GUIDE TO CRITICAL THINKING
compiled by Anne Galloway, 2004
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking forces us to take responsibility for our own attitudes and behaviours.
- Critical thinking IS a set of skills to process and generate information and beliefs.
- Critical thinking IS well-founded, structured and reinforced thinking.
- Critical thinking IS reliable, relevant, coherent and consistent.
- Critical thinking IS skillful, responsible thinking that facilitates good judgment.
- Critical thinking IS the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behaviour.
- Critical thinking IS NOT the mere acquisition and retention of information alone.
- Critical thinking IS NOT the mere possession of a set of skills.
- Critical thinking IS NOT the mere use of those skills without acceptance of their results.
- Critical thinking IS NOT claims or opinions without reasons.
- Critical thinking IS NOT judgments without criteria.
Why ask questions?
Thinking is not driven by answers; thinking is driven by questions.
Questions drive our thought underneath the surface of things and questions force us to deal with complexity:
- Questions of purpose force us to define our task.
- Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.
- Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organising or giving meaning to information.
- Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted.
- Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going.
- Questions of points of view force us to examine our points of view and to consider other relevant points of view.
- Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and does not bear on a question.
- Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness.
- Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific.
- Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions.
- Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thoughts together and if they make sense.
Critical thinking skills:
- Discovering the weaknesses in our positions and correcting what is at fault in our procedures
- Taking into account relevant contexts
- Developing insight into personal, social and cultural biases
- Developing intellectual courage
- Exploring underlying feelings and thoughts
- Developing intellectual humility, suspending judgment and being fair
- Refining generalisations and avoiding oversimplifications
- Clarifying issues, conclusions or beliefs
- Developing criteria for evaluation by clarifying values and standards
- Distinguishing relevant from irrelevant facts
- Developing intellectual perseverance
- Recognising contradictions
- Exploring implications and consequences
- Developing one's own perspective by creating and exploring other ways of thinking
When thinking critically it is essential to distinguish three different types of questions:
- Those with one right answer (factual questions) such as "Is capital punishment legal in Canada?"
- Those based on mere preference such as "Would you rather live in Whitehorse or Halifax?"
- Those with better or worse answers (well reasoned or poorly reasoned) such as "How should we eradicate homelessness in Canada?"
Critical thinking provides the tools necessary to answer the last type of question.
[This content has been taken and/or adapted from criticalthinking.org. See also Critical Thinking on the Web.]