critical thinking approaches present all judgments as
falling into two exclusive and exhaustive categories:
fact and opinion. Actually, the kind of judgment most
important to educated people and the kind we most want
to foster falls into a third, very important, and now
almost totally ignored category, that of reasoned judgment.
A judge in
a court of law is expected to engage in reasoned judgment;
that is, the judge is expected not only to render a judgment,
but also to base that judgment on sound, relevant evidence
and valid legal reasoning.
A judge is
not expected to base his judgments on his subjective preferences,
on his personal opinions, as such. You might put it this
way, judgment based on sound reasoning goes beyond, and
is never to be equated with, fact alone or mere opinion
alone. Facts are typically used in reasoning, but good
reasoning does more than state facts. Furthermore, a position
that is well-reasoned is not to be described as simply
"opinion." Of course, we sometimes call the judge's verdict
an "opinion," but we not only expect, we demand that it
be based on relevant and sound reasoning.
Here's a somewhat
different way to put this same point. It is essential
when thinking critically to clearly distinguish three
different kinds of questions:
- Those with
one right answer (factual questions fall into this category).
What is the boiling point of lead?
- Those with
better or worse answers (well-reasoned or poorly reasoned
answers). How can we best address the most basic and
significant economic problems of the nation today?
- Those with
as many answers as there are different human preferences
(a category in which mere opinion does rule).Which would
you prefer, a vacation in the mountains or one at the
Only the third
kind of question is a matter of sheer opinion. The second
kind is a matter of reasoned judgment - we can rationally
evaluate answers to the question (using universal intellectual
standards such as clarity, depth, consistency and so forth).
that require better or worse answers are treated as matters
of opinion, pseudo critical thinking occurs. Students
come, then, to uncritically assume that everyone's "opinion"
is of equal value. Their capacity to appreciate the importance
of intellectual standards diminishes, and we can expect
to hear questions such as these: What if I don't like
these standards? Why shouldn't I use my own standards?
Don't I have a right to my own opinion? What if I'm just
an emotional person? What if I like to follow my intuition?
What if I don't believe in being "rational?" They then
fail to see the difference between offering legitimate
reasons and evidence in support of a view and simply asserting
the view as true. The failure to teach students to recognize,
value, and respect good reasoning is one of the most significant
failings of education today.