Salmon (see Handout 1 for full references to these texts).  Discussion of these skills can be found in the first chapters of these texts.  This inventory presupposes an argument-based approach to critical thinking, in which the central learning goals are to identify, analyze, evaluate, and compose arguments.  I haven't listed all of the essential argument-based skills of critical thinking, but only the minimal ones needed in incorporating critical thinking into agricultural curricula.  So, this list avoids technical skills and concepts of logic that would require extensive classroom time.


Recognize when evidence is required to support an assertion.


Distinguish between the truth of sentences and the support they would provide for other sentences if they were true.


Sensitivity to different uses of language.  That is, be able to recognize arguments and distinguish them from explanations, descriptions, narratives, and other uses of language.


Isolate component arguments in complex debates.  Be able to identify the structural relationship among the arguments. 


Identify the parts of arguments (premises and conclusions).


Distinguish between deductive and inductive arguments. 


For deductive arguments, be aware of the distinguish between criticizing an argument because of its form (structure) and criticizing an argument because it relies on a false premise.


For inductive arguments, be able to determine whether they are strong or weak.


Supply missing premises (especially plausible generalizations) that are unstated.


Identify informal fallacies in arguments.  Know why they are fallacies.  Avoid formulating fallacious arguments.