Thursday, January 5, 2012

10 Characteristics of A Critical Thinker. 5 Theoretical Knowledge required for Good Critical Thinking. How do we Enhance our Critical Thinking?

To be successful, we need good thinking skills that can help us make reliable decisions and acquire new knowledge quickly.

But what do we mean by good thinking skills? Basically, it comes down to two things—critical thinking and creativity.

Critical thinking is thinking clearly and rationally. It involves thinking precisely and systematically, and following therules of logic and scientific reasoning, among other things.

As for creativity, it is a matter of coming up with new and useful ideas, generating alternative possibilities.

Which is more important, critical thinking or creativity? The short answer is that they are equally important. We need creativity to come up with ideas to solve problems, but we also need critical thinking to evaluate and improve these ideas. They complement each other, and we need both to survive and to prosper.

A critical thinker is someone who is able to do the following:
  1. • Understand the logical connections between ideas.
  2. • Formulate ideas succinctly and precisely.
  3. • Identify, construct, and evaluate arguments.
  4. • Evaluate the pros and cons of a decision.
  5. • Evaluate the evidence for and against a hypothesis.
  6. • Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
  7. • Analyze problems systematically.
  8. • Identify the relevance and importance of ideas.
  9. • Justify one's beliefs and values.
  10. • Reflect and evaluate one's thinking skills.

As we can see from the list, critical thinking skills are essential for all sorts of careers in which we have to communicate ideas, make decisions, analyze, and solve problems. This is why critical thinking is called a domain-general thinking skill.

But critical thinking is not just for the workplace. To live a meaningful life and plan for the future, we need to think about ourselves honestly and carefully. The Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.) once said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." One big difference between human beings and other animals is our capacity for self-reflection. We can examine the purpose and meaning of our life and change ourselves accordingly. Critical thinking contributes to this process of self-evaluation and transformation.

Good critical thinking is also the foundation of science and democracy. Science requires rationality in designing experiments and testing theories. A vibrant and progressive democracy requires citizens who can think objectively about social and political issues and are able to avoid biases and prejudices. So obviously the cultivation of critical thinking should be a central aim of education.


So how do we enhance our critical thinking if it is so useful? Obviously, we are all able to think critically to some extent, or we will not survive very long! But there is always room for improvement. Even with a skill as natural as running, training with an expert can improve our breathing and posture and help us run even better. Thinking is something we all do and take for granted, but the fact is that even normally intelligent people can sometimes be stubborn and biased. Psychology research tells us that people make lot of mistakes in their reasoning—they overestimate their abilities, interpret the world to confirm their prejudices, and look for causes and patterns in the wrong places. By studying critical thinking, we are more likely to avoid such errors. We can also help other people by studying critical thinking. Sometimes we get the feeling that an argument is wrong but we do not know exactly why. Critical thinking gives us the concepts and vocabulary to explain what is wrong. This promotes understanding and more effective discussions.

Good critical thinking is a cognitive skill. In general, developing a skill requires three conditionslearning the theory, deliberate practice, and adopting the right attitudes. By theory we mean the rules and facts we have to know in order to possess the skill. For example, one cannot be a good basketball player without knowing the rules of the game—for example, kicking the basketball is not allowed. Likewise, thinking critically requires knowing a certain amount of logic. However, knowing the theory is not the same as being able to apply it. You might know in theory that you should balance the bike when you are cycling, but it does not mean you can actually do it. This is where practice comes in, because it translates your theoretical knowledge into actual ability. However, your attitudes make a big difference as to whether your practice is effective and sustainable. If you hate playing the piano, forcing you to practice is not productive in the long run.

Let us now look at the theoretical knowledge required for good critical thinking. It can be divided into five main areas:
1. Meaning analysis: Explain ideas clearly and systematically; use definitions and other tools to clarify meaning and make ideas more precise.
2. Logic: Analyze and evaluate arguments; identify logical consequences and inconsistencies.
3. Scientific methods: Use empirical data to test a theory; identify causes and effects; probability theory and statistics.
4. Decision and values: Rational decision making; critical reflection of value frameworks and moral judgments.
5. Fallacies and biases: Typical mistakes of reasoning and the psychological traits likely to cause such mistakes.


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