Defining Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a term used a lot and is even a subject now in many schools and colleges. However it’s such a broad sounding term that it can be tricky to understand precisely what is meant by this term. So here we will apply a little ‘critical thinking’ to the term itself and see precisely what it entails.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is essentially what it sounds like – the ability to ‘think critically’ on a subject. In other words then, it is the ability to look at an argument or a statement and to then pick it apart and find flaws in it and problems, or to turn it on its head. In critical thinking classes then, this will normally involve being shown a paragraph or several that discuss a subject, and then writing down what you can infer from that paragraph, as well as any assumptions, generalizations or presuppositions that have been made.

These are all things that someone might use in order to form an argument or make a point that doesn’t have a firm foundation. For instance an assumption might be a statement like ‘everyone loves Picasso’ – which isn’t necessarily true and is based on little more than hearsay. Without a referenced survey, it is impossible to make such a statement accurately. At the same time as being an assumption, this statement is also a generalization – because it has generalized that ‘everyone’ thinks something which is of course very rarely true.

Critical thinking can also be applied more broadly to a range of other things and situations, and you might think critically when assessing an idea or a product. Of course reviewing a game or a film is a form of ‘critical thinking’, and likewise critical thinking can even be turned upon oneself. Here critical thinking might be used in order to improve the quality of your own statements to avoid founding them on assumptions or generalizations, and it might be used in order to expose your own cognitive biases and weaknesses.

Value of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is taught separately as a subject in schools and colleges, but it is also an important aspect of many other courses and subjects. In psychology for instance, a student must think critically about previous research in order to determine whether it’s conclusive evidence or whether confounding variables might be getting in the way. Likewise critical thinking plays a very important role in debate and helps an individual to pick holes in the opposition’s arguments.

Meanwhile critical thinking is very important in life in general – by thinking critically when given instructions or orders you become less susceptible to being easily persuaded by compelling sounding arguments that are in fact based on nothing, and you become less easily lead or mislead. At the same time by thinking critically you are able to expose problems or weaknesses with yourself, within your organization or in a project, and then to objectively set about correcting them.

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