Thinking is the highest mental activity present in man. Thinking is the process of giving careful thought to something. In other words, thinking is an action of using one's mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories etc. . Thinking process involves using a sequence of skills intended to achieve a particular outcome.Thinking is a simple cognitive operation of observing, organizing, analyzing evaluating and inferring. It is a habit of intelligent behaviour learned through practice. Edward de Bono said, “Thinking is a skill that can be improved by practice.”
Critical thinking includes a complex combination of abilities such as ordering, classifying, and analyzing, evaluating, observing, comparing, and contrasting information for problem solving. Critical thinking involves questioning. Critical thinking is goal directed; it is the thinking with a purpose. Using logic and reasoning a critical thinker identifies the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems. Critical thinking has two important dimensions: it is both a frame of mind and a number of specific mental operations. Critical thinking is a process “orchestrates numerous skills and is directed toward achieving an objective." Swartz and Perkins (1990) discuss critical thinking as “the critical examination and evaluation –actual and potential- of beliefs and courses of action.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary."
Definitions of critical thinking
Critical thinking may be defined as "the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgement. The process gives reasoned consideration to evidence, contexts, conceptualizations, methods and criteria (American Philosophical Association, 1990).
Critical thinking is the ability to analyse facts, generate and organize ideas, defend opinions, make comparisons, draw inferences, evaluate arguments and solve problems (Chance, 1986).
Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe (Ennis 1996).
Critical thinking is skillful, reasonable thinking that is conducive to good judgement because it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria and is self-correcting (Matthew Lipman).
Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to making your thinking better (Richard Paul).
In short, critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally. Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of evaluating information and evaluating our thought process. In brief, critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective thinking.
Principles of critical thinking
Critical thinking is an active process – It involves in gathering, analyzing, synthesizing, assessing and applying data in solving problems.
Critical thinking is an organized and systematic process – It involves using criteria or standards to judge the validity of information.
Critical thinking is a search for meaning – it is a way of making sense out of the data or information.
Critical thinking is reflective – It involves thinking about your thinking.
Critical thinking involves standards – Accuracy, relevance and depth are some examples of standards or criteria.
Critical thinking is authentic – critical thinking is thinking about real problems. Real problems are often messy and unclear.
Critical thinking involves being reasonable – for thinking to be critical, it must be reasonable thinking.
Critical thinking is a skill that can be learned – It is based on active, logical reasoning on facts and evidence and a desire to learn.
Intellectual standards of critical thinking (Paul and Elder 2001).
Critical thinking includes a complex combination of skills. Critical thinkers use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers-concepts and principles that enable them to analyse, assess and improve thinking. Critical thinkers should check their thinking according to the following standards of Paul and Elder (2001).The standards of critical thinking are clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness. Standards are essential to increasing the quality of thinking. Increased skill in the application of standards improves the process of critical thinking.
- Clarity- understandable, the meaning can be grasped;
- Accuracy- free from errors or distortions, true;
- Precision-exact to the necessary level of detail;
- Relevance-relating to the matter at hand;
- Depth- containing complexities and multiple interrelationships;
- Breadth- encompassing multiple viewpoints;
- Logic-the parts make sense together, no contradictions;
- Significance-focusing on the important, not trivial;
- Fairness – justifiable, not self-serving or one sided.
3 – Parts of critical thinking
Firstly, critical thinking involves asking questions. Secondly, critical thinking involves trying to answer those questions by reasoning them out. Thirdly, critical thinking involves believing the results of our reasoning.
5 – Step process of critical thinking - IDEAS
Step 1.Identify the problem and set priorities (I)
Step 2.Deepen understanding and gather relevant information (D)
Step 3.Enumerate options and anticipate consequences (E).
Step 4.Assess situation and make a preliminary decision (A).
Step 5.Scrutinize the process and self-correct as needed (S)
The ability to think critically requires a great deal of effort and time. Critical thinking is that mode of thinking –about any subject, content or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his/her thinking by skilfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing the intellectual standards ( or a level or degree of quality) (Paul and Willsen, 1993).
A list of critical thinking skills based on Maker and Nielson ( 1996)
· Determining fact and opinion
· Choosing relevant from irrelevant information.
· Determining the accuracy of a statement.
· Determining the credibility of a source.
· Recognizing ambiguities.
· Identifying underlying assumptions.
· Determining external and internal bias.
· Recognizing valid and fallacious arguments.
5-main theoretical requirements for critical thinking (Joe Y.F.Lau 1968)
1. Meaning analysis – Explain ideas clearly and systematically; use definitions and other tools to clarify meaning and make ideas more precise.
2. Logic – Analyse 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 judgements.
5. Fallacies and biases – Typical mistakes of reasoning and psychological traits likely to cause such mistakes.
Characteristics of a critical thinker (Paul R and Elder L, 2010)
1. One who raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
2. One who gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively.
3. One who comes to well- reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria or standards.
4. One who thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications and practical consequences and
5. One who communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
Critical thinking and creativity
The ideas are usually composed of different elements. Our store of ideas (knowledge base) provides the ingredients to generate new ones. The new combination of ideas is formulated by joining different ideas together. In general new ideas are old ones rearranged in a new way. The ingredients for creativity depend on the store of ideas that are available for recombination.
Critical thinking is necessary to help determine the relevance and effectiveness of the idea. It is a necessary condition for cognitive creativity- the generation of new ideas and the evaluation and modification of old ideas. Creativity is enhanced by the ability to detect connections between the ideas. So if anyone wants to be creative, he /she must develop the skill of critical thinking to see the connections between different areas. Good thinking involves both critical thinking and creativity.
Benefits of critical thinking
Critical thinking is higher-order and more complex form of thinking. It involves more evidence – based analysis of information and clear understanding of problems and solutions. Critical thinking enables faster, accurate and logical inferences and quality decisions. Critical thinking is inherent to problem solving and decision making. Good critical thinking is a cognitive skill. Using critical thinking, one is able to acquire knowledge, understanding, insights and skills in any given body of content. Critical thinkers are more flexible in their thinking and they offer a richer variety of explanations and solutions for any problem. A well cultivated critical thinker thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing their assumptions, implications and practical consequences. People, who think critically, consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably and empathetically. Critical thinking contributes to the process of self-evaluation and transformation. They easily recognize opportunities and avoid making mistakes in problem-solving. Critical thinking results in improved planning of tasks. Critical thinking skills are essential for all sorts of careers in which we have to communicate ideas, make decisions, analyse and solve problems. Good critical thinking is the foundation of science and democracy. Science requires rationality in designing experiments and testing hypotheses. A good democracy requires citizens who can think objectively about social and political issues. The cultivation of critical thinking is central to the aim of education.