Critical thinking is reflective reasoning about beliefs and actions. It is a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false. Critical thinking can be traced in Western thought to the Socratic method of Ancient Greece and, in the East, to the Buddhist kalama sutta and Abhidharma. Critical thinking is an important component of most professions. It is a part of formal education and is increasingly significant as students progress through university to graduate education, although there is debate among educators about its precise meaning and scope.
Different sources define critical thinking variously as:
Within the philosophical frame of critical social theory, 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.[page needed]
The critical thinking philosophical frame traces its roots in analytic philosophy and pragmatist constructivism which dates back over 2,500 years, as in the Buddha's teachings: mainly in the kalama sutta and the Abhidharma; as well as the Greek Socratic tradition in which probing questions were used to determine whether claims to knowledge based on authority could be rationally justified with clarity and logical consistency. One sense of the term critical means crucial; a second sense derives from κριτικός (kritikos), which means discerning judgment. The movement represented a pragmatic response to expectations and demands for the kind of thinking required of the modern workforce.[page needed] The critical-theory philosophical frame traces its roots to the Frankfurt School of Critical Social Theory that attempted to amend Marxist theory for applicability in 20th-century Germany. Critical thinking within this philosophical frame was introduced by Max Horkheimer in his book Traditional and Critical Theory (1937).
Critical thinking clarifies goals, examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, accomplishes actions, and assesses conclusions.
"Critical" as used in the expression "critical thinking" connotes involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc. "Critical" in this context does not mean "disapproval" or "negative." There are many positive uses of critical thinking, for example formulating a workable solution to a complex personal problem, deliberating as a group about what course of action to take, or analyzing the assumptions and the quality of the methods used in scientifically arriving at a reasonable level of confidence about a given hypothesis.
To add further clarification on what is meant by thinking critically, Richard Paul (1995) articulated critical thinking as either weak or strong.
The weak-sense critical thinker is a highly skilled but selfishly motivated pseudo-intellectual who works to advance one's personal agenda without seriously considering the ethical consequences and implications. Conceived as such, the weak-sense critical thinker is often highly skilled but uses those skills selectively so as to pursue unjust and selfish ends (Paul, 1995).
Conversely, the strong-sense critical thinker skillfully enters into the logic of problems and issues to see the problem for what it is without egocentric or socio-centric bias. Thus conceived, the strong-sense mind seeks to actively, systematically, reflectively, and fair-mindedly construct insight with sensitivity to expose and address the many obstacles that compromise high quality thought and learning. Using strong critical thinking we might evaluate an argument, for example, as worthy of acceptance because it is valid and based on true premises. Upon reflection, a speaker may be evaluated as a credible source of knowledge on a given topic.
Critical thinking can occur whenever one judges, decides, or solves a problem; in general, whenever one must figure out what to believe or what to do, and do so in a reasonable and reflective way. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically. Critical thinking is crucial to becoming a close reader and a substantive writer. Expressed in most general terms, critical thinking is "a way of taking up the problems of life."
The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and meta-cognition. There is a reasonable level of consensus among experts [according to whom?] that an individual or group engaged in strong critical thinking gives due consideration to establish:
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.
Critical thinking calls for the ability to:
"A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends."
Irrespective of the sphere of thought, "a well-cultivated critical thinker":
Critical thinking is about being both willing and able to evaluate one's thinking. Thinking might be criticized because one does not have all the relevant information – indeed, important information may remain undiscovered, or the information may not even be knowable – or because one makes unjustified inferences, uses inappropriate concepts, or fails to notice important implications. One's thinking may be unclear, inaccurate, imprecise, irrelevant, narrow, shallow, illogical, or trivial, due to ignorance or misapplication of the appropriate learned skills of thinking.
On the other hand, one's thinking might be criticized as being the result of a sub-optimal disposition. The dispositional dimension of critical thinking is characterological. Its focus is in learning and developing the habitual intention to be truth-seeking, open-minded, systematic, analytical, inquisitive, confident in reasoning, and prudent in making judgments. Those who are ambivalent on one or more of these aspects of the disposition toward critical thinking or who have an opposite disposition (intellectually arrogant, biased, intolerant, emotional, disorganized, lazy, heedless of consequences, indifferent toward new information, mistrustful of reasoning, or imprudent) are more likely to encounter problems in using their critical-thinking skills. Failure to recognize the importance of correct dispositions can lead to various forms of self-deception and closed-mindedness, both individually and collectively.
Reflective problem solving and thoughtful decision making using critical thinking, one considers evidence (like investigating evidence), the context of judgment, the relevant criteria for making the judgment well, the applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment, and the applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand.
The deliberation characteristic of strong critical thinking associates critical thinking with the reflective aspect of human reasoning. Those who would seek to improve our individual and collective capacity to engage problems using strong critical thinking skills are, therefore, recommending that we bring greater reflection and deliberation to decision making.
Critical thinking is based on self-corrective concepts and principles, not on hard and fast, or step-by-step, procedures.
Critical thinking employs not only logic (either formal or, much more often, informal) but also broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance and fairness.[clarification needed]
The habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, even-handedness, and confidence in reasoning.
When individuals possess intellectual skills alone, without the intellectual traits of mind, weak sense critical thinking results. Fair-minded or strong sense critical thinking requires intellectual humility, empathy, integrity, perseverance, courage, autonomy, confidence in reason, and other intellectual traits. Thus, critical thinking without essential intellectual traits often results in clever, but manipulative and often unethical or subjective thought.
Critical thinking is an important element of all professional fields and academic disciplines (by referencing their respective sets of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.). Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves the careful acquisition and interpretation of information and use of it to reach a well-justified conclusion. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.
