Critical thinking is a concept that has been around for many years, and most expert on critical thinking agree that it is a process that most people utilise already, at least in part if not consistently. However, when used systematically and knowledgeably, critical thinking is a process which can provide enormous benefits.
The concept of critical thinking began over two thousand years ago with the Greek philosopher Socrates (Fisher 2). However, the founding father of critical thinking in the modern context is considered to be the American philosopher and psychologist John Dewey, who referred to it as “reflective thinking” (Fisher 2). Dewey identified the essential difference between active and passive thinking: “For Dewey … critical thinking is essentially an active process – one in which you think things through for yourself, raise questions yourself, find relevant information yourself, and so on” (Fisher 2). Modern proponents of critical thinking have developed this idea further, emphasising the utility of critical thinking in approaching problems and arguments in a rational and questioning manner. One writer on critical thinking, for example, writes that “Critical thinking is thinking clearly and rationally. It involves thinking precisely and systematically, and following the logic and scientific reasoning, among other things” (Lau 1), while another identifies the importance of critical thinking in developing “the tools to use scepticism and doubt constructively” (Cottrell 2). As these comments imply, critical thinking is a tool that enables users to approach arguments and problems objectively and critically, rather than subjectively and prejudicially. It involves the use of skills such as judgement, categorisation, and attention to detail, in order to approach a situation logically and systematically, and without emotional or personal bias. Above all, critical thinking is about using these skills to develop independent thought processes, and an active rather than passive approach to thinking.
There are obvious benefits to developing critical thinking skills. Some proponents of critical thinking write specifically of benefits such as “emotional self-management” and “realistic self-appraisal” (Cottrell 4), while other speak more generally, identifying, for example, the benefits of logical, objective and active thinking in our modern, fast-paced global society (Lau 1). In the development of ancillary skills such as observation, judgement and persuasion (Cottrell 4), it is easy to see how critical thinking can be of enormous benefit to an individual in the modern global marketplace: by approaching problems and arguments logically, actively, and sceptically, an individual can present him or herself as both professional and effective, able to work through difficulties and face challenges with assurance and confidence. More specifically, critical thinking has an obvious application to academic study where, as discussed by Fisher (2-4) it can help to foster the all-important skill of independent thought, enabling students to not only process the wide variety of expert opinions and knowledge presented to them, but also to begin to criticise, assess, and dissect those opinions and knowledge in order to formulate original thoughts. This academic ability furthermore feeds in to the types of problem-solving and analysis skills valued by employers within competitive sectors such as business and management. In these fields, the ability to approach a problem or situation objectively, assess the problem or situation for its component parts, and then formulate opinions and solutions based upon evidence, offers prospective employees with the tools to communicate effectively with others and to tackle complex logistical situations. Critical thinking may have its roots in psychology and philosophy, but it is fundamentally practical in implementation.
For all of its benefits, it is worth concluding by saying that critical thinking is not a total solution to all problems and situations. As identified by Lau (1), critical thinking works best when paired with creative thinking – the ability to think “outside the box” and to use innovation and imagination as well as logic and method. However, when used appropriately, critical thinking can add an edge to any academic or professional endeavour.
- Cottrell, Stella. Critical Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument. London: Palgrace Macmillan, 2011. Print.
- Fisher, Alec. Critical Thinking: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.
- Lau, J. Y. F. An Introduction to Critical Thinking and Creativity: Think More, Think Better. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2011. Print.