ECO474 Behavioral Economics, What is Critical Thinking?
What is Critical Thinking?*: Thinking about Thinking
"The positive habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a courageous desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, open-mindedness, foresight attention to the possible consequences of choices, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, fair-mindedness and maturity of judgment, and confidence in reasoning."
Part of the project of college is to get to be a better thinker. If you think of all of your courses as bricks, or building blocks, your goal should be a castle when you put on that mortarboard. Part of that castle, the foundation really, should be higher order thinking and learning skills. Bloom's Taxonomy is a somewhat dated, but interesting way to categorize levels of thinking that start with Knowledge, Comprehension and Application to higher levels of thinking that include Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.
Critical thinking encapsulates those three higher levels.
Asking for a specific definition of critical thinking is sort of like opening up Pandora's Box. This is to say that there are many definitions, depending on to whom you are talking, and lots of overlap.
Here are a few definitions to start:
•"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".1
•"the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which uses reasoned consideration to evidence, context, conceptualizations, methods, and criteria."2
•"Within the critical social theory philosophical frame, critical thinking is commonly understood to involve commitment to the social and political practice of participatory democracy, willingness to imagine or remain open to considering alternative perspectives, willingness to integrate new or revised perspectives into our ways of thinking and acting, and willingness to foster criticality in others."3
As in the above, I'll include the Wikipedia definition with the explicit understanding that in perusing such a definition, you will employ critical thinking.4
I think it's a good place to start.
A well cultivated critical thinker:
• raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
• gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively;
• comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
• thinks openmindedly within (and across) alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications and practical consequences; and
• communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
In addition to possessing strong critical-thinking skills, one must be disposed to engage problems and decisions using those skills. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, and fairness.
In this course, we will develop an understanding that critical thinking is not a single goal to be achieved, but a practice, or as the quote above suggests, a 'habit of mind'. To use a metaphor, think of critical thinking not as the arrows in your quiver (i.e. the tools-of-trade that you learn in your courses), but your form, aim, abilities, and strength. I will demonstrate critical thinking and provide you with opportunities to practice and develop your skills as individuals and as a group, and then we will spend time explicitly reflecting on how our practice is developing.
*Here's an example of Matt Damon telling someone what is NOT critical thinking!
1. Scriven, M. and Paul, R. W. Critical Thinking as Defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. 1987.
2. Facione, Peter A. Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts, Insightassessment.com
3. Raiskums, B.W., An Analysis of the Concept Criticality in Adult Education, 2008
4. Note the irony.