Do you agree that we are steadily bombarded with a seemingly endless stream of information, opinions, and arguments? Social media, news outlets, and even casual conversations can quickly turn into heated debates.
But is winning an argument the same as critical thinking? Our answer: absolutely not!
Critical thinking and debating are two very different things, and it’s important to understand the distinction.
Consider this scenario: You’re watching a political debate on television. One candidate is making a compelling argument, using persuasive language and confident body language. But as you listen more closely, you realize that the argument is based on faulty information and logical fallacies. In this case, the candidate may have won the debate, but they certainly did not engage in critical thinking. And perhaps neither did those who decided the candidate should win the debate.
Critical thinking is about more than just winning an argument or convincing others to see things your way. It’s a process of evaluating information, analysing arguments, and making sound decisions based on evidence and reasoning. It requires open-mindedness, scepticism, and a willingness to consider multiple perspectives.
Some would say that our era is one characterized by widespread misinformation and propaganda. The importance of critical thinking has reached unprecedented levels. We should use critical thinking for making informed decisions, solving complex problems, and navigating the complexities of our modern society.
So let’s explore the differences between critical thinking and debating, and why understanding these distinctions is so crucial.
But first, let’s also get a clear understanding of what these terms mean.
What is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is a process of analysing information and arguments in a systematic, logical, and objective manner.
• evaluating the quality and reliability of evidence
• identifying assumptions and biases
• assessing the validity of arguments
Critical thinkers are able to separate fact from fiction, recognize logical fallacies, and make informed decisions based on evidence and reasoning.
What is Debating?
Debating, on the other hand, is a process of arguing for or against a particular position or proposition.
• presenting evidence
• making claims
• refuting counterarguments
The goal of debating is typically to persuade others to adopt a particular viewpoint or to win the argument.
What Are the Differences Between Critical Thinking and Debating?
While critical thinking and debating may share some similarities, they are fundamentally different processes.
Critical thinking is about evaluating information and arguments, while debating is about presenting arguments and trying to persuade others.
• In a debate, winning the argument is often more important than evaluating the evidence or considering alternative perspectives.
• In contrast, critical thinking is focused on understanding the evidence and arriving at a well-reasoned conclusion.
It’s important to note that critical thinking and debating can complement each other, but they are not interchangeable.
While debaters may use critical thinking skills to construct effective arguments, critical thinkers are not necessarily skilled debaters.
Difference #1 Focus
One key difference between critical thinking and debating is the focus.
Critical thinking is focused on evaluating information and arguments in a systematic, logical, and objective manner, with the goal of arriving at a well-reasoned conclusion.
In contrast, debating is focused on presenting arguments and trying to persuade others to adopt a particular viewpoint, with the goal of winning the argument.
Difference #2 To Be or Not To Be Open-Minded
Another key difference is the level of open-mindedness required.
Critical thinking requires an open-minded approach, with a willingness to consider multiple perspectives and evaluate evidence objectively. This is an important critical thinking disposition.
In contrast, debating often involves a more closed-minded approach, with a focus on presenting arguments that support one’s own position and refuting counterarguments.
Difference #3 When Should We Be Thinking Critically and When Should We Be Debating?
There are many situations where critical thinking is necessary, such as when evaluating scientific research or making important decisions about personal or professional matters. In these situations, critical thinking can help us avoid making biased or uninformed decisions, and instead arrive at well-supported and reasoned conclusions.
Furthermore, there are situations where debating may simply not be effective, such as when dealing with deeply held beliefs or emotions. In these situations, presenting arguments and trying to persuade others may not be effective, and may even lead to increased resistance and polarization.
For example, when trying to convince someone to change their deeply held religious beliefs, simply presenting arguments and trying to persuade them may not be effective. In this situation, a more nuanced approach that takes into account the individual’s emotions and beliefs may be more effective.
Overall, while both critical thinking and debating have their place, it’s important to understand the differences between these two processes and use them appropriately in different situations. By developing strong critical thinking skills, we can evaluate arguments and evidence objectively, make informed decisions, and engage in meaningful dialogue with others.
