Introduction to Critical Thinking: Video and Text

Dr. Martin Luther King said: The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically…The complete education gives one not only power of concentration but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.
Critical thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation. It includes possible processes of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a solid judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense. In contemporary usage “critical” has a certain negative connotation that does not apply in the present case. Though the term “analytical thinking” may seem to convey the idea more accurately, critical thinking clearly involves synthesis, evaluation, and reconstruction of thinking, in addition to analysis.

Critical thinkers gather information from all senses, verbal and/or written expressions, reflection, observation, experience and reasoning. Critical thinking has its basis in intellectual criteria that go beyond subject-matter divisions and which include: clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness.

Overview

Critical thinking is a form of judgment, specifically purposeful and reflective judgment. Using critical thinking one makes a decision or solves the problem of judging what to believe or what to do, but does so in a reflective way. Critical thinking gives due consideration to the evidence, the context of judgment, the relevant criteria for making that judgment well, the applicable methods or techniques for forming that judgment, and the applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the nature of the problem and the question at hand. These elements also happen to be the key defining characteristics of professional fields and academic disciplines. This is why critical thinking can occur within a given subject field (by reference to its specific set of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.) and across subject fields in all those spaces where human beings need to interact and make decisions, solve problems, and figure out what to believe and what to do.

Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves acquiring information and evaluating it to reach a well-justified conclusion or answer. Part of critical thinking comprises informal logic. However, a large part of critical thinking goes beyond informal logic and includes assessment of beliefs and identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus more on teaching their students critical thinking skills, intellectual standards, and cultivating intellectual traits (such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, and fair-mindedness) than on memorizing facts by rote learning.

As defined in A Greek-English Lexicon, the verb krino- means to choose, decide or judge. Hence a krites is a discerner, judge or arbiter. Those who are kritikos have the ability to discern or decide by exercising sound judgment. The word krino- also means to separate (winnow) the wheat from the chaff or that which has worth from that which does not.

Critical thinking is important, because it enables one to analyze, evaluate, explain, and restructure our thinking, decreasing thereby the risk of acting on, or thinking with, a false premise. However, even with the use of critical thinking skills, mistakes can happen due to a thinker’s egocentrism or sociocentrism or failure to be in possession of the full facts. In addition, there is always the possibility of inadvertent human error.

Universal concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.

One can regard critical thinking as involving two aspects:

1. a set of cognitive skills, intellectual standards, and traits of mind
2. the disposition or intellectual commitment to use those structures to improve thinking and guide behavior.

Critical thinking, in the strong sense, does not include simply the acquisition and retention of information, or the possession of a skill-set which one does not use regularly; nor does critical thinking merely exercise skills without acceptance of the results.

Uses

Critical thinking is useful only in those situations where human beings need to solve problems, make decisions, or decide in a reasonable and reflective way what to believe or what to do.(Robert Ennis) That is, just about everywhere and all the time. Critical thinking is important wherever the quality of human thinking significantly impacts the quality of life (of any sentient creature). For example, success in human life is tied to success in learning. At the same time, every phase in the learning process is tied to critical thinking. Thus, reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically. Critical thinking is crucial to becoming a close reader and a substantive writer. Expressed most generally, critical thinking is “a way of taking up the problems of life.” (William Graham Sumner, Folkways, 1906)

Irrespective of the sphere of thought, “a well cultivated critical thinker”:

* raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
* gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
* comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
* thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
* communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.


Further Study and Research:

Foundation For Critical Thinking – a large library of articles, research, assessment instruments, etc.


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