If you put humans in any situation, they start to give it some meaning or other.
People automatically make inferences to gain a basis for understanding and action.
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. Let us begin with a review of the basic meanings: We humans naturally and regularly use our beliefs as assumptions and make inferences based on those assumptions.
We must do so to make sense of where we are, what we are about, and what is happening.
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.
As we write, we make inferences as to what readers will make of what we are writing.
We make inferences as to the clarity of what we are saying, what requires further explanation, what has to be exemplified or illustrated, and what does not.