The Value of Critical Thinking
We will present below three examples of how critical thinking can be used for decision making, problem solving and for separating fact from fiction.
In these contexts, critical thinking is the better choice, as you would not be able to use debating for these kinds of activities.
The Importance of Critical Thinking in Decision Making
One area where critical thinking is particularly valuable is in decision-making. Whether we’re deciding which political candidate to support, which car to buy, or which medical treatment to undergo, critical thinking can help us evaluate the evidence, identify biases and assumptions, and arrive at a well-reasoned conclusion. This can help us avoid making impulsive or uninformed decisions, and instead make choices that are grounded in evidence and analysis.
Example: Making a decision about a career change
For example you could follow a structured approach that uses critical thinking to help guide the decision-making process when making a decision about a career change:
- Identify the problem: The first step is to clearly define the problem or decision that needs to be made. In this case, the problem is deciding whether or not to change careers.
- Gather information: The next step is to gather information about the current career and potential new career options. This may involve researching job descriptions, salary expectations, educational requirements, and growth opportunities in various fields.
- Identify personal goals and values: It’s important to consider personal goals and values when making a career change decision. Ask yourself what kind of work would be fulfilling, what type of work environment is ideal, and what values are important to you in a career.
- Evaluate alternatives: Once you have identified potential career options and personal goals and values, evaluate the pros and cons of each option. Consider factors such as job security, potential earnings, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.
- Make a decision: After evaluating alternatives, make a decision that aligns with personal goals and values, and is based on a thorough evaluation of the available information. Consider seeking advice from mentors, career counsellors, or other professionals who can provide guidance and support in the decision-making process.
- Take action: Once a decision has been made, take action to move forward with the career change. This may involve enrolling in educational programs, seeking out job opportunities, or networking with professionals in the new field.
- Evaluate outcomes: Finally, evaluate the outcomes of the decision and make adjustments as needed. If the new career is not meeting expectations, consider seeking additional education or training, or exploring alternative career paths.
The Importance of Critical Thinking in Problem Solving
Critical thinking is also important in problem-solving, whether we’re dealing with complex scientific research, societal issues, or personal challenges. By applying critical thinking skills, we can break down complex problems into manageable parts, identify underlying assumptions and biases, and develop creative and effective solutions. This can help us address the root causes of problems, rather than just treating the symptoms.
Example: Solving a relationship problem with a difficult co-worker
- Observe the behaviour: objectively observe and document the problematic behaviour of the co-worker. Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.
- Determine the impact: use critical thinking skills to assess the impact that the behaviour is having on your work or well-being. Consider the evidence objectively and evaluate the significance of the negative consequences.
- Communicate your concerns: clearly communicate your concerns to the co-worker. Use evidence and logic to support your position, and avoid emotional appeals or personal attacks.
- Listen to their perspective: actively listen to the co-worker’s perspective on the situation. Evaluate their argument objectively, and ask clarifying questions to ensure that you understand their point of view.
- Work together to find a solution: collaborate with the co-worker to find a solution to the problem. Brainstorm together and consider the pros and cons of different approaches, weighing the evidence objectively.
- Agree on a plan of action: assess the feasibility and effectiveness of the proposed solution, and agree on a plan of action that is based on evidence and logical reasoning.
- Follow up: Use critical thinking skills to evaluate the effectiveness of the agreed-upon plan of action, and make adjustments as necessary based on evidence and data.
By following this structured approach that incorporates critical thinking, you can effectively solve relationship problems with difficult co-workers in a thoughtful and evidence-based manner.
The Broader Societal Implications of Critical Thinking
In addition to its practical benefits, critical thinking also has broader societal implications. In an era of “fake news” and misinformation, critical thinking can help us separate fact from fiction, and avoid falling prey to propaganda and conspiracy theories. It can also help us engage in meaningful dialogue with others, even when we disagree, by fostering a spirit of open-mindedness, intellectual curiosity, and respect for evidence and logic.
