What is Critical Thinking?

by Captain Walker

Categories: Psychology & Philosophy

I’m actually not writing this for any person other than myself. But I am aware that occasionally people read what I write – and I declare now that my intention is not to educate, convince, change minds or improve the human race. Why? 1. That’s too grandiose an ambition and 2. I’m not hell-bent on curing or reducing stupidity. If you already dislike my tone press on to something else. I’m writing this for my own notes so that I can reflect on it later. My blogs are easier to search than my computer.

Right – of late I’ve been hearing folk on TV for example talking about critical thinking. And I’ve been picking up vague references to critical thinking from a few other people around, in the last 2 years. No doubt there has been an explosion of websites and courses to help plodders get on with improving their thinking. Hmmm.. maybe ..just maybe I should get on the bandwagon and provide courses for fools and milk um of their money! NOT!! That’s not me! I don’t do things like this for profit. By now you’re in need of ‘immediate gratification’ i.e. if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably thinking, “Why doesn’t he get on with it.. what the devil is ‘critical thinking’ or what does he think it is?”. Errh …actually I do this purposefully to supress System 1 (tough it you don’t know what that is).

Ok.. so critical thinking is not about launching criticism as such. It is truly about applying a set of cognitive skills to situations – any situation. Do I claim to be an expert? No! Is my life terribly in order and am I making millions. No – and it matters not anything about me. What matters is ‘you’. I’m still part of the human condition but slightly less imperfect at critical thinking than others. But this is not to do with me – and not because I ‘say so’ means I’m better etc etc. Are you still agitating and fidgeting to find out what the devil ‘critical thinking’ is?  Why are you still here reading all this?

The first thing about critical thinking I assert, is that it is largely a System 2 set of processes. So you cannot get to it very quickly. You need to take it more slowly – much more than what System 1 – which tends to rule most people, will allow. So – my apparent dithering up to this point is simply to slowwwwww things down.

Here we go. Critical thinking is, “..the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment. This process reasoned consideration to evidence, context, conceptualisations, methods, and criteria.” Yes – there are other definitions – as you may discover. You immediately wanna know where I got that from. It’ll all unfold later, if you can just focus for the moment, you may learn something. Errh.. some are now confused. If I refer to ‘you’ how could I be saying that I write this for ‘me’. Well, that just means you don’t know anything about me. There’s the imaginary idiot in my head – that represents my understanding of human stupidity – and this is who I address in this discourse. Tough!

The six core critical thinking skills according to the experts are:

  • INFERENCE: “To identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; to form conjectures and hypotheses; to consider relevant information and to educe the consequences flowing from data, statements, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opinions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation.”
  • EXPLANATION: “To state the results of one’s reasoning; to justify that reasoning in terms of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological and contextual considerations upon which one’s results were based; and to present one’s reasoning in the form of cogent arguments.”
  • EVALUATION: “To assess the credibility of statements or other representations which are accounts or descriptions of a person’s perception, experience, situation, judgment, belief, or opinion; and to assess the logical strength of the actual or intended inferential relationships among statements, descriptions, questions or other forms of representation.” 
  • SELF-REGULATION: “Self-consciously to monitor one’s cognitive activities, the elements used in those activities, and the results educed, particularly by applying skills in analysis and evaluation to one’s own inferential judgments with a view toward questioning, confirming,validating, or correcting either one’s reasoning or one’s results.”  
  • INTERPRETATION: “to comprehend and express the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, or criteria.”
  • ANALYSIS: “To identify the intended and actual inferential relationships among statements, questions, concepts, descriptions, or other forms of representation intended to express belief, judgment, experiences, reasons, information, or opinions.”

No – I wasn’t one of the experts.  Here’s a mnemonic to remember the above, Inwardly Erudite Earls Sabotaged Inexpensive Anglophiles

There is no law about it that one has to apply these in any particular order. However, for me INFERENCE is where most people tend to fall down.

Now, as you’ve got this far. Here’s a video below and the link to the research findings quoted above.


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