Critical Thinking: Consider the Verdict

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Critical thinking is a valuable skill: whether you are deciding which courses to take or career to pursue, what toothpaste to use or what stocks to buy, which candidate to vote for or which cause to support, which reports to believe or what claims to reject, critical thinking can be very useful. One of the most important places for careful critical thinking is the jury room. Serving on a jury is one of the most significant and basic ways that citizens actively participate in their government, and jury service makes strong demands on citizen-jurors. Jurors must set aside any biases and judge the issues fairly; they must reason carefully about what laws are involved and how those laws apply to the specific case at hand; they must evaluate testimony and weigh both its accuracy and its relevance; and they must give a fair hearing to both sides, distinguish sound from erroneous arguments, and ultimately reach a just and reasonable conclusion. The courts offer fascinating cases for examination and analysis, and the courts have long grappled with many of the key issues in critical thinking: questions about burden of proof, legitimate analogies, distinctions between relevant and irrelevant reasons, question-begging arguments and unfair questions, the weighing of testimony (including expert testimony and appeals to expert authority), the distinction between argument and testimony, the legitimate and illegitimate use of ad hominem arguments.

The courtroom demands a high level of critical thinking skill, and it is also a fascinating place for studying and developing the key skills of critical thinking: determining exactly what the conclusion is, and who bears the burden of proving it; separating false claims from reliable information; setting aside irrelevant distractions and focusing on the question at issue; and distinguishing between erroneous and legitimate arguments. The skills that make you an effective juror will also make you an intelligent consumer, an effective planner, and a wise citizen.

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