Critical Thinking

One of the first things to understand about critical thinking is that little is possible without a certain degree of knowledge or information that is specific to the subject. So the first step in critical thinking involves humility. Understand that it is difficult to think critically about a topic that one knows little about. At one level we all know what "critical thinking" means — it means good and correct thinking, almost the opposite of illogical, irrational thinking.

Secondly, critical thinking requires skepticism. Information in newspapers and books is frequently incorrect, at least partially. Parents are often wrong; "experts" who have doctorates completely disagree at times. Teachers (excepting this one) are sometimes wrong. YOU ARE OFTEN WRONG. Believe it. Assume it. Critical thinkers are humble about their knowledge. They are convinced that they do not know all the answers, that their information is usually incomplete and biased. They assume the same about others.

A critical thinker is a person who is skeptical of simple or singular explanations to social problems, is mindful of the frequent mistakes people make in using numbers or statistics, actively looks for bias in himself and others, and searches for underlying, faulty assumptions. Critical thinking is a pervasive and purposeful human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker can be characterized not merely by her or his cognitive skills but also by how she or he approaches life and living in general. Critical thinker possess a critical spirit in a positive sense. It is "a probing inquisitiveness, a keenness of mind, a zealous dedication to reason, and a hunger or eagerness for reliable information." Almost sounds like Sherlock Holmes? The kind of person being described here is the kind that always wants to ask "Why?" or "How?" or "What happens if?" - seeking more and more reasoning and clarity.

Core Critical Thinking Skills

Analysis - to identify the intended and actual inferential relationships among statements, questions, concepts, descriptions, or other forms of representation intended to express belief, judgment, experiences, reasons, information, or opinions.

Interpretation - to comprehend and express the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, statements, rules, procedures, or criteria.

Self-regulation - self-consciously to monitor one's cognitive activities, the elements used in those activities, and the results educed, particularly by applying skills in analysis, and evaluation to one's own inferential judgments with a view toward questioning, confirming, validation, or correcting either one's reasoning or one's results.

Inference - to identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; to form conjectures and hypotheses; to consider relevant information and to educe the consequences flowing from data, statements, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opinions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation.

Explanation - to state the results of one's reasoning, to justify that reasoning in terms of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteria-logical, and contextual considerations upon which one's results were based; and to present one's reasoning in the form of cogent arguments.

Evaluation - to assess the credibility of statements or other representations which are accounts or descriptions of a person's perception, experience, situation, judgment, belief, or opinion; and to assess the logical strength of the actual or intended inferential relationships among statements, descriptions, questions or other forms of representation.

The approaches to life and living in general which characterize critical thinking include:

  • Inquisitiveness with regard to a wide range of issues
  • Concern to become and remain well-informed
  • Alertness to opportunities to use critical thinking
  • Trust in the processes of reasoned inquiry
  • Self-confidence in one's own abilities to reason
  • Open-mindedness regarding divergent world views
  • Flexibility in considering alternatives and opinions
  • Understanding of the opinions of other people
  • Fair-mindedness in appraising reasoning
  • Honesty in facing one's own biases, prejudices, stereotypes, or egocentric tendencies
  • Prudence in suspending, making or altering judgments
  • Willingness to reconsider and revise views where honest reflection suggests that change is warranted.

A critical thinker looks for underlying, possibly faulty assumptions and bias.

This is perhaps the most critical part of examining thinking. What does the speaker or writer assume? Frequently it is assumed that people understand the same thing when a term is used. For the word.

It is often easy to see bias in others and difficult to see it in ourselves. In the social sciences we assume bias, that is, we understand that there is bias in all human perceptions. This doesn’t necessarily invalidate a perception or opinion, but it does mean that one must look to see how the bias might have contaminated the opinion or finding. Often we see what we want to see; we look for what we wish to find. Our opinions or perceptions are colored not only by our experiences, but also by what is convenient for us to believe. A critical thinker looks for bias, understands that it motivates much reasoning and contaminates many arguments. Critical thinkers are aware that social problems seldom have simple, singular solutions, are skeptical of the accuracy of statistics or numbers, assume that bias is present in most human opinions or beliefs, and look for faulty assumptions that often underlie many ideas.

The Disposition Toward Critical Thinking

  • Truth seeking
  • Open-minded
  • Analytical
  • Systematic
  • Judicious
  • Confident In Reasoning
  • Inquisitive


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