Thinking critically is a challenging and fun (sometimes) way of - well, thinking things. Many people aren't really aware they are doing it. When a student does his homework or when a family man (or woman) budgets their income for the rainy days, they are already thinking critically. Think of anything you have done in the past that does not require that you think. I can bet you can only think of only a handful, and most of it has maybe not so good consequences. But still, come think of it. You've been thinking your way through life since you've been made aware of all these choices and decision that has come along your way.
So what is critical thinking anyway? Is it just really, REALLY thinking hard? Not really. These are skills that all of us, young and old, need to learn to be able to solve problems and make better decisions. Information are gathered through observation, communication, experience, or through the use of our senses. This information is analyzed and evaluated, leading to the resulting decision or solution.
At its core, critical thinking is about being able to listen, and respond to any information and not just simply accepting any information at face value. To question that information is the most important part of critical thinking. "It is a part of scientific, mathematical, historical, economic and philosophical thinking, all of which are necessary for the future development of our society".*
Sounds complex eh? It's not. When you hear your neighbor rant about a thing or two gossiping another neighbor, do you instantly believe the person? I'm pretty sure it's not. In that scenario you have already exhibited basic critical thinking skills. You ask your neighbor one question after another and he or she answers it. Of course with every answer you analyse whether everything your neighbor said could be pieced together or makes sense. And it is totally up to you really whether you believe that story or not. Another example of using your critical thinking faculties is when you plan for your son's birthday party. You consider all the possible places to celebrate, the budget at hand or budget that needs to be saved for that event, inviting people, planning games and amusement, the food - who will prepare, was the dishes, cook, etc. Of course you get all the information and analyze it, coming up with all the preferable factors and put them into action. The culmination of all the planning is the party itself. There are still many things where we can practice critical thinking but I am not going to deal with that further. There's too many of them.
Critical Thinking as Defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, 1987**
A statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987.
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.
Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.
Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one's groups’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fair-mindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of "idealism" by those habituated to its selfish use.
Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is therefore typically a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or with respect to a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavor.
So is it really important to think critically? A resounding answer would be yes!
Also, here is a good video presentation about Critical Thinking by Qualiasoup.
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