What is Critical Thinking?

From: Dan Kurland’s www.criticalreading.com

What is Critical Thinking?

No one always acts purely objectively and rationally. We connive for selfish interests.  We gossip, boast, exaggerate, and equivocate. It is “only human” to wish to validate our prior knowledge, to vindicate our prior decisions, or to sustain our earlier beliefs. In the process of satisfying our ego, however, we can often deny ourselves intellectual growth and opportunity. We may not always want to apply critical thinking skills, but we should have those skills available to be employed when needed.

Critical thinking includes a complex combination of skills.  Among the main characteristics are the following:

Rationality

We are thinking critically when we

  • rely on reason rather than emotion,
  • require evidence, ignore no known evidence, and follow evidence where it leads, and
  • are concerned more with finding the best explanation than being right analyzing apparent confusion and asking questions.

Self-awareness

We are thinking critically when we

  • weigh the influences of motives and bias, and
  • recognize our own assumptions, prejudices, biases, or point of view.

Honesty

We are thinking critically when we recognize emotional impulses, selfish motives, nefarious purposes, or other modes of self-deception.

Open-mindedness

We are thinking critically when we

  • evaluate all reasonable inferences
  • consider a variety of possible viewpoints or perspectives,
  • remain open to alternative interpretations
  • accept a new explanation, model, or paradigm because it explains the evidence better, is simpler, or has fewer inconsistencies or covers more data
  • accept new priorities in response to a reevaluation of the evidence or reassessment of our real interests, and
  • do not reject unpopular views out of hand.

Discipline

We are thinking critically when we

  • are precise, meticulous, comprehensive, and exhaustive
  • resist manipulation and irrational appeals, and
  • avoid snap judgments.

Judgment

We are thinking critically when we

  • recognize the relevance and/or merit of alternative assumptions and perspectives
  • recognize the extent and weight of evidence

In sum,

  • Critical thinkers are by nature skeptical. They approach texts with the same skepticism and suspicion as they approach spoken remarks.
  • Critical thinkers are active, not passive.  They ask  questions and analyze. They consciously apply tactics and strategies to uncover meaning or assure their understanding.
  • Critical thinkers do not take an egotistical view of the world. They are open to new ideas and perspectives.  They are willing to challenge their beliefs and investigate competing evidence.

Critical thinking enables us to recognize a wide range of subjective analyses of otherwise objective data, and to evaluate how well each analysis might meet our needs. Facts may be facts, but how we interpret them may vary.

By contrast, passive, non-critical thinkers take a simplistic view of the world.

  • They see things in black and white, as either-or, rather than recognizing a variety of possible understanding.
  • They see questions as yes or no with no subtleties.
  • They fail to see linkages and complexities.
  • They fail to recognize related elements.

Non-critical thinkers take an egotistical view of the world

  • They take their facts as the only relevant ones.
  • They take their own perspective as the only sensible one.
  • They take their goal as the only valid one.
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About Jeff Randall

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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6 Responses to What is Critical Thinking?

  1. Excellent breakdown of critical thinking and the way you segment it into different skill sets was well done. I’ll definitely be using this (and giving you credit). Thank you.

    • Jeff Randall says:

      Don’t give me credit. Give it to Dan Kurland (link at top of the post).

      I was originally planning to use some of his ideas as the starting point of my own post, but the more I looked the less I found that I wanted to add. So I figured it would be nice to share his thoughts, since he did an excellent job.

  2. Jeffrey Hyman says:

    emotion is reason. The reason for behavior is maximization of pleasant emotion.
    Without emotion we’re all dead computers.
    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/reviewofbooks_article/10357/
    David Brooks, ‘Reason is nestled upon emotion and dependent on it.’
    –Things often are black and white.
    If the correct answer to a question is subtle or complex, it would still the correct answer and other answers would be incorrect.
    sometimes white is white, and black is black; and sometimes gray is white, and black and white are both gray:/?

    you made me think of this wikipedia article:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_induction
    another article found as I was trying to figure out what wikipedia article I was thinking of: http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/EPS/PES-Yearbook/93_docs/DCMCCART.HTM
    (looks interesting, I might read it later)

  3. Jeff Randall says:

    Emotion is A reason for many actions, but it is not reason.

    Granted there are many aspects of life where the emotional choice may be better than the rational or reasonable choice (love for instance).

    But when deciding things like should I vaccinate my child, while emotional appeals from somebody like Jenny McCarthy may tug at one’s heart string, reason says to follow the current scientific and medical understanding and get the kid vaccinated.

    I think the primary point this post makes, and much of what I post on the blog and say in my life, is that Thinking Critically is a process, and an important one. Thinking Critically is the foundation of making more good decisions than bad ones. Thinking Critically is not always easy, but more often than not is the way to go. In short, Thinking Critically is better than not…

    • Jeffrey Hyman says:

      The reason you vaccinate your child is the same reason that Jenny McCarthy does not. You both want the best for your children because you both love your children, and you would experience negative emotion if your children were harmed. The difference between you and McCarthy is not so much that she has too much emotion but rather that you have superior knowledge, logic, understanding which leads you to superior means of maximizing your emotional state. Emotion is still the basis of reason.
      Planet is overpopulated. Vaccines should be banned so that disease might serve its natural function and thin us out so we might not destroy existence.
      http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abstracts/2008/Hansen_etal.html

  4. Jeff Randall says:

    The difference between you and McCarthy is not so much that she has too much emotion but rather that you have superior knowledge, logic, understanding which leads you to superior means of maximizing your emotional state.

    She has access to the same information I do. In fact because of her status as a spokesman for the other side, I would argue that she has better access to the true information than I do.
    However because of her irrational beliefs, which came in to being due to emotion, not reason, she chooses to dismiss science in favor of her “mommy instinct”.

    Emotion is still the basis of reason.

    Emotion is in this case the antithesis of reason…

    Planet is overpopulated. Vaccines should be banned so that disease might serve its natural function and thin us out so we might not destroy existence.

    Ummmmmmm…
    The last person that I heard saying things like this, ended up taking hostages at the Discovery Channel and doing a “suicide by cop”…

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