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Distinguishing Between Inferences and Assumptions


To be skilled in critical thinking is to be able to take one’s thinking apart systematically, to analyze each part, assess it for quality and then improve it. The first step in this process is understanding the parts of thinking, or elements of reasoning.

These elements are: purpose, question, information, inference, assumption, point of view, concepts, and implications. They are present in the mind whenever we reason. To take command of our thinking, we need to formulate both our purpose and the question at issue clearly. We need to use information in our thinking that is both relevant to the question we are dealing with, and accurate. We need to make logical inferences based on sound assumptions. We need to understand our own point of view and fully consider other relevant viewpoints. We need to use concepts justifiably and follow out the implications of decisions we are considering. (For an elaboration of the Elements of Reasoning, see a Miniature Guide to the Foundations of Analytic Thinking.)

In this article we focus on two of the elements of reasoning: inferences and assumptions. Learning to distinguish inferences from assumptions is an important intellectual skill. Many confuse the two elements. Let us begin with a review of the basic meanings:

  1. Inference: An inference is a step of the mind, an intellectual act by which one concludes that...To read the full article, join the Center for Critical Thinking Community Online – the world’s leading online community dedicated to teaching and advancing critical thinking. Featuring the world's largest library of critical thinking articles, videos, and books, as well as learning activities, study groups, and a social media component, this interactive learning platform is essential to anyone dedicated to developing as an effective reasoner in the classroom, in the professions, in business and government, and throughout personal life. Join the community and learn explicit tools of critical thinking.














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