Example: Using critical thinking to separate fact from fiction in the case of the news regarding EU forcing people to eat insects without their knowledge
- Question assumptions: Begin by questioning your own assumptions and biases about the topic. Recognize that your own beliefs or values may influence how you interpret information. Does eating insects actually have health benefits? Is it a sustainable alternative to meat? These are some questions that can be asked to question assumptions and biases when considering the topic of eating insects.
- Verify sources: Verify the sources of information you are receiving. Look for reputable sources such as academic journals, government reports, and established news outlets. Be wary of sources with a clear bias or that are not reputable. Where did you hear the claim that the EU would force people to eat insects without their knowledge? It’s important to verify the sources of this information before believing and sharing it. Look for reputable sources such as established news outlets or official statements from the European Union. Be wary of sources that have a clear bias or that are not reputable. For example, social media is notorious for spreading fake news and that includes Whatsapp. Many Whatsapp groups can be prone to spreading false or misleading information, and it can be difficult to verify the accuracy of the information. It’s important to fact-check any information received through Whatsapp or other social media platforms before accepting it as true.
- Evaluate evidence: Evaluate the evidence presented to you. Analyze the data presented and determine if it supports the claim being made. In the case of the fake news about the EU forcing citizens to eat insects, search for official statements or policies from the EU regarding this topic.
- Check for logical fallacies: Check for logical fallacies in the information presented. Be aware of common fallacies such as false equivalence or strawman arguments. For example, a common logical fallacy related to eating insects could be the appeal to tradition fallacy, which argues that something is true or correct simply because it has been done or believed for a long time. It is important to be aware of such fallacies in order to evaluate the information presented objectively and critically.
- Consider alternative viewpoints: Consider alternative viewpoints and analyze evidence that contradicts the information being presented. In this case, consider arguments against the claim that the EU is forcing citizens to eat insects. For example, some arguments could include:
- Lack of evidence: There is no concrete evidence or official statement from the EU stating that they are forcing citizens to eat insects. Therefore, it is important to question the source of the information and the credibility of the claims being made.
- Misinterpretation: The information presented could be a misinterpretation or distortion of actual EU regulations. It is important to research and understand the actual regulations before jumping to conclusions or spreading false information.
- Personal bias: It is possible that the claim of the EU forcing citizens to eat insects could stem from personal biases against insect consumption or the EU itself. It is important to remain objective and analyze the evidence presented, rather than letting personal biases cloud judgement.
- Seek out independent verification: Seek out independent verification of the information presented. Look for multiple sources that corroborate the information, and fact-check claims using reputable sources, such as fact-checking websites, news organizations, and academic publications. In the case of the claim that the EU is forcing citizens to eat insects, you can seek out information from reputable news sources, such as BBC, Reuters, or The Guardian, and check if there are any official statements or reports from the EU confirming or denying the claim. You can also look for scientific studies or reports on the benefits and risks of consuming insects as food, and evaluate the credibility of the sources and the quality of the evidence presented.
- Consider the motives: Consider the motives of those presenting the information. In this case, consider who stands to benefit from spreading false news about the EU forcing citizens to eat insects.
- Avoid confirmation bias: Avoid confirmation bias by actively seeking out information that contradicts your current beliefs. In this case, consider evidence that may contradict your belief that the EU is forcing citizens to eat insects.
We’ve seen three different examples that show the value of using critical thinking skills. While you could attempt to use debating for some of these areas, I think you will agree that the activity of debating has some limitations which makes it unsuitable for many situations. As we’ve seen, in a debate, the focus is often on winning rather than on arriving at the truth. Unless your aim is to dominate all social interaction, this can be very problematic for most situations as it will not help make your life better. Debates can also be emotionally charged and may not allow for the exploration of all possible viewpoints. In addition, debates can sometimes reinforce preconceived notions and biases, rather than challenging them.
