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Section 1
CRITICAL REASONING PRINCIPLES

The following eight principles of critical reasoning are tools you can use to guide your reasoning process. We know from experience that the application of these principles will both reinforce and improve your skills as a soldier and as a leader.

1.  PURPOSE, GOAL, OR OBJECTIVE

A truism is that all tasks have some purpose, goal, or objective. Failure to clarify the "why" we need to perform a task may or may not result in goals that are contradictory, confusing, or unrealistic. However, failure to clarify the "why" may limit our understanding of what we have done. Therefore, we must take the time to clarify what it is we want to accomplish. The application of critical reasoning skills helps us to examine the "why" behind any given task.

Critical reasoning skills help us to:

  • Clearly state our purpose, our end state.
  • Ensure our purpose is realistic and significant.
  • Distinguish our purpose from related purposes.
  • Check periodically to be sure we are still on target.

The strategy used by the United States in Desert Shield/Desert Storm against Iraq is an example of a clear purpose. The purpose was to destroy Iraq’s ability to wage offensive war against her neighbors--not destroy the country. The US reasoning was sound in terms of focus on the purpose.

2.  QUESTION AT ISSUE OR PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED

Whenever we attempt to understand something, there is at least one question at issue or one problem needing a solution, begging for our attention. The only way we are going to understand the issue or problem is to take the time to identify the underlying issues. We can only understand the issue or problem when we identify and ask the right questions.

Reasoning is an attempt to identify the true issue or problem and the right questions to ask. Therefore--

  • Take time to clearly identify the issue(s) or problem(s).
  • Identify whether it's a personal, organizational, or leadership issue or problem.
  • Divide the issue or problem into subcategories.
  • Identify the question(s) behind the issue(s) or problem(s).
  • Express the question(s) in several ways to clarify meaning and scope.

3.  POINT OF VIEW OR PERSPECTIVE

Whenever we reason it is always from some point of view. A point of view is one's perspective on any issue or problem. A point of view reflects one's personality, educational development, experiences, and military position. Our continuing education, training, and ongoing experiences help us to reason through issues and problems to reach solutions. We must draw on our experiences, training, and education along with that of others to look at problems from multiple perspectives. Soliciting others' points of view will help us analyze and identify the hidden ideas underlying our assumptions.

Because reasoning begins with a point of view, we must--

  • Identify our own point of view.
  • Seek others' points of view.
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of each point of view.
  • Strive for objectivity in evaluating all points of view.

4.  DATA

Whenever we reason, there is some evidence that we use to support or reject a particular position. We call this evidence data. Data is the information, facts, observations, and experiences that may support or reject a given position or thesis. For example, your task is to report on the most significant technological advancement in warfare during the past 100 years. You need to identify what data you need, collect the data, analyze it to identify the supporting and opposing relationships, show how it supports and opposes various positions, and present your conclusions. Any defect or weakness in the data we use to support a position may be a possible source of problems.

Because we base our reasoning on data, we must--

  • Identify what data we need.
  • Search for information that opposes and supports our reasoning.
  • Make sure all the data is clear, accurate, and relevant to the question at issue.
  • Lay out the evidence to clearly identify supporting and opposing relationships.
  • Restrict our claims to those supported by sufficient data.

5.  CONCEPTS OR IDEAS

Reasoning uses some concepts or ideas and not others. These concepts include the theories, principles, self-evident truths (we call these axioms), and rules implicit in reasoning. Any defect in the concepts or ideas serving as a basis for reasoning is a possible source of problems.

Because concepts and ideas shape our reasoning, we must--

  • Identify key concepts and explain them clearly.
  • Consider alternative concepts or alternative definitions to concepts.
  • Make sure we are using concepts with care and precision.

6.  ASSUMPTIONS AND PRESUPPOSITIONS

Reasoning must begin somewhere and must take some things for granted. Assumptions and presuppositions are those things we often take for granted without examining; they are a part of life. They are essential conditions for any course of action to occur. We must clearly identify why our assumptions and presuppositions are essential or not, and reject those that are not essential. The following can help determine if our assumptions and presuppositions are essential.

  • If the assumption or presupposition changes and the answer/conclusion changes, then it is essential.
  • If the assumption or presupposition changes but the answer or conclusion does not change, then it is not essential.

Because our assumptions influence our reasoning, we must--

  • Clearly identify our assumptions and check for their probable validity.
  • Check the consistency of our assumptions.
  • Reexamine the question at issue when assumptions prove insupportable.

7.  INFERENCES SUGGEST CONCLUSIONS

Reasoning proceeds by steps:  "Because this is so, that also is so," or "Since this, therefore, that." Premises and evidence underlay the process of deriving an inference or conclusion from facts or evidence. Premises and evidence lead to inferences that suggest one or more conclusions. Inferences, therefore, are tentative conclusions that link premises and data to final conclusions. If there is something wrong with our inferences, our conclusions are defective.

Inferences are tentative interpretations that we use to draw conclusions and give meaning to the data.

8.  IMPLICATIONS AND CONSEQUENCES

No matter where we stop our reasoning, there will always be further implications and consequences. An implication(s) is a claim or truth that follows from two or more premises. Implication(s) suggests possible consequences or results that may or will occur if certain premises are true. We must always ask whether we have clearly identified the implications of any and all courses of action and clarified the consequences. Military personnel are good at planning and executing missions; however, not everyone asks the questions: "What do we do when we win?" "What are the long-term consequences of this decision?" The implications for each decision may have unanticipated consequences, both positive and negative, for our military policy, operations, and personnel.

Reasoning leads somewhere--it has implications and consequences.

  • Identify the implications and possible consequences of all courses of action.
  • Search for negative and positive consequences for each course of action.
  • Anticipate unusual or unexpected consequences for each course of action.
  • Examine the implications and consequences from various points of view.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 14, 2016