What is Critical Thinking?

In a Nutshell:  Critical Thinking is basically listening to people’s explanations or arguments on TV, radio, print, or in person, carefully dissecting the evidence they use to support their argument see if it is true, judging whether or not the conclusions they make from this evidence are logical, and then to decide if you agree with them or not.

For my first full blog entry for Spectra I want to cover Critical Thinking, but I don’t want to make it boring.  There are many websites and books you can read on CT, some of which are hundreds of pages long, if you want a lot of information.  What I hope to discuss here is CT in its simplest form, easily digestible, so the reader my quickly grasp this concept.

To start with, let’s look at the comic below…

 Critical Thinking 101

For starters, if you are unable to understand the comic strip above (some of my college students weren’t able to decipher this), then maybe you should back out of this blog and start with something easier, like the Sunday Funnies page.  No, wait, you’ve come to the right place.  Let me enlighten you.

For those of you of superior intellect who were able to puzzle through this cartoon, you could see that the students who were attempting to attend the first day of a Critical Thinking course had a critical thinking challenge merely to get into the class.  Obviously, they needed to move one of the wood boxes from around the door to use as a step to enter the classroom.  I really like this cartoon because it is both funny and clever….

But this is not critical thinking.

It is argued that there are two Greek words from which the word Critical, of Critical Thinking,  comes from.

Kritikos – Critical, something which is very important and necessary

Kriterion – our modern day word Criterion, or criteria, the measurement by which we determine the characteristics of a particular subject.

Both of these are useful for understanding what Critical Thinking is; thinking which is very important (critical), and thinking which carefully measures issues.  For example, what makes a great NFL quarterback?; Speed, agility, generally tall, strong, rugged, quick thinking, great passing arm, leadership ability, and other criteria.  What makes for a great cogent argument?; Accurate facts, lack of fallacies, a speaker who is aware of their own biases, logical conclusions, etc.  Critical Thinking critiques a person’s arguments, which is different from criticizing a person’s arguments.  (Oh, he looks so fat in that argument.)

(By the way, when you attack a person themselves with insults, instead of attacking their conclusions, this is called an ad hominem attack, from the Latin for ‘Against the Man’.  Critical Thinkers never critique the speaker or writer, just their ideas.)

 lf6-ad-hominem

So Critical Thinking considers stories, arguments, and problems utilizing logic in order to determine the strength of arguments and conclusions.

From Wikipedia, we find that “Critical thinking is a type of clear, reasoned thinking involving critique. According to Beyer (1995), critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments. While in the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned and well thought out /judged.[1] The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as 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.’

critical thinking process

Remember the cartoon above of the kids trying to get into the classroom.  In order to solve that puzzle they would have to utilize problem-solving, but not necessarily Critical Thinking.  Simple usage of logic or a toddler’s level of thinking could solve that problem.  But let’s say you need to solve the crisis in Ukraine.  In this scenario you would want to implement Critical Thinking in order to consider all sides and arguments.

Did you know that you can use Creative Thinking in the process of Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving?  In some personality tests scholars like to create a false dichotomy of people being either right-brained or left-brained, so that they are most likely to be either highly logical, (left-brained) or very creative and artsy (right-brained) as illustrated below.

right brain left brain

While there may be some underlying truth to this, it is not always the case.  People can be both creative and logical, but in my experience there are those who are profoundly logical and mathematical, but couldn’t think creatively if their life depended on it…and they freely admit this.  And, yes, there are those artists who couldn’t multiply their way out of a paper bag, but many people are able to do some of both.

Creative thinking is an extremely important element of Critical Thinking because it is the step of thinking in which we create ways to solve the problems we have deciphered.

There is so much more to cover concerning Critical Thinking, issues such as a person’s point of view, worldview, assumptions, fallacies, systems of thinking, problem-solving systems, creative thinking strategies, and media.  I’m sure I’ll be covering these in the future.  Be sure to keep an eye open for future blog posts covering these issues and more.

Thanks for reading.

Rob Westerlund

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