Common Misconceptions about Critical Thinking and Debating
There are many misconceptions about critical thinking and debating that can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. Here are some of the most common misconceptions, and why they are incorrect:
Misconception #1: Critical thinking is just another term for debating
While both critical thinking and debating involve the analysis and evaluation of arguments, they are fundamentally different processes with distinct goals and approaches. As discussed earlier, critical thinking is focused on evaluating information and arguments in a systematic, logical, and objective manner, with the goal of arriving at a well-reasoned conclusion. In contrast, debating is focused on presenting arguments and trying to persuade others to adopt a particular viewpoint, with the goal of winning the argument.
Consider the following scenario: a group of people are discussing a controversial issue, such as climate change. One person argues that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by scientists and politicians to push their own agendas. Another person argues that climate change is a serious threat that requires immediate action to mitigate its effects. The two engage in a heated debate, with each trying to outdo the other in terms of the persuasiveness of their arguments.
While this debate may be stimulating and entertaining, it is not necessarily an example of critical thinking. The focus is on winning the argument rather than arriving at the truth. In contrast, a critical thinker would approach the issue of climate change by evaluating the available evidence in a systematic and objective manner. They would consider scientific studies, expert opinions, and data on global temperature trends and weather patterns. They would also be open to alternative viewpoints and would carefully evaluate counterarguments before arriving at a conclusion.
Misconception #2: Debating is the best way to arrive at the truth
While debating can be a useful tool for exploring different perspectives and ideas, it is not always the best way to arrive at the truth. Debating often involves a competitive and confrontational approach, which can lead to a focus on winning the argument rather than seeking the truth. In contrast, critical thinking involves a more open-minded and objective approach, with a focus on evaluating evidence and arguments in a rigorous and systematic manner.
Consider the topic of whether or not organic food is healthier than conventionally grown food. There are arguments and evidence presented on both sides of the debate, with some experts claiming that organic food is healthier due to the lack of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, while others argue that there is no significant nutritional difference between the two.
However, a debate between two experts on this topic may not necessarily lead to a clear understanding of the truth. This is because there are many factors to consider, such as the nutrient content of the soil, the farming practices used, and the specific types of crops being grown. Additionally, the experts may have their own biases or agendas that could influence their arguments.
Instead of a debate, a more effective way to arrive at the truth in this scenario would be to conduct a scientific study that examines the differences between organic and conventionally grown food. The study could involve analyzing the nutrient content of the crops, the levels of pesticides present, and any other relevant factors. The study could then be peer-reviewed by other experts in the field.
By taking this approach, we could arrive at a more accurate and informed conclusion about the health benefits of organic food, based on a thorough and objective analysis of the evidence. This would be a more effective way to arrive at the truth than a debate, which may be more focused on winning the argument than on reaching a shared understanding of the complex issue.
Misconception #3: Critical thinking is just a matter of personal opinion
While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, critical thinking is not simply a matter of personal preference or subjective opinion. Instead, it involves a rigorous and systematic approach to evaluating evidence and arguments, with the goal of arriving at a well-supported and reasoned conclusion. This requires a willingness to consider multiple perspectives, evaluate evidence objectively, and subject one’s own beliefs and assumptions to critical scrutiny.
Suppose there is a group of people discussing a controversial issue such as the safety of a new medical treatment. One person argues that the treatment is safe because it has been approved by the regulatory agency, while another person argues that the treatment is not safe because they have read reports of adverse reactions in some patients.
Through critical thinking, individuals in the group can evaluate the evidence presented by both sides and arrive at a more informed and objective conclusion about the safety of the treatment. They can consider the regulatory approval process, the credibility of the sources of the reports, the sample size and statistical significance of the reported adverse reactions, and any other relevant factors that may affect the safety of the treatment.
In this example, critical thinking is not simply a matter of personal opinion, but a systematic and objective process of evaluating evidence and arguments to arrive at a more informed and reasoned conclusion. It involves a rigorous examination of the available information, regardless of personal beliefs or opinions, and an open-minded willingness to consider alternative viewpoints and evidence.
By addressing these common misconceptions about critical thinking and debating, we can better understand the distinct goals and approaches of these two processes, and use them effectively in different situations. Whether we’re evaluating information, making decisions, or engaging in public discourse, developing strong critical thinking skills can help us become more informed, rational, and effective thinkers and communicators.