Critical thinking is considered important in the academic fields because it enables one to analyze, evaluate, explain, and restructure their thinking, thereby decreasing the risk of adopting, acting on, or thinking with, a false belief. However, even with knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, mistakes can happen due to a thinker's inability to apply the methods or because of character traits such as egocentrism. Critical thinking includes identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus on teaching their students critical thinking skills and cultivation of intellectual traits.
Socratic method is defined as "a prolonged series of questions and answers which refutes a moral assertion by leading an opponent to draw a conclusion that contradicts his own viewpoint." Critical thinking skills through Socratic method taught in schools help create leaders. Instructors that promote critical thinking skills can benefit the students by increasing their confidence and creating a repeatable thought process to question and confidently approach a solution. Students also accomplish follower-ship skills that can be used to probe the leader's foundations. Critical thinking skills through Socratic method serve to produce professionals that are self-governing. However, Socratic method for critical thinking skills can become confusing if an instructor or leader uses the method too rigidly, the student may not know what the instructor or leader wants from him. An instructor or leader may disillusion the students if he uses particular style of questioning. Instructors must reveal their reasoning behind the questions in order to guide the students in the right direction. "Socratic method can serve twenty-first-century leaders to instruct students, mentor protégés, motivate followers, advise other leaders, and influence peers."
Critical thinking skills can help nurses apply the process of examination. Nurses through critical thinking skills can question, evaluate, and reconstruct the nursing care process by challenging the established theory and practice. Critical thinking skills can helps nurse problem solve, reflect, and make a conclusive decision about the current situation they face. Critical thinking creates "new possibilities for the development of the nursing knowledge." Due to the sociocultural, environmental, and political issues that are affecting healthcare delivery, it would be helpful to embody new techniques in nursing. Nurses can acquire critical thinking skills through the Socratic method of dialogue and reflection. Critical thinking also is considered important for human rights education for toleration. The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance adopted by UNESCO in 1995 affirms that "education for tolerance could aim at countering factors that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and could help young people to develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning."
There is currently a growing recognition that the Western emphasis on critical thinking has a broader and deeper impact than relates simply to cognitive skills. Le Cornu (2009) argues a case which links critical thinking to a heightened individualism which she considers is not so prevalent in the East, and suggests that education at all levels should train people in three principal types of thinking and reflection: receptive, appreciative and critical.
Educational programs aimed at developing critical thinking in children and adult learners, individually or in group problem solving and decision making contexts, continue to address these same three central elements.
Contemporary cognitive psychology regards human reasoning as a complex process that is both reactive and reflective.
The relationship between critical thinking skills and critical thinking dispositions is an empirical question. Some people have both in abundance, some have skills but not the disposition to use them, some are disposed but lack strong skills, and some have neither. Two measures of critical thinking dispositions are the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the California Measure of Mental Motivation.
John Dewey is just one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would be a benefit not only to the individual learner, but to the community and to the entire democracy.
The key to seeing the significance of critical thinking in academics is in understanding the significance of critical thinking in learning. There are two meanings to the learning of this content. The first occurs when learners (for the first time) construct in their minds the basic ideas, principles, and theories that are inherent in content. This is a process of internalization. The second occurs when learners effectively use those ideas, principles, and theories as they become relevant in learners' lives. This is a process of application. Good teachers cultivate critical thinking (intellectually engaged thinking) at every stage of learning, including initial learning. This process of intellectual engagement is at the heart of the Oxford, Durham, Cambridge and London School of Economics tutorials. The tutor questions the students, often in a Socratic manner (see Socratic questioning). The key is that the teacher who fosters critical thinking fosters reflectiveness in students by asking questions that stimulate thinking essential to the construction of knowledge.
As emphasized above, each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles (principles like in school). The core concepts are always there, but they are embedded in subject-specific content. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial. All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject.
In the UK school system, Critical Thinking is offered as a subject that 16- to 18-year-olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCR exam board, students can sit two exam papers for the AS: "Credibility of Evidence" and "Assessing and Developing Argument". The full Advanced GCE is now available: in addition to the two AS units, candidates sit the two papers "Resolution of Dilemmas" and "Critical Reasoning". The A-level tests candidates on their ability to think critically about, and analyze, arguments on their deductive or inductive validity, as well as producing their own arguments. It also tests their ability to analyze certain related topics such as credibility and ethical decision-making. However, due to its comparative lack of subject content, many universities do not accept it as a main A-level for admissions. Nevertheless, the AS is often useful in developing reasoning skills, and the full Advanced GCE is useful for degree courses in politics, philosophy, history or theology, providing the skills required for critical analysis that are useful, for example, in biblical study.
There used to also be an Advanced Extension Award offered in Critical Thinking in the UK, open to any A-level student regardless of whether they have the Critical Thinking A-level. Cambridge International Examinations have an A-level in Thinking Skills.
OCR exam board have also modified theirs for 2008. Many examinations for university entrance set by universities, on top of A-level examinations, also include a critical thinking component, such as the LNAT, the UKCAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test and the Thinking Skills Assessment.
In its 2012 platform, the Republican Party of Texas rejected the teaching of "Higher Order Thinking Skills... critical thinking skills and similar programs," giving as a reason that this sort of teaching has "the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority." Media ridicule led to a response from RPT Communications Director Chris Elam that the inclusion of the term "critical thinking skills" was an oversight which cannot be corrected until 2014, when the next state convention will occur.
A meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education has been undertaken. The study noted concerns from higher education, politicians and business people that higher education was failing to meet society's requirements for well-educated citizens. The study concluded that although faculty may aspire to develop students' thinking skills, in practice they tend to aim at facts and concepts in the disciplines, at the lowest cognitive levels, rather than development of intellect or values.
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