What is critical thinking?
I have written about critical and creative thinking including the shape of dialogue and fission and fusion conversations, mostly focusing on the creative aspects. Now I’d like to look closely at critical thinking itself and how we might go about engaging this mode of thought. Edward Glaser crafted an excellent definition of critical thinking that involved three aspects:
- an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences,
- knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and
- some skill in applying those methods.
One of the first things to note is that critical thinking begins with an attitude, a commitment to being thoughtful and engaging. This, of course, takes quite a bit of time and concerted effort. In other words, a person cannot think critically in a rushed or hasty way. There is a process to critical thinking that must reach reasonable ends in order to actually be critical. Without that commitment, a person is most likely engaging in rehashing old ideas, swapping opinions, making assumptions, overlooking data, and other mistakes. This is one reason why Socratic Seminar is so important since it is a classroom technique designed for extended thinking time.
Glaser’s second aspect includes the knowledge of logic and reasoning. This knowledge includes the study of logic itself, but also includes understandings of logical fallacies and other errors that might cause deviations in the thought process. Logic, in this case, to mean a system of principles of reasoning, like the scientific method, which has a rule system that must be followed in order to be “scientific.”
The third aspect is the skills in application of those reasoning methods. These skills include things like: remaining unbiased, asking relevant questions, seeking pertinent information, doing due diligence, reasoning far enough, drawing satisfactory conclusions, eliminating misinformation, and many other factors. Seeking other viewpoints, avoiding barriers to listening and discovering points of disagreement can be useful. Being overly critical or analytical may stop ideas from forming.
Critical thinking generally involves:
- Step-by-step sequential processing
- Finding evidence and building relationships
- Being purposeful and selective
- Aggregating and analyzing data
- Recognizing biases and implications
- Seeking clarity and specificity
- Working within structures and rule systems (like playing chess)
- Evaluating arguments and relationships
- Recognizing and extrapolating patterns
- Eliminating assumptions, emotions, and other “contaminations”
- Overcoming Barriers to Thinking
- Eliminating possibilities measured against criteria
- Being open to unexpected conclusions based on the evidence
The Foundation for Critical Thinking is a great place to gather resources!
(Edward M. Glaser, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, 1941)
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