Improving Critical Thinking Skills
Developing strong critical thinking skills is an ongoing process that requires practice, patience, and persistence. Here are some practical tips and strategies for improving your critical thinking skills:
- Be curious and open-minded: A key aspect of critical thinking is a willingness to explore new ideas, perspectives, and evidence. Cultivate a sense of curiosity and openness to new information, and be willing to consider alternative viewpoints and ideas.
For example, if you encounter a new concept or idea that challenges your existing beliefs or assumptions, try to approach it with an open mind and consider the evidence and arguments supporting it. Don’t dismiss ideas outright without fully understanding them, and be willing to ask questions and seek out additional information to gain a more complete understanding.
Similarly, when engaging in discussions or debates, be open to hearing the perspectives of others and consider their arguments and evidence before forming your own conclusions. This can help you develop a more well-rounded and informed perspective, and may even lead to new insights or solutions to problems.
- Question assumptions: Critical thinking involves questioning assumptions, biases, and preconceptions that may be influencing your thinking. Be willing to challenge your own beliefs and assumptions, and seek out evidence and arguments that may challenge your existing beliefs.
For example, if you have always believed that a certain political party or ideology is the best for your country, try to examine the evidence and arguments against it, and consider alternative viewpoints. Similarly, if you are working on a project or problem-solving task, question the assumptions underlying your approach, and consider alternative strategies and solutions.
It’s also important to be aware of your own biases and preconceptions, and how they may be influencing your thinking. For example, if you have a strong emotional attachment to a particular idea or belief, this may be clouding your judgment and preventing you from considering alternative viewpoints. By questioning your assumptions and being aware of your biases, you can make more informed and objective decisions.
- Evaluate evidence: One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is the ability to evaluate evidence and arguments in a systematic and rigorous manner. Develop your ability to evaluate the credibility, relevance, and reliability of different sources of information, and seek out diverse perspectives and viewpoints.
For example, when evaluating evidence, start by considering the source of the information. Is it from a credible and trustworthy source, or is it biased or unreliable? Consider the author or organization behind the information, as well as any potential conflicts of interest.
Next, consider the relevance of the evidence to your particular question or problem. Is the evidence directly related to your topic, or is it tangential or irrelevant? Is the evidence current and up-to-date, or is it outdated or no longer applicable?
Finally, consider the reliability of the evidence. Is it based on sound methodology and research, or is it based on anecdotal or unsupported claims? Are there other sources of evidence that support or contradict the claims being made?
- Practice problem-solving: Critical thinking involves the ability to analyze complex problems and develop creative solutions. Practice problem-solving exercises and techniques, and seek out opportunities to apply your critical thinking skills in real-world situations.
For example, you can practice problem-solving by breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable components, and then working to identify potential solutions for each component.
You can also practice brainstorming techniques to generate new ideas and approaches to solving problems. This might involve engaging in group discussions or using mind mapping software to visually represent different ideas and possibilities.
Another useful problem-solving technique is to engage in “what-if” scenarios, where you imagine different scenarios or potential outcomes and work to identify potential solutions or responses for each one.
Finally, seek out real-world opportunities to apply your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This might involve volunteering for a community organization, taking on a challenging project at work, or engaging in personal projects that require creative problem-solving.
In conclusion, critical thinking is a vital skill that is distinct from debating. While debating involves arguing a position and defending one’s point of view, critical thinking involves evaluating evidence and arguments in a systematic and rigorous manner to arrive at a well-reasoned conclusion.
It is essential to develop strong critical thinking skills. Our effectiveness in addressing complex issues and challenges can be enhanced by developing our capacity to scrutinize information and arrive at sound decisions.
To improve your critical thinking skills, it is important to cultivate curiosity, question assumptions, evaluate evidence, practice problem-solving, and use resources and tools to support your learning. By consistently practicing these habits and techniques, you can develop and hone your critical thinking skills over time.