Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking 101 – The Most Important Course In The Curriculum

Presenter: John Pope

May, 2018

“Education is not the learning of facts, but training the mind to think.”  -Albert Einstein

A major characteristic of Humanism is thinking critically.  Our discussion will investigate the manifestations, and some practical skills and applications of Critical Thinking (CT).

I have found several definitions of CT. Here are two of them which, in my opinion, sum up the all the others (more here:

1. Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment, and

2. Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. 

The process of CT involves evaluating information and our thought process in a disciplined way: analyzing, conceptualizing, defining, examining, inferring, listening, questioning, reasoning, synthesizing, etc.  Questioning authority, and being skeptical are practical tools for the critical thinker. 

Being called a “skeptic” is not a bad thing.  Skepticism is NOT the indiscriminate rejection of ideas as many believe.  It refers to doubting, or suspending judgement. 

In discussions, the critical thinker often has these two usual responses to unsupported or arbitrary claims by others – “That’s interesting.”, and “Do you have any proof?”. 

Here are two excellent summaries of CT on video: 1. “What Is Critical Thinking?” (~10 minutes long), 2. How to think, not what to think | Jesse Richardson | TEDxBrisbane (~1 hour long).

Less often discussed is the practical application of CT.  Here is a brief guide to practical CT:
         “Don’t mistake ignorance for perspective.  Gather complete information.  One of the most important and most violated principles of critical thinking is thoroughness—that is, gathering all available facts on a subject under scrutiny.  Obviously thinking requires facts; erroneous conclusions often stem from inadequate factual knowledge.

• Gather complete information.
• Understand and define all terms.
• Question the methods by which the facts are derived.
• Question the conclusions.
• Look for hidden assumptions and biases.
• Question the source of facts.
• Don’t expect all of the answers.
• Examine the big picture.
• Examine multiple cause and effect.
• Watch for thought stoppers.
• Understand your own biases and values.”

-edited from Larry Larson, Professor of Biology, Ohio University.  Handout from class,  1994.  Original source: “Journal of Biological Education (1990).

More Critical Thinker’s practical questions to challenge assumptions and unsupported statements:

“Who said that?”
“Is that source reliable?”
“Do you have data supporting that claim?”
“Has that been scientifically proven?”
“Are you qualified to speak on this topic?”
“Do you have a personal stake in the issue?”

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