What is Critical Thinking?
The definition of critical thinking is rather fluid as it is entirely dependent on your source of choice. However, there are a number of common descriptions surrounding it's definition. They are:
Objective and rational analysis of facts.
Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, creative, open-minded, and informed by evidence.
The ability to engage in reflective (including self-reflection) and independent thinking.
As you can see, a common theme among all three definitions is that you must follow a proper system of thought and remain objective. "Creative" in point 2, I added on my own accord as I believe that a critical thinker needs to be able to make connections across vast swaths of ostensibly disconnected areas of knowledge. As a critical thinker, you must embrace a touch of iconoclasm (i.e., thinking “out-of-the-box”), while adamantly avoiding nihilism. Creativity is the attribute that will help you get there.
The Laws of Critical Thinking
A critical thinker must be able to do the following:
Have an understanding of how to structure a good argument.
Grok informal logic (i.e., argument types, validity, soundness, logical fallacies, etc.).
Understand heuristics and how they can lead to pitfalls in cognition known as cognitive biases.
Be intellectually humble. That is, constantly subject one's own beliefs to an objective analysis and update accordingly. There is no shame in admitting that you are wrong as it’s impossible to be right all the time.
Embrace holistic thinking.
Know how to identify a credible source.
Be a skeptic and demand evidence.
Understand how and why science works. To date, this is the best tool that humans have invented to learn truths about our world.
* The Laws of Critical Thinking graphic can be found here.
Critical thinking should not be confused with being critical or argumentative of others. While critical thinking should be used to expose logical fallacies and other logical pitfalls, it can can also be used in a constructive manner. For example, critical thinking can be used to improve one's ethics, help with knowledge acquisition, bolster arguments, etc.
Further, critical thinking shouldn't be confused with knowledge accumulation. Simply memorizing facts and regurgitating them without any original thought is not critical thinking. A Critical Thinker must be able to think through problems logically and reach conclusions through sound reasoning. Moreover, a well trained critical thinker must be able to identify credible sources of information when formulating a position on a particular topic.
Why is it Important?
Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. The ability to think clearly and rationally is important in whatever you choose to do. If you work in education, research, finance, management or the legal profession, then critical thinking is obviously important. But critical thinking skills are not restricted to a particular subject area. Being able to think well and solve problems systematically is an asset for any career.
Critical thinking is very important in the new knowledge economy. The global knowledge economy is driven by information and technology. One has to be able to deal with changes quickly and effectively. The new economy places increasing demands on flexible intellectual skills, and the ability to analyse information and integrate diverse sources of knowledge in solving problems. Good critical thinking promotes such thinking skills, and is very important in the fast-changing workplace.
Critical thinking enhances language and presentation skills. Thinking clearly and systematically can improve the way we express our ideas. In learning how to analyse the logical structure of texts, critical thinking also improves comprehension abilities.
Critical thinking promotes creativity. To come up with a creative solution to a problem involves not just having new ideas. It must also be the case that the new ideas being generated are useful and relevant to the task at hand. Critical thinking plays a crucial role in evaluating new ideas, selecting the best ones and modifying them if necessary.
Critical thinking is crucial for self-reflection. In order to live a meaningful life and to structure our lives accordingly, we need to justify and reflect on our values and decisions. Critical thinking provides the tools for this process of self-evaluation.
Good critical thinking is the foundation of science and democracy. Science requires the critical use of reason in experimentation and theory confirmation. The proper functioning of a liberal democracy requires citizens who can think critically about social issues to inform their judgments about proper governance and to overcome biases and prejudice.
In a world where we are increasingly bombarded with misinformation and opportunists looking to capitalize on our naivety, critical thinking is more important than ever. In an attempt to better arm society against this onslaught on reason, this platform is designed to equip the reader with the necessary skill set for defense. Within the pages of this site, topics ranging from the structure of an argument, what makes an argument good, logical fallacies, cognitive biases, the scientific method, and many more are presented in an attempt to foster the development of a more critical mind. I encourage you to read and re-read each post until this knowledge becomes second nature as we are often required to make important decisions in an instant. The world can be a highly irrational place, but, hopefully, after reading through this site, it will have gained one more critical thinker and become a better place